pen rainbow

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday Mini-Post: Educate & Donate With FreeRice

Quiz yourself and fight world hunger

Donate & have fun!

Free Rice is a non-profit website run by the United Nations World Food Programme.  They have two goals:

1.  To educate people for free

2.  To help end world hunger by providing free rice to hungry people

They've come up with a pretty simple and fun way to donate rice by playing an online game.  For each correct answer, they will donate 10 grains of rice through the WFP.  All you have to do is answer the questions correctly.  There is no cost to players.  The cost is picked up by sponsors who advertise on the website.

The game will keep track of your score, even if you don't sign up.  Try different subjects and bump yourself up to the higher levels.  The 2 math levels are easy, and they're more fun if you test yourself against speed.  I liked the foreign language quizzes, too.  Good luck!

Wednesday: Good for You, Good for the Home—Critter Christmas

MTV (Mouse Television)
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...

That's because they were all snuggled up together in their cute little TVhouses!  Meeses & hammies need interesting habitats just like any other animal, and these critter-sized living rooms are a whole lot more fun than a fake log.      

To clean, I would wash everything once a week in hot, non-toxic dish soap (like Dawn) and rinse it all under hot water.  Drip dry, and voilà, the whole living room is clean.  I wish my own weekly housecleaning were that easy!

And, the price is right!  $14.99 for the Super Pet Sit-N-Snooze sofa, the Hide-N-See TV, the Sip-N-Snack lamp (a human-sized version would be a good idea), and the Snack-N-Sit rocker (another good one for humans).  $5.99 for just the TV.  The mousies at Petco in Walnut Creek (on California Blvd) seemed to enjoy the TV.  Both are on sale at the Petco website ($4.79 for the TV and $11.99 for the living room).  I love it that each little furniture piece has a different name.

Throw in some chewy sticks and empty toilet paper rolls so that the little varmits have something to chew on besides the furniture. 

Great gifts for under $15!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—Coconut Macadamia Macaroons

Pair these with chai teas and hot holiday drinks
A mildly-flavored, light, sweet cookie made with coconut and macadamia nuts 

Every year, I try a new cookie recipe to go with my old favorite gingerbread cookie recipe from Fanny Farmer.  This recipe for coconut macadamia cookies popped up on this year, so I thought I'd give it a try.

First of all, this is an easy recipe without a lot of complicated ingredients, refrigeration, or steps.  The mild flavor reminds me of a cross between an English shortbread cookie and an Italian biscotti.  It is not a dense cookie, like most American coconut macaroons tend to be.  It is crunchy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, like a good drop biscuit.  In fact, this might be a tasty accompaniment to a savory main dish like shoyu pork roast or some other kind of island cuisine.

You can substitute chopped almonds or pecans for the macadamias, but I like the buttery richness of the macadamias with the coconut.

These are a little bland if you eat them all by themselves.  But, they are fantastic with chai tea, hot chocolate, gingerbread latté, or peppermint mocha.  Hot flavored beverages accentuate the subtle flavors in this traditional macaroon.  I had mine with a hot cup of blended Chai tea and caffeine-free Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride holiday tea, both by Celestial Seasonings.

•  I used my Kitchenaid mixer to combine all of the ingredients, and I managed to incorporate all of the flour using my mixer.  I mixed in the coconut and nuts by hand.  The bicep workout was an added benefit!

•  The batter came out semi-sticky, and I baked each batch on a Silpat.  Each batch took about 12 minutes to bake.  If you bake them too long, they'll come out dry.  Expect them to be mostly light colored with tinged golden brown tips.  They will not be uniformly golden when they are done.  

•  I used a teaspoon to drop them onto the baking sheet, but they were more like tablespoon-sized when I got finished unsticking the doughy batter from the spoon.

•  Don't over-measure the flour.  No need to tap down the flour or compensate with a rounded amount.  Dip your measuring cup or spoon into the flour, then level off the top with a spatula or knife.

•  Use butter, not margarine.  I use salted, rather than unsalted butter in recipes that involve nuts.  I tend to use unsalted butter in baked pastries, but I think salted butter brings out the flavor of the nuts.

•  Fancy it up!  Try dipping the tops of these into melted white chocolate or messily drizzle the tops with melted dark chocolate.  For a fancy dessert plating, add a teaspoon of homemade apricot, peach, or strawberry jam to the side and shave curls of dark chocolate around the plate.

•  Store in a tightly closed container

•  Makes about 42 average-sized cookies

•  Allow 15 minutes prep; 45 minutes baking time for the whole batch

Helpful link:  Secrets to Making Perfect Cookies

Start with softened butter
Sour cream, baking soda, sugar, flour, macadamias, coconut, eggs
(I forgot to put the vanilla in this picture...)

