Posted in Events, For Kids/Parent, Freebies, Shopping, Tips

Free Online Classes, Entertainment, and Happy Distractions for Your Time in Quarantine

As humans, we tend to want whatever we can’t have. Before this pandemic drastically altered our lives, we longed for a morning to sleep in, more time to spend with our kids, or the chance to binge watch that new show. 

Well, now we all have extra time. LOTS of extra time. It looks like we’re in this quarantine for the long haul. So aside from watching Netflix all day and doing 500 piece puzzles, what else is can we do at home?

Here’s a list of simple distractions to help make you feel a little less isolated while you’re staying indoors. And when all else fails, take a walk, ride a bike, or FaceTime/Skype/Zoom/Google Duo a friend. Whether we like it or not, it’s time to lean into this quarantine. And despite our isolation, we’re not alone. We really are in the same boat, so let’s try to make the best of it.


  • The Metropolitan Opera in New York City is streaming an opera performance every night at 6:30pm ET. Go to to check it out.
  • Playbill will point you to free full length musicals like Cats, Newsies, Rent, and Into the Woods.
  • Netflix Party is a Chrome extension for watching Netflix remotely with friends, e.g., for movie nights with that long-distance special someone. It synchronizes video playback and adds group chat. Go to .
  • If you’re a Library card holder, go to your local library’s website. Most have an extensive collection of free digital books for you to checkout. 
  • Download the Google Arts and Culture app for access to some of the most famous museums in the world. Using their street view technology, you’ll feel like you’re actually walking through the greatest museums. It’s fantastic.


  • Award winning author and illustrator of the Piggie and Gerald, Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books, Mo Willems, is doing 30 minute drawing classes for kids every weekday at 1pm ET/10am PT. They are wonderful. Go to to check it out.
  • Head to the @Delish Instagram page where they’ll be doing Kids + Parents Cooking classes every weekday at 1pm ET/10am PT. They have the ingredients list posted now and they encourage using what you already have in your pantry.
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium has live webcams on their website of the sea otters, jellyfish, even some excellent morning meditations. Just go to the Animals page and you’ll find them there.
  • Head to the CBS Evening News’ Facebook page where correspondent Steve Hartman will give you and your kids a 30 minute “Kindness 101” course from March 23-26 at 2pm ET/11am PT. He’s a fantastic storyteller and I suspect this will be an enlightening and lighthearted experience.

Podcasts for Beginners

  • Conan Needs a Friend
  • NPR’s Life Kit
  • Staying In w/Emily and Kumail Nanjiani
  • Mystery Recipe: America’s Test Kitchen Kids is a fun new podcast for young chefs
  • Tumble Science podcast also for kids


  • Brit & Co. is offering their online art and crafting classes for free for the rest of March using the code SELFHELP at checkout.  
  • Craftiful Studio in San Jose, California is doing short, easy crafting tutorials everyday on their Facebook page. Go to for details.
  • Head to McHarper Manor’s Facebook page where you can check out their Art and Craft tutorials every weekday at 1pm ET/10am PT.

Late Night Shows

  • Most late night talk shows have shutdown production because of social distancing guidelines. But you can’t keep Colbert, Fallon, and Kimmel down. They’re doing daily video segments from home! Find their mini monologues on their show’s YouTube channels and take a much needed laugh break.

Posted in Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Peninsula, South Bay, Tips, Travel

Food Adventures Along Highway 1

I have no idea how we got here, but we’re already at the tail end of summer break. I had wanted to go peach, cherry, or strawberry picking with the kids back in June, but we’ve had way too much going on this summer. Time has just gotten away from me.

So after a few days of finally getting the chance to sit around and veg out, we hit the road and drove down about an hour along the coast to pick some strawberries. I was surprised they were still available for picking this late in the season, but I was determined to make ANY kind of fruit picking happen. I think it’s important, especially for kids, to know where your food comes from and to get a sense of the work it takes for it to get to you.

We’ve been to Coastways/Swanton Berry U-Pick Farms several times through the years with the kids, but I feel like this was the first time the 7 year old was old enough to understand and enjoy the experience. Although it’s usually windy (and it was) with the property being by the coast, we were lucky enough to have very minimal fog. The strawberries were tinier than they must’ve been earlier in the season, but they were fresh, juicy, and warm from the sun.

Four pounds of strawberries later, we were ready to eat and headed to nearby town of Pescadero to Arcangeli Grocery for deli sandwiches and some of their fresh garlic herb bread and olalieberry pie to take home. Yum yum!

