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 www.MetOpera.org 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 www.netflixparty.com .
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 www.kennedy-center.org/education/mo-willems 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. www.montereybayaquarium.org
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. www.brit.co/learn
Craftiful Studio in San Jose, California is doing short, easy crafting tutorials everyday on their Facebook page. Go to www.craftifulstudio.com 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.
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.
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 www.disneystore.com, 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.
My 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
First, 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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
If you have any other tips, feel free to leave me a comment. And like they say at the parks, “Have a magical day!”
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.
I don’t usually post recipes but I’m thinking I might start to from time to time. This recipe is adapted from a blog called Cooking Melangery. I got inspired so I decided to make these as a side dish to my Roasted Lemon Chicken for dinner recently. The results were excellent! I love that wonderful vinegary flavor, and it’s a great change of pace to regular sauteed mushrooms. I also got some fresh mushrooms from the farmers market, so that only added to how tasty they turned out.
2 lbs. button or cremini mushrooms, quartered and cleaned 1/4 cup olive oil 1/4 tsp. dried thyme 2 green onions, chopped 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin 1/3 cup red wine vinegar 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. black pepper
Heat a saute pan over medium high heat and add olive oil. Add green onions and garlic to the pan and saute about 1 minute. Add in mushrooms and the salt and pepper. Saute about 3 minutes.
Add in the vinegar and dried thyme. Stir through and cook for another minute.
Take off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Serve. Makes enough for about 4-6 people as a side dish.
My gluten free husband hasn’t had real fried chicken in AGES. I’ve made breaded chicken but using almond meal instead of breadcrumbs. It’s surprisingly good, but it’s not fried chicken. And flavoring just the breaking doesn’t do the trick because then your meat isn’t flavorful.
Enter this recipe which is a take off Ina Garten’s. I’ve made some changes with flavoring and measurements. And you’ll notice I use only dark meat. They cook up juicer and is much more forgiving in terms of cooking time. If you choose to use white meat, don’t use boneless meat and remove from the oven about 5-10 minutes sooner.
Its crispy, crunchy, juicy, flavorful fried chicken goodness. Whether you’re gluten free or not, this is the best oven fried chicken recipe I’ve ever made. This recipe is definitely a keeper!
6 chicken legs, separated thighs and legs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup brown mustard
2 cups gluten free breadcrumbs
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Herbs de Provence
1 1/2 tsp. Garlic powder
Preheat oven to 385F degrees on convection roast, or 400F.
Mix buttermilk and mustard together in a large bowl and submerge all the chicken pieces, including under the skin. Marinade at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Mix all remaining dry ingredients in a shallow dish or loaf pan. Dip chicken pieces in the dry mixture and place on a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake 25 mins, then flip the pan and bake another 20 mins.
Remove from oven and let cool 10-15 mins. Serve. Makes enough for 5-6 people.
It’s been WAY too long since I last wrote on this blog. But my impetus for this entry is, of course, food. This time is a ridiculously simple but hearty stew that’s naturally vegetarian/vegan (if you use veggie stock or broth), gluten and dairy free, high in protein and fiber, and low in fat . And if it tasted too healthy and bland I wouldn’t be writing about it, so trust me on this.
I’ve been making lentil soup for years and frankly, the idea of making another pot of the stuff bored me. But I remembered a pot of lentil stew that one of my former roommates during my college years made without the usual mirepoix of carrots and celery. Could I throw a bag of lentils, some diced tomatoes, and some spices into a slow cooker, have it be done by the time I get home from work, AND actually taste like something I’d look forward to eating?
YES! This stew is awesome! It goes great with rice or with a nice crusty piece of bread. Easy, delish, good for you = the trifecta. Voila!
Slow Cooker Lentil Tomato Stew 16 oz. green lentils, uncooked One 16 oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce One 16 oz. can petite diced tomatoes 1 medium yellow onion, chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 tsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. dried thyme 1 bay leaf 1/2 tsp. kosher salt 4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar (optional)
*Place all the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on high for 5-6 hours. This should make a good amount of stew (around 6-8 servings). Stir in vinegar to finish just before serving. Serve alone, with rice, or with some nice crusty bread.
Cranberry sauce is used/eaten like jam at our house. It’s cooked up in batches and used on everything from the Thanksgiving bird to toast every morning for the next several weeks. It’s also eaten with peanut butter and poured over ice cream. It’s pretty versatile. That’s why I hesitate just calling it “cranberry sauce.” It’s very limiting.
I decided to start this season’s batch early because I wanted one less thing to do for Turkey Day, and it keeps in the fridge for about 2 weeks anyway. The second jar went straight into the freezer for later use.
This recipe is so easy to make, so reliably delicious, that my official taste tester (my 4 year old) grabs a bowl of it every time it’s fresh off the stove.
And remember, it’s not just for Thanksgiving anymore.
Simple Cranberry Jam (Sauce)
– 2 twelve ounce packages of fresh cranberries. If frozen, thaw before using.
– 1 cup granulated sugar
– 1 cup water
Combine all ingredients into a saucepan and let it come up to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently to prevent the sugar from burning on the bottom and sides of the pan. The cranberries will pop and hiss as they get hot.
Then, turn down the heat and simmer on low for 20-25 minutes. Continue to stir occasionally to prevent burning and sticking. Once the mixture is shiny and coats the back of your spoon, it should be done. It will continue to thicken slightly as it cools.
Let it cool for 30 minutes or so before placing into a tupperware, bowl, or mason jars for freezing/storing. It should keep for 2 weeks.