Macadamia nuts available in the baking section at Safeway
(lightly salted & pre-chopped)
Buttery coconut macadamia cookies ready for the oven

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wednesday: Good for You, Good for the Home—Indulge Yourself, Disney Style

Poinsettia garden in the Germany pavilion at Epcot
Finding downtime at Disney World

Going commando at Disney World means charging into a pre-planned itinerary with a firm and fixed determination and military precision when it comes to scheduling, i.e. to hit all of the best rides, to make it to the shows on time, to see all of the animals when they're awake, and to dine at your favorite restaurants.

For families with kids, add pix and autographs with the Dis characters, as well as character meals.  Come to think of it, add character meals to the grown-up list, too, because it really is fun when the Dis characters show up appropriately attired in themed costumes.  What's not to love about a children's conga line led by Safari Mickey & Minnie, Safari Goofy, and Pluto in a pith helmet? Or, storybook dining with the beautiful Disney princesses at the Akerhaus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion at Epcot?

Forget commando!  Disney World is comprised of four distinct parks—the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios—and each one deserves time to explore and fully enjoy.  To do it right, you have to choose wisely and balance uptime with quality downtime, even if it means sacrificing a fast pass or canceling a dining reservation.

The secret is to pace yourself, and be considerate of the people who are with you.  If the kids are complaining, it is time take a break before someone launches into the Tarzan jungle yell.  If your spouse wants to wander through shops or skip a ride, be flexible, grab a chai latté, and unlax.  If a grown kid wants to spend the day hitting up the singles lines, it's okay to split up.  If you have to miss an attraction, it will be at the top of the list for next time.  And chances are, there will be a next time!

So, throttle down and consider these quiet and uncrowded ways to recharge:


Surrey bikes at the Polynesian Resort
Found at various resorts throughout Disney World, including the Polynesian and the Boardwalk, these old-timey carts provide a fun diversion from the crowded parks and long lines.  We saw lots of parents and kids, as well as adult groups riding these fun bikes around the beautiful paths at the Polynesian and along the planked walkways at the Boardwalk.

Stop by and check out the beautiful grounds, the fairy tale wedding chapel, the stunning stained glass windows, and Franck's lovely design studio located next to the Grand Floridian Resort.  If you're lucky, you may even get to see a bride and groom on their wedding day.  The area adjacent to the Grand Floridian is under construction (Vacation Club timeshares), but don't let that discourage you.  The construction guys are friendly, and it was interesting to see the addition of something new at Disney World.

Wedding cake at Franck's design studio

Visitors can hear the fantastic Matsuriza taiko drummers and wander through the enchanting bonsai garden above the koi pond.  The Bijutsu-Kan gallery is a nice way to get out of the crowds and learn about Japanese art and culture.

Beautiful fantail koi in the Japanese pavilion at Epcot
Look for hidden Mickeys!

This is a small garden just off of the main promenade next to the Germany pavilion in the World Showcase in Epcot.  The little path that leads through the garden can be crowded during busy times, but it's a nice diversion as you make your way through the world showcase.

Christmas in the tiny village at the Germany pavilion in Epcot
Located in Future World next to Innovations West at Epcot.  This is a great place to sample flavored soft drinks from around the world!

Located in Future World next to Innovations West in Epcot

Freebie samples of soft drinks from around the world
My favorite is Smart Watermelon from China
It doesn't get much better than the People Mover when it comes to taking the edge off of a busy day in the Magic Kingdom.  Located near Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, this continuously loading easy ride provides a 16-minute relaxing above-ground tour.

We ❤ the People Mover at the Magic Kingdom

Also known as Spaceship Earth, the big ball ride at Epcot is a 16-minute slow ride with a fun interactive twist at the end.  Don't stand in line for this ride.  It's always busiest during the morning hours.  Take it at night when the crowds drop down, and there is no line at all.

Look for the hidden Mickey on the painter's table during the
Renaissance time period

Bring your camera because the rose gardens around Disney World are full of prize-winning beauties!  Our favorite rose gardens are located in the Magic Kingdom just off the bridge in front of Cinderella's castle and in Epcot between Future World and the main entrance to the World Showcase.  Follow the paths and take time to smell the roses.

This smells as good as it looks!
Rose garden with Cinderella's castle in the background

A magical rose

This is a 1-mile, flat, paved walking path along the water between the back of the Boardwalk and the front entrance to the Hollywood Studios.  See the map below.  It's a straightforward walk from the Hollywood Studios to Epcot (easy, even in the dark after a nice dinner at the Brown Derby).  Just follow the river, cross the bridge over to the Yacht Club, and it will lead you right into Epcot.

From Epcot to the Hollywood Studios, make your way over the bridge to the Boardwalk side and follow the path along the water.  If you find yourself going into the grounds of the Swan or Dolphin hotels, back track and find the bridge that connects the Yacht Club to the Boardwalk, then follow the path along the river away from the hotels.