One the way home we stopped at one of our favorite produce stands and picked up some fresh zucchini, cluster tomatoes, and my favorite local raw honey. And just next store at Repetto’s the sunflowers on display were just too beautiful for me to pass up. It’s like having a little bit of summer in the house.

It might be late summer, but it was good to get out in the sunshine and get away from city life for a while. We got some time by the coast, on a farm, and interacting with folks who work hard to bring us our food. You get a sense of gratitude, and it was good for the soul.

Posted in Events

Feeding Phil Rosenthal

Dinner & Dessert with Phil Rosenthal, the Steunenbergs, & the Mayberrys

If you love food and travel and you have Netflix, “Somebody Feed Phil” (and its predecessor “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having”) is required television. What makes it different from the vast array of food shows now on Netflix is one thing: Phil.

As the show’s host, Phil Rosenthal travels the world in search of great food and great people to share it with. Tough job. 😉 It’s his sense of humor and desire to make new friends that makes the show special. He’s so relatable, so down to earth, you’d swear he was just one of your neighbors from down the street.

Except he’s not.

He’s a multiple Emmy Award winner for his work on one of the most successful sitcoms in television history, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which he created, wrote, and executive produced. And now he’s nominated for yet another Emmy Award, this time for “Somebody Feed Phil.” No big thing.

If you haven’t already guessed, my family and I are big fans of the show. So when Phil started a contest asking fans to make a one minute video telling him why he should visit the winner(s) to share a meal, my oldest daughter nagged me to enter. A few days later, I got an idea for the story I wanted to tell in the video and the script just came to me. It took me less than 15 minutes to write, which never happens. Maybe it was meant to be.

Our video told the story of our family (the Mayberrys) and our former neighbors (the Steunenbergs), who have since become so close to us that we practically consider them family. Our mutual love of food and sharing a meal has helped foster that relationship. Once I uploaded it to Instagram, it didn’t take long for Phil to comment on the video. We were thrilled we even got his attention! But that wasn’t the end of it…

On May 1st, he announced that there were six winners, and one of them was us. We couldn’t believe it!

Phil, the kids, and a lot of culinary damage.

Three months later, we finally got the chance to nosh with Phil and his friend Jeff Strauss (@jeffs___table). Everything Phil was on TV was everything he was in person, only better. He was personable, curious, genuine, and he loved it when the kids got up the nerve to sing the show’s theme song to him. Regardless of his status as a public figure, both he and Jeff seemed to truly enjoy our company and the conversation, and the feeling was mutual. By the end of the night, we’d realized that our time together was no longer a contest prize, it was a dinner among friends.

Only time will tell if we will ever have the pleasure of breaking bread with Phil or Jeff again. But regardless, it made us realize how rare it is to meet truly good people, and what a gift it is when you do.

“Thank you for being the world’s best family.
Love, Phil Rosenthal”
Posted in Dinner, Food, Lunch, Review, San Francisco, Street Food, Tips, Travel

Food Adventures in Chinatown

Roasted meats in the window of Kam Po Kitchen in SF Chinatown.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, popular Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, Marina, or HMart didn’t exist. But Chinese food did, and as a home cook, you needed to go somewhere to find all the “foreign” produce and supplies you needed to make a decent Chinese meal at home. So my family and I traveled to San Francisco’s Chinatown every Saturday afternoon from the suburbs to do just that. That tradition of sorts continued every weekend into my early teens, and I haven’t really been back regularly since. You see, all the popular, modern, and frankly better Chinese restaurants planted themselves either outside of Chinatown or even outside of S.F. altogether, following younger, newer immigrants into the suburbs who wanted bigger houses and better schools. And with items like bok choi and ramen easily accessible at almost any neighborhood grocery store, Chinatown got a bit left behind. That’s why you’ll see either tourists (Grant Ave.) or older Chinese folks (Stockton St.) in the area these days. And to be honest, if you’re looking for exceptional Chinese food, you won’t find it here.

However, I was recently inspired to scope out some notable exceptions. So I dragged my family and friends to Chinatown for a short food crawl. After visiting a few bakeries, dim sum shops, and the like, we had two clear cut winners. (And Golden Gate Bakery was not open, so no classic Egg Tarts this time around. 😦 )

We LOVED Kam Po Kitchen (801 Broadway & Powell in San Francisco). Why? Just look at the pics! Beef Chow Fun, Wonton Noodle Soup, Hong Kong Style (crispy) Tomato Beef Chow Mein, Gai Lan (greens) with Oyster Sauce, and some exceptional Roast Duck made for a terrific traditional Cantonese lunch. I equate places like this, where they have roasted meats hanging in the window, to a Chinese deli. The food is casual, unfussy, affordable, comforting, and delicious. Ironically, places that do this type of food well are not as easy to find around the Bay Area anymore. We also spotted locals lining up out the door to grab some roasted meats to go. If you’re in the area, skip the kitschy tourist traps on Grant Ave. and head up here. It’s worth it.

Various goodies from Dim Sum Bistro

If you’re wanting some grab and go dim sum, Dim Sum Bistro (675 Broadway St, S.F.) was our favorite of the places we tried. They had fresh, tasty items like Steamed Chive and Shrimp Dumplings, Shrimp & Pork Siu Mai, Sesame Balls filled with sweet red bean paste, and my childhood favorite, White Sugar Cake (which is really hard to find these days). Seating is very limited, and frankly, you’d be better off just getting it to go instead. It’s crowded and there’s nothing in the way of ambiance here.

The Chinatown of my childhood really hasn’t changed much. And in the case of these delicious delicacies, that can be a very good thing.

Posted in Uncategorized

Life After Gourmet is Good: A Chat With Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl. Photo: Fiona Aboud
Photo: Fiona Aboud

*Originally published on Mar 31, 2011 at KQED Food/Bay Area Bites.

Ruth Reichl is one of the most influential names in food. Her storied career includes stints at the Los Angeles Times as a restaurant critic and food editor, as well as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. She is also the author of five bestselling books, the recipient of six James Beard Awards, and spent 10 years as the Editor-in-chief of the now defunct Gourmet magazine.

But as any resilient woman will tell you, when one door closes, a few other doors open. She’s now an editor-at-large for the mega-publisher, Random House, is currently writing three new books, and on April 6th, will make her debut as one of the new judges on Top Chef Masters.

She was kind enough to carve out some time to chat with me while on a recent trip to Palo Alto for a speaking engagement. I asked her about how life has changed since the closing of Gourmet magazine, how she feels about food bloggers, and what she really thinks about Ruth Bourdain.

ELAINE: What was life like after Gourmet magazine shut its doors?

RUTH: At first I thought, “Oh my God, I’ll never have another job!” and I immediately made a deal to write three books, which I’m working on, and that’s great. I’m finishing my first fiction novel, and I promised to write a cookbook and then a memoir about my time at Gourmet and its closing.

But then about eight months after the magazine closed, I was literally getting a job offer a day. The most interesting is one I can’t talk about. Let’s just say it’ll be the food magazine of my dreams. I’m very lucky. (NOTE: We know now that Ms. Reichl will be running the Gilt Groupe’s “Gilt Taste” website.)

ELAINE: And you’re going to be on Top Chef Masters! What made you want to take that offer?

RUTH: I just thought it would be fun! I was kind of curious about how reality shows worked and it seemed like a learning experience. But I had already agreed to be a fellow at Dartmouth, so I’m not in every single episode.

ELAINE: What was the experience like?

RUTH: Top Chef Masters was such a surprise. They could not have been more passionate and respectful of the chefs, judges, guests and I loved every minute of it. And they take it all very seriously. I thought the judges would surely have to lean on the producers to make the decisions about who gets cut, and the producer probably would’ve liked a different outcome in some cases, but I never heard it from them.

And Curtis Stone (the new host) is so good looking, you’d think he had to be an idiot. But he’s so smart and has a heart of gold. He’s honestly one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. He insisted on cooking for the entire crew a multi-course meal after the show wrapped. He’s totally for real. I was so sorry when it was all over. It felt like family. You really get to know everyone. It’s very intimate.

ELAINE: What are your thoughts on the new Gourmet Live app for the iPad?

RUTH: …I’m not going to say. It is what it is.

ELAINE: What do you think about the new generation of food bloggers? Are they changing the landscape of food writing in general?

RUTH: A lot of them are really, really good. I think it’s changed for restaurant critiquing in particular. You can read 30 reviews and make up your mind yourself. A professional restaurant critic’s word shouldn’t matter that much. People should bring their own intelligence to it. What real criticism should do is give you a better way to appreciate food and give you the tools you need to enhance your experience, good or bad. And food bloggers have put the burden back on the professionals to be good educators and good writers, and maybe even be a little bit more humble about their own opinions.

ELAINE: You’re fairly active on Twitter. Why do you use it?