It's a leisurely, 30-minute walk between the two parks and our favorite way to get from one park to the other.

Posted by Robo on the disboards, 6-26-2011

Located in the Morocco pavilion in Epcot, step into the lovely tiled entryway of the Fez House.  The Gallery of Arts and History next door is also worth a visit!

The doors to the Gallery of Arts and History

A welcome retreat at the Fez House

It is hard to miss this beautiful lily pond and its lovely surrounding garden!  Take time to stroll through the colorful azaleas and over the white stone bridge.  The 100-year old weeping mulberry looks like it may have come from China, but it actually originated in New Jersey.  If you are lucky, you may have the pleasure of seeing one of the large white cranes who often fish in this pool.

One of my favorite respites in Epcot

DiVine is a street performer who walks on stilts and channels the elusive spirit of a vine nymph.  She moves gracefully and quietly along the path between Africa and Aisa in the Animal Kingdom.  Watch for her and take a moment to gaze upon her elegance!

Look for the serenity of DiVine

The Yak & Yeti is a fascinating (sit-down) Aisan fusion restaurant located in the Animal Kingdom.  The food and atmosphere are wonderful, and if you happen to eat here, be sure to take time after your meal to appreciate the wonderful Himilayan artifacts scattered throughout the restaurant.  Feel free to wander and take in the sculptures, crafts, and artwork on both floors.  The entire Mission-style decor of the restaurant is a feast for the eyes.  Be sure to notice the variety of beautiful hanging chandeliers.  

Himilayan artifacts & enchanting lighting at the Yak & Yeti

One of the best little hideaways in the Animal Kingdom is just across from the Yak & Yeti next to the Royal Anandapur Tea Company.  Miguided smokers often try to stake out this lovely riverside retreat as a nicotine station, but it is far too nice to be wasted on second-hand smoke.  Park maps show the designated smoking areas, and this is not one of them.  It was designed to provide a peaceful place to sit and have a cup of tea next to the river.  

Not for smokers

We were happy to discover this relatively relaxed open space behind Fantasyland.  It's going to be slammed at Christmas time (as all of Disney World will be during the busiest time of the year), but it's a good spot to sip on a peppermint mocha and imagine the fun and excitement of this major new Dis attraction.  

Something to look foward to at the Magic Kingdom

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—Good Things to Eat at Disney World

chocolate & caramel strawberries in Germany
Outstanding service + upscale menu choices + memorable dining experiences

According to one of the servers at the Flying Fish restaurant on the Boardwalk, a typical park visitor in Walt Disney World walks an average of 11 miles a day.

That's about right for us.  We've been wearing our fitbit pedometers, and although our strides differ somewhat because of our 5-inch height difference, we've averaged around 11 miles a day.  Dodging motorized scooters and overwrought parents pushing double-wide strollers is a little like Mister Toad's Wild Ride meets a jump into hyperspace on the Mellennium Falcon.  It's even more fun in the dark.

It takes stamina to navigate around Disney World.  During one park hopping day between Epcot and the Hollywood Studios, I took 23,262 steps and walked up 10 flights of stairs.  Fitbit tracked 9.4 miles that day.  It really is impressive that Disney accommodates and makes it possible for everyone, including those with limited mobility, to share in the immersive experience.

All of that activity burns calories in a big way.  On a typical day in Disney World, I burned through 2,250 calories.  That's 650 calories more than a typical day at in the not-so-magic kingdom of Walnut Creek.

Yummy Main Street popcorn at the Frontierland Trading Post
in the Magic Kingdom
Maple Syrup at the Canadian pavilion
We ate out twice a day for lunch and dinner, and we began each day with a light breakfast of raisin bran and nonfat milk, a fruit cup, and coffee in our room.  By lunch time, we were ready to refill our tanks and take a break.  We had dinner reservations every night except for two nights when we ate at the casual and consistently excellent Kona Island sushi bar at the Polynesian Resort where we stayed.

The Disney team is paying attention to details.  The wine selections and pairings were very good this year.  Across the board, the service was excellent, and we noticed three areas of improvement.

Gourmet coffees in Italy at Epcot
Quality:  Disney is appealing to the foodie in all of us.  We noticed a greater variety of food choices (e.g. the new caramel shop in the Germany pavilion at Epcot) and an overall better quality in freshness, particularly when it came to artisan breads and salad ingredients.  Fresh pomegranate seeds, delicate greens,  heirloom tomatoes, and warm Italian and multigrain breads were lovely surprises!

Wait time:  There was usually no wait, and we were consistently seated on time.  When there was a wait, it was less than 10 minutes before we were shown to our table.  When the staff is not slammed with impossible crowds during the busiest times of the year (one week before and after Christmas, same for Thanksgiving and Easter), service is as good as it gets.  Make a reservation and show up on time or check in early like we did on our last night (we were seated 30 minutes early at the Flying Fish), then sit back and let the pros do the rest.