RUTH: I just don’t have time to keep up with so many blogs. But if someone I follow on Twitter tells me to read something on a blog, I will! I love the social and political aspects. There are people I don’t see much but I keep up with them on Twitter. And as a writer, I feel like there’s a voice that I didn’t know I had using Twitter. There’s a real discipline to putting something into 140 characters. I’m trying to actually make a word picture in 140 characters and it’s been really fun for me. It turns out to be a very natural voice for me.

ELAINE: What do you think of Ruth Bourdain getting nominated for a James Beard Award this year for Humor?

RUTH: I think it’s great! I agree with Tony Bourdain! If we can’t have fun with food, what are we gonna have fun with? I hope he/she wins so they’ll have to get up and accept the award!

But I actually think it’s a “he,” and I don’t think it’s any of the people that have been talked about. I think all the theories about who this person is are all wrong.

ELAINE: As a former Bay Area resident, what do you miss about the area?

RUTH: At the moment, if you go to the farmers market in New York there’s not much. In the Bay Area you’re spoiled with fresh produce year round. I really miss that. And there’s an incredible energy with farmers and food producers here. There’s a great artisan food community here that you don’t get anywhere else.

Posted in Uncategorized

Jacques Pépin’s new book explores the connection between food and family

Jacques Pépin's new book explores the

*Originally published on October 26, 2015 at

I’ll admit, my motivation for wanting to interview Chef Jacques Pépin was completely selfish. I remember as a teen watching his cooking shows with my mom and brother on the couch every weekend. As an adult, I’ve continued to watch him prepare classic French dishes on television with a level of ease and comfort that make even a complicated meal seem attainable. His style is effortless and personable, as if you were right there in the kitchen with him.

Now, with his 25th cookbook, Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, and accompanying PBS television series, I finally got the chance to talk to this award-winning master chef. His latest project is a true labor of love that provides a narrative of his life through food, family, friends and his own artwork.

Jacques Pépin: Well, I may not stop entirely. I mentioned that I wouldn’t be doing another big cookbook like Heart and Soul and an accompanying television show with 26 episodes again. The book took about three years. Hopefully, I’ll do a smaller project, like something with my granddaughter where I give her lessons on cooking or something. But hopefully, I’ll slow down a bit.

SK: Heart and Soul seems like it’s just as much the story of your life as it is a cookbook. Was that intentional?

JP: It was an intentional decision. I did a book called The Apprentice [his autobiography], and this is a bit of an extension of this. I’ve done so many books and television series focused on food, like entertaining or making fast food. With Heart and Soul, I just wanted to reminisce. That’s why we have stories about my friends, what I cook with my daughter and granddaughter, what I cook at home or for my wife. There’s all kinds of things in this cookbook, so it’s a bit all over the place: from Puerto Rican inspired dishes (his wife Gloria is of Puerto Rican and Cuban decent) to Mexican, or Chinese or Japanese. Basically, I had no limits here with this cookbook. This is what I like to cook at home. I like all the books that I’ve done, but here there was a lot more family involved: my best friend Jean Claude Szurdak, my daughter Claudine, my granddaughter Shorey and my wife Gloria. So in that sense, it was closer to me.

SK: Heart and Soul definitely comes off that way. It seems much more special and comforting to read.

JP: Thank you! That’s the reason I put a lot of my artwork and illustrated menus in it because it shows different parts of my life.

SK: Speaking of that, there is a lot of your artwork in this cookbook. Tell me a little bit about what sort of place art has in your life.

JP: When you open the book, there are two menus. After 50 years of marriage, we have seven or eight big books of hand written and illustrated menus. We got into the habit after we got married, when people came to our house, we wrote the menu out and we’d have our guests sign the opposite page. Sometimes, I’d illustrate them, sometimes I didn’t. It’s a journey through our life. It’s very personal, so we wanted to put some of that into the book.

SK: What has it been like to have both your daughter, Claudine, and your granddaughter, Shorey, on your new show? You’ve got three generations of your family on the show!

JP: I just watched the third show in the series, and I’m cooking with Claudine. Shorey was in an episode before that for this series. It’s fun certainly. Again, it makes it more personal. They wanted to come on the show. The only one who doesn’t want to cook on TV with me is my wife, Gloria. She’s extremely private. She hates being on television.

SK: What are your plans now that you’re retiring from television?

JP: I still teach at Boston University, where I’ve been for 33 years. I’m still teaching at the French Culinary Institute. I’m the culinary director for Oceana Cruises. And I’ll still do a lot of food and wine events. I’ll still be really busy.

SK: You’ve mentioned before that some “celebrity chefs” can spend too much time on the “celebrity,” and not enough on the cooking. Who are some of your favorite well known chefs that you’re a fan of right now?

JP: Oh my gosh, there’s so many! Thomas Keller is probably the best chef in America. There’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud. And there’s a group of us PBS chefs who are still teaching people like Lidia Bastianich, Ming Tsai and Rick Bayless. They’re great cooks and great teachers.

SK: Do you think part of being a good “celebrity chef” is about teaching and mentoring, as well?

JP: Well, it depends on your own style and character. I’m not an actor. I can’t be different than I am. Some people find my shows boring, and that’s fine with me. You can’t please everybody. Some chefs get crazy or overly fancy with their array of food, which I’m not particularly interested in. And confrontation in the kitchen isn’t my thing. I feel there’s a great deal of yourself and who you are when you’re cooking. So, the yelling is not condusive to my cooking. I know it’s television and people want that kind of entertainment. But it’s not really my style.

SK: When you’re relaxing at home with no obligations, what is your ideal meal? Would you cook or would someone else be doing the cooking?

JP: Usually I cook at home, or my wife. If she’s cooking in the kitchen and I come in, she usually tells me not to touch anything! But otherwise, what we cook is determined by the season, by the garden, by the market and by our mood. Sometimes, you’re in the mood for a soup or a stew because it’s cold. Sometimes, you want a fresh tomato out of the garden just with a bit of olive oil on top. Sometimes, you have a hangover and you want something else. But usually, it’ll be food I can recognize that is relatively simply cooked without too much embellishment on the plate.

SK: Is there anything you’d like to tell your fans who have followed your career?

JP: Well, my goal is to bring a smile to the face of someone. I hope they’re happy with what I’ve done, or follow one of my recipes and make it their own. That is gratifying for me.

Jacques Pépin’s latest cookbook, Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, is available in bookstores now. The accompanying television series of the same name airs on PBS. Check your local listings.

Posted in Events, For Kids/Parent, Freebies, Travel

4 Simple Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Souvenirs (and a Quick DIY Project!)

Buttons – By now many of you know that free buttons can be obtained from character meals, and ones that commemorate special events can be requested for free from City Hall in Disneyland and the Chamber of Commerce at Disney’s California Adventure. But what should you do with them when you get home? More than likely you’ll throw those big buttons in a drawer and never use them again. Don’t waste them! Make them into usable magnets!

First, put a little muscle into it and pull the pin off the back of the button. It’s very lightweight bendable tin so you don’t even really need a tool for it, but feel free to use some pliers or something if you need to. Then grab some single magnets (make sure they’re thicker than the button) and a glue gun from the craft store, and glue the magnet to the back of the button. Let dry and…voila!

Animation Academy – Not only is the Animation Academy in Disney’s California Adventure a great place to learn how to draw one of your favorite Disney characters (and a nice escape from the chaos of the park), but the finished product can make a great free memento of your time at Disneyland. My sketch of “Angry Donald” wearing Mickey Ears turned out so well, we decided to frame it and put it on the wall. Just make sure you bring a rubber band with you to the park so you can roll it up and bring the drawing home safely without ruining it.

Target – The Target store two miles away from the Disneyland Resort (12100 Harbor Blvd. in Garden Grove) is the perfect place to hit up before heading to the parks. Stock up on easy to carry snacks for your trip and bottles of water, as well as zippered sandwich bags. I don’t know why but I always have some in my backpack. They’re great for leftover food, wet clothes (post Splash Mountain or Grizzly River Run), or whatever else happens.

But besides the basic necessities, this Target has a very large selection of authentic Disney licensed merchandise! It’s spread out in a few places around the store, but most of it can be spotted as you enter and also in the clothing section near checkout. Pickup t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, water bottles, hoodies, magnets, keychains, lanyards, stuffed Disney character toys, and a whole bunch of other knick knacks for souvenirs or as gifts. They’re a fraction of what you would pay inside the park for similar merchandise. However, most items sold at the parks are Disney Parks exclusive merchandise, so don’t expect to find the exact same items at Target. Also note that the pins they sell are not tradeable Disney Parks labelled pins, but are still real licenced Disney merchandise and can still make a great souvenir.

Disney Store – It pays to go to an actual Disney Store, or, before your trip to purchase items such as autograph books for characters to sign, stuffed toy characters, or authentic Disney Parks clothing since they have frequent promotions and sales that the Disney Parks stores won’t. Granted, your selection isn’t as vast as it is inside the parks, but it’s still great. And on some occasions I’ve seen the exact same item regularly priced at the park, but on sale at the Disney Store’s online site.