Servers:  Our servers were fantastic!  Everywhere we went, they were friendly and experienced, and their timing was impeccable.  We never felt rushed.  More than once, our servers allowed us to linger over cappuccinos and dessert so that we could watch the fireworks.  Every restaurant acknowledged our anniversary celebration and provided various complimentary small items off of the menu.  Nice touch, Disney!

Stop by any of these restaurants for good food, great service, and wonderful Disney atmosphere!

•  Kona Island Sushi Bar > Polynesian Resort — My favorite: tuna poke & the volcano roll.  The best seats are at the bar.

•  California Grill > Contemporary Resort — Possibly, the best restaurant in WDW.  My favorite:  Chef Yoshi's specialty sushi.  For a little heat, try the spicy Kazan roll.

•  Artist Point > Wilderness Lodge — Formal dining.  My fave:  Cedar plank roasted wild king salmon

•  The Tusker House > All-you-can-eat buffet — My fave: spiced tandoori tofu

•  Royal Anandapur Tea Company > Aisa counter service — My fave:  chai latté

•  Harambe Fruit Market > Africa kiosk —My fave:  fresh bananas, Craisins

 Yak & Yeti > Sit-down restaurant — My fave:  pot stickers.  Be sure to see the artifacts throughout the restaurant.

•  Mama Melrose's > Casual sit-down — My fave: Wild Mushroom & Arugula Flatbread

•  Brown Derby > Nicer sit-down — My fave:  Grapefruit cake

•  Flying Fish Café > Nice sit-down restaurant, high-end menu — My fave:  Oak-grilled Maine Diver Scallops (yowza! super yummy risotto)

•  Biergarten  > Germany Pavilion — Group of 8 table seatings.  All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.  My fave: hot buffet, homemade spaetzel

•  Kringla Bakeri og Cafe > Norway Pavilion — Counter service, outdoor covered seating.  My fave:  Ham & Apple grilled sandwich

Our favorite place for a snack!
Boulangerie Patisserie in the French pavilion in Epcot

Refresh with freebie Cokes from around the world at Club Cool in Epcot

•  Sleepy Hollow > Liberty Square — Counter service, fast food.  This is WDW's best kept foodie secret!  Fresh waffle sandwiches are to die for.  No, really.  Grab an outdoor picnic table with a spectacular view of Cinderella's castle & enjoy.  My fave:  Ham, prosciutto & Swiss waffle sandwich & chocolate soy milk.

Best sandwiches in WDW!  Sleepy Hollow
in the Magic Kingdom

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday—The Reading Corner: Walt Disney World

Disney Wishes at the Magic Kingdom
An empty nester's week at Walt Disney World in Orlando

Things to read in Disney World 

1.  Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

2.  The Imagineering Field Guide to...the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot by the Disney Imagineers

3.  Menus from great restaurants around WDW (interesting back stories about the restaurants)

Hands down—the best sandwich in all of Disney World!
Prosciutto, Swiss, arugula & tomato sandwich
 at the Sleepy Hollow sidewalk café in the Magic Kingdom

Lagavulin 16 yr. old single malt scotch
at the Rose & Crown Pub in Epcot

All-American menu at the American pavilion in Epcot
4.  Proprietor signs named after Disney employees in the shop windows on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom
Card Walker, Disney CEO; Al Weiss, WDW President; Ted Crowell,  Disney Engineer
5.  Special Event Schedules

Schedule for the inspirational Candlelight Processional
at the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot

Directions to the henna artist in the
Moroccan pavilion at Epcot
6.  Daily newspapers delivered to our hotel room at the Polynesian

7.  Bird finding guides at the Animal Kingdom

Tree of Life at the Animal Kingdom
8.  History of Disney film & animation at the Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios shop window display

9.  Warnings & height requirements for roller coasters & rides (e.g. Everest, Star Tours, etc.)

10.  The teleprompter for contestants on stage at the American Idol Experience in the Hollywood Studios

Gingerbread house in the
American pavilion at Epcot
11.  Exhibit signs

Scrolls with info about each country around Epcot
12. Signs for the countries in the World Showcase at Epcot

History museum exhibit at the Norway pavilion in Epcot
13. Museum exhibits

Tomb Warriors exhibit at the House of Whispering Willows gallery
in the China pavilion at Epcot
History of eye makeup in the Moroccan pavilion in Epcot
 14.  Books

Making the Moose Out of Life by Nicholas Oldland
in the Canada pavilion at Epcot
15. Educational Plaques

Science & Invention pavilion in Future World at Epcot

Colonial flag display at the American Adventure pavilion — Epcot

HGTV garden sign along the rose garden path at Epcot