Posted in For Kids/Parent, Freebies, Tips

A Simple DIY Display for Disney Pin Traders

20170305_175357-COLLAGEMy kids and I decided to give pin trading a try when we went to the Disneyland Resort a couple weeks ago and if you’re already aware of the practice, you know how addicting it is. It was so much fun that even my husband wanted in on the action!

Now that both my daughters have a lovely collection of pins that they’re proud of, they wanted to make sure they weren’t just left on their lanyards and thrown in a drawer somewhere. They also want a way to admire and display them in their rooms.

I’ve seen many folks put their pins on large cork boards, but we wanted to store them with their pin backs so they wouldn’t get lost. We were also wanted something that wasn’t brown. And do you know how hard it is to find a cork board that isn’t huge? We were thinking something no larger than 8×10.

So I came up with something the girls could easily personalize, keep the backs with their pins, and keep things small and inexpensive.

Here’s what we picked up at our local craft store:

1 or 2 colors of acrylic paint
Paint brush
Adhesive embellishments like foam, felt, or sparkly stickers
8×10 white canvas boards, or any size of your choosing
A tarp or some newspaper to lay down on your table or work surface 

743e4549-9182-4513-90e6-e24dddf6c821-1First, the girls picked their favorite color and each painted the canvas. Make sure they paint in one direction to make sure the color is nice and even. Then, they used a secondary color (they both chose a sparkly silver) to paint the 4 edges. Let dry for a few hours.

Then, they got to embelish the edges of the canvas. Since those areas are unusable with the wood backing, they could decorate with stickers or glued on gems. They turned out so cute!

Then, place your pins on the board and display! The girls decided to hang theirs on the wall. And best of all, there’s still some room to add new pins after our next trip to Disneyland.

It was a great craft for a rainy Sunday that was both affordable and functional! And I love how they could personalize to their heart’s content. Give it a try!

Posted in For Kids/Parent, Freebies, Tips, Travel

12 Tips, Tricks, & Hacks for the Disneyland First Timer

Sleeping Beauty Castle (photo credit: VirgoBlue)

We just came back from another truly magical trip to Disneyland. But before we headed there for the first time with the kids, I did EXTENSIVE research by reading expert blogs, watching YouTube videos, and talking to friends who have survived their trip with little ones (kids under 10), and lived to talk about it.

Now that we’ve been to a Disney Park three times and have learned to really maximize our time there, I wanted to share some fun tips, tricks, and secret hacks with you to make your trip even more magical. Besides, there’s more than just rides to the most magical place on earth!

THE BEST TIME TO GO – People always ask about when the crowds are lightest or when the best time of year to go to Disneyland would be. Unfortunately, crowds are just a part of life these days at the parks, and ever increasing. The best way to gauge how bad the crowds will be would be to check the annual pass calendar on the official Disneyland website. If SoCal annual passholders are blocked on the days you want to visit, you’ll usually have less crowds. Also check if any events like marathons, Grad Nites, Dapper Days, or the D23 Expo are occurring when you’re thinking about going. You can also check the nearby Anaheim Convention Center’s calendar, since large conventions can also effect park attendance.

CHECK THE WEBSITE & DOWNLOAD THE APP – Use the website and/or Disneyland app to check park hours (which can vary greatly day to day), the day’s parade and fireworks showtimes (so you can plan accordingly), and also to check which rides are closed for refurbishment. I’ve heard so many instances of people being heartbroken because they didn’t realize their favorite ride was closed for refurbishment until they got there. Now, rides breakdown and can be shutdown temporarily and may not be reflected in real-time on the website. The app, however, is updated more frequently and is a fabulous tool for checking wait times for rides. It’s indispensable for when you’re at the park!

Paradise Pier at Disney’s California Adventure (Photo Credit: VirgoBlue)

FORGET THE PARK HOPPER (IF YOU HAVE KIDS UNDER 10) – You may think it’s a great idea to hop between parks whenever you want, but the truth is, most times the Park Hopper ticket becomes more of a hindrance than a benefit. With all there is to do at each park, by late afternoon you’ll realize you didn’t even hit up the other park yet. You’ll trek over there simply because you feel like you have to in order to utilize the Park Hopper ticket you bought, while realizing you didn’t do everything you wanted to back at the park you started at. Plus, extra walking after an already long day for the kids is always a recipe for disaster. You’ll enjoy your time more if you tackle one park a day, AND save money.

Peter Pan’s Flight (Photo Credit: VirgoBlue)

RIDE PETER PAN FIRST – In my opinion, no other ride represents the magic that Walt Disney had envisioned when he created Disneyland better than Peter Pan’s Flight in Fantasyland. The ride has been around since the day the park opened, so you’d think the lines would die down by now! No such luck. If you have any plans to ride Peter Pan’s Flight with a less than 25 minute wait in line, you need to head to the park when it opens and make it the first thing you do when you get there. It’s typical to see a 40-60 minute wait in the cramped, outdoor line just 30 minutes after park opening. Yikes!

CELEBRATING SOMETHING? – If you’ve ever wondered where folks get those buttons that say “Happy Birthday,” “Happily Ever After,” “First Visit,” or “I’m Celebrating…,” head to City Hall as you enter Disneyland or the Chamber of Commerce, both on the left as you enter the parks. There, you can tell a cast member what you’re celebrating and that you would like a free button. But what’s even better is if you have a little tike with you, you can ask if any Disney characters are available for a special birthday phone call. Our little one was celebrating her 5th birthday and was almost in shock when the cast member said that Goofy was on the phone waiting to speak with her!

BRING SNACKS & NEVER PAY FOR WATER – Feel free to bring snacks to the park. It’s totally allowed. In fact, if you have kids under 10, it’s almost mandatory. Everyone gets bored and cranky while standing in line for a meal or a ride. (Then splurge for a Dole Whip or a churro later!) But if you have an empty water bottle and want to save money or just want to cut down on the sugary drinks, there are water stations at many restaurants, including Rancho del Zocalo in Adventureland, the Village Haus in Fantasyland, and French Market in New Orleans Square. And you can always ask for a cup of water at many fast casual or sit down restaurants (Plaza Inn) if you don’t want to buy a beverage.

Radiator Springs at Dusk at Disney’s California Adventure (photo credit: VirgoBlue)

GO WHEN THE PARK OPENS…AND THEN TAKE A NAP! – If you have younger kids, the excitement of being at Disneyland Resort can be just plain exhausting. So to best maximize your time at the park and avoid long lines that only increase throughout the day, go to the park as soon as it opens. Be sure to check the Disneyland website a few days before you go to check the parks’ hours for the days you plan to go. Then, when foot traffic gets a little nuts at the parks between about 2-5 pm, feel free to go back to the hotel and take a nap, hit the pool, or just veg out for a couple hours. Head back later and everyone will be in a better mood!

A map of the Jungle Cruise! (Photo Credit: VirgoBlue)

GET A MAP AT THE JUNGLE CRUISE – This one is a lesser known secret for Disneyland fans, and it’s so cool! When you get off the Jungle Cruise, ask a cast member at the ride if they have any maps. If they do, you’ll be rewarded with an awesome free souvenir… Love it!

YOU’RE WAITING IN THE WRONG DOLE WHIP LINE! – Don’t let that intimidatingly long line along the exterior of the Tiki Room Lounge fool you. I know a lot of people have aborted their plans to get that deliciously famous Dole Whip (a frozen pineapple flavored non-dairy treat) after seeing that line. But don’t abort! Instead, just step through the Tiki Room gates and swing a quick right. You’ll see an alternate line for the Dole Whip counter. The line isn’t reserved for Tiki Room patrons and is no different than the impossibly long one on the other side of the wall. It’s just usually shorter and quicker!

ASK (NICELY) FOR SOME MAGIC – My oldest kid is a big fan of magic. So a trip to the Houdini’s Magic Shop on Main Street is mandatory. But did you know that when you say the magic word “please” to a cast member at the shop, they will show you a magic trick? Now that’s magic!

Pete’s Dragon at the Main Street Electrical Parade (photo credit: VirgoBlue)

CATCH THE LATER PARADE – This tip came directly from a cast member! If there are two scheduled evening parade times at Disneyland park and you think your little ones can stay up just a little later than usual (take that nap!), then it’s worth it to stay and catch the last parade of the night. While the first parade is going on, hit the rides since lines will be a little less crazy. Then, while folks file out of the park or return to their regularly scheduled waiting in lines, you can comfortably find a primo seat on Main Street, Town Square, or near Small World (the three locations I’d personally recommend for best parade viewing). But remember you won’t be seeing the fireworks show again. There’s only one fireworks show a day and it’s usually right after the first parade of the night ends.

HAVE A MEAL WITH CHARACTER(S) – The first time I went to Disneyland with one of my kids we made the horrible mistake of being lured by the thrill of meeting Mickey and Minnie. We ended up waiting for almost an hour in the blazing hot sun. We wasted so much time! Never again. Now, I book at least one character meal a trip so we can enjoy a nice meal and have the characters come to us! Most of them have at least 4-5 characters show up at each seating. Characters and prices will vary, and online or phone reservations are always advised. Please note not all meal times at these establishments are character meals, as noted below.

There are five character meal restaurants at the Disneyland Resort:

GOOFY’S KITCHEN at the Disneyland Hotel (Goofy is guaranteed, but Minnie, Pluto, Chip and Dale are frequent visitors) – Breakfast and dinner buffet character service only.

MICKEY’S SURF’S UP at the PCH Grill in the Paradise Pier Hotel (Mickey is guaranteed, but Minnie, Daisy, Pluto, and Stitch are frequent visitors) – Breakfast buffet character service only.

ARIEL’S GROTTO at Disney’s California Adventure park (Ariel is guaranteed, and three to four other princesses show up) – This is the only Disney Princess dining experience at the Resort. Breakfast and lunch character service only.

BREAKFAST WITH MINNIE AND FRIENDS at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland park (Minnie is guaranteed and Pluto is a frequent visitor. The other two to three characters vary greatly and are sometimes quite rarely spotted at the park, such as Pinocchio or Max!) – Breakfast character service only.

CHIP ‘N DALE CRITTER BREAKFAST at the Storytellers Cafe in the Grand Californian Hotel (Chip ‘n Dale are guaranteed, but other characters are almost always woodland creatures like Meeko from Pocahontas) – Breakfast character service only.

“it’s a small world” (photo credit: VirgoBlue)

If you have any other tips, feel free to leave me a comment. And like they say at the parks, “Have a magical day!”


Posted in East Bay, Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Street Food

Fried Chicken + Coleslaw = Love at Bakesale Betty in Oakland

I don’t know what it is about this seemingly simple sandwich that draws people to this tiny unmarked corner shop in the Temescal area of Oakland, in droves.

Scratch that. I DO know what it is. It’s several things, actually.

Mainly, of course, it’s the food itself. More specifically, it’s that heavenly Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich.

Betty (who is really a Chez Panisse alum who hails from Australia, named Alison Barakat) has created an incredible Fried Chicken Sandwich that has garnered raves from almost everyone who has tried it, and with good reason. This is one case where the hype is fully warranted. Fried chicken may seem like a decadent choice for a sandwich and could easily become a greasy, soggy mess, but that’s simply not the case here.

Betty’s fried chicken is crisp with a crust that is never greasy, never too thick and floury and always wonderfully flavored and spiced. And the buttermilk soaked chicken breast underneath is juicy, tender and moist.  She could easily sell these fried chicken pieces on their own and they’d go flying out the door.

Then there is the coleslaw. This is not your summer picnic version covered in greasiness and sitting in a pool of watered down mayo. Again, this tangy, slightly spicy salad could totally stand on its own. Betty’s coleslaw is flecked with thinly sliced red onions and jalapenos to create just enough kick for you to notice it, but not enough so you ever have to stop and take a drink of water. The vinegary dressing is light, fresh and adds almost a pickled flavor to the always crisp cabbage.

The genius in this sandwich is how they take two separate dishes and made them the best they could be. Combined, they make an extraordinary sandwich. One that feels familiar yet tastes reinvented.

Second, it’s the people. You stand in line for this crazy sandwich all the way down the block. You ask if it’s worth it. You question if you’re crazy to wait this long for a mere sandwich. Then a Bakesale staffer walks alongside the line to offer everyone a free slice of their banana bread, or a cookie that just came out of the oven. How nice of them to offer a tasty treat! It almost makes the wait, dare I say, enjoyable because you’re chowing down on the best banana bread you’ve ever tasted. But it also says, “Hey we realize you’re waiting a long time for some of our tasty food. But we appreciate it, and we appreciate you. Have a cookie.” (BTW, get yourself some Strawberry Shortcake if it’s in season when you order that sandwich. It is almost as exceptional as that sandwich.)

Third, it still feels like a secret cultish thing that you’ve become privy to. The ominous black painted storefront is still without a sign. All the menu items are handwritten. There are only a handful of items available daily and if you don’t get there early enough, you’ve missed out. That’s it. Tough luck. And it’s almost like the Bay Area’s version of the infamous New York City “Soup Nazi” where you have to know what you want because the line moves ever so swiftly. You have to keep pace. (But the people who work there are so much nicer.)

I never pass up the chance for one of these sandwiches. And yes, her sweets and baked goods are absolute heaven as well. But my heart belongs to that Fried Chicken Sandwich.

Find Betty’s actual Fried Chicken Sandwich recipe, courtesy of Via Magazine, here.