Wednesday, November 27, 2019

How to Survive Zoomars with Kids: Sauteed Corn

We've been going to Zoomars since the Thatkid was a little thing.  If I recall correctly we first went during his train obsession phase, because it is so easy to take the train up and walk over.   It's a small enough place to let the kids run amok and have them still be enclosed, but there's also enough to do to keep them occupied for hours.  Due to it's location in south Orange County, it also makes a great halfway meeting point between San Diego and other parts of Orange County which means the kids get to go with their friends!

1. The Cost

The fun thing about Zoomars is that admission covers the playground and touching the animals, but there's so much more there and your kid is going to want to do it all.  The train costs extra, food for the animals costs extra, gem mining costs extra...and it all adds up.  So be prepared to pay more than you think.  But there's good news friends, there are usually coupons on Groupon which often include packages of several activities.

2. Bring Water (and snacks)

I don't know what it is about this place, but my kids always get so very thirsty while we're there.  They also let you bring in your own snacks and if you're going to be there a while, it's nice to be able to take a little snack break.  Just keep them away from the goats!

3. The Animals

The main draw of Zoomars has got to be the animals.  There's a huge area just filled with guinea pigs and my kids can stay there FOREVER.  They love it so much.  There's also a pen of very aggressive goats (aggressive in the food seeking kind of way, not the pin you up against the wall and tell you to get lost kind of way).  And while you can't get in to the pens with them, there's also llama, alpaca, a cow, pigs, and an ostrich!

4. The Train

Sure it's hokey and small, but my kids still want to ride it.  Every time. 

5. The Western Town and Stick Ponies

I actually thought my kids might have outgrown this area, but was pleasantly surprised when they each grabbed a stick pony and took off, pretending to be looking for the cat outlaw.  There's a cutout of an old west town that they just love playing on, so save some time for this.  This is also a great time for the grownups to take a little rest break and just sit and watch since there aren't a lot of places for them to go.

6. The Playground

If your children like the more traditional play structure that doesn't require playing make-believe, there's one of those too!  Complete with slide and climbing,  With everything else there is to do, this was the part my kids are currently the least interested in, but for younger kids, this is the perfect size play structure.

7. Seasonal Activities

I had some friends go during the Halloween season and there were pumpkins and other fun things for the kids to do.  We went shortly after and there was still a maze of hay bales for the kids to run through.  The nice thing about this place is that it really is geared toward younger children, so even with the maze, Thatbaby didn't get nervous about going through without us since he could see over the top of the bales.

8.  The Corn 

We never really did sensory bins in my house, but holy moly do my kids love playing in corn kernels.  If Zoomars only had guinea pigs and the corn bin, we still could have been there for an entire day.  It seems like such a simple thing, but it is apparently highly entertaining for them.  And the fun doesn't end there, because when you play in the corn, you come home with corn everywhere!  Thatbaby was emptying corn from his pockets hours later when we got home.  It's the gift that keeps giving.  

I'm sure it doesn't hurt that my kids love corn in any way, shape or form.  Thatbaby often asks for frozen corn kernels to snack on.  When we went to Pennsylvania, we had dinner with family friends and they had the boys shucking corn - we had to really keep an eye to make sure they didn't just eat them right then and there.  We eat a ton of corn in the summer and fall when it's so sweet you really can just eat them raw!

This is one of our favorite corn recipes.  While my kids are happy with unbuttered corn, this version is super buttered which makes them taste just like popcorn, my favorite food!  This is especially good if you're looking for a last minute side for your Thanksgiving meal because it comes together so quickly.

Sauteed Corn
4 ears of corn
4 Tbsp butter
  1. Heat the butter over medium heat.
  2. When the butter is melted and bubbly, husk the corn and remove the silk.  Cut the corn from the cob, scraping to get the milk and sugar into the pan with the kernels.
  3. Saute corn for about 4 minutes, shaking to keep the corn from sticking to the pan.
  4. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Halloween Leftovers: Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bread

I have some leftover Halloween pictures to share. Which makes sense because we fill up October with so many Halloween events, it takes forever to get through them all. 

My kids started the day off with a festive open-faced Monster Breakfast Sandwich. 

And then we accompanied Thatkid to school for his Halloween parade and flash-mob dance.

Thatbaby's preschool has a no costume rule, but do pajama day instead.  He wore some fun new Halloween pajamas for the occasion.

They do have a Halloween party, so he made "Make a Monster" kits for all his friends and brought them in.

After school we went to a Halloween party at the home of one of Thatkid's classmates.

And then we all headed out to trick or treat!

The neighborhood we went to was new to us, but had some great decorations.

The kids came home with quite the haul!

Not only did I have leftover Halloween pictures, we also had leftover Halloween candy.  Due to some poor communication, both Thatboy and I had picked up Halloween candy to hand out.  Plus I had picked up a bag of Reeses Peanut Butter cups for us.  So we had....a lot of peanut butter cups.  I was trying to think of ways to use them up, and I could have thrown them into brownies or cookies, but really, we already had so much candy, I wanted to make something a little less dessert-y.  I tried to think of what went well with peanut butter and chocolate and I came up with bananas.  Really, such a no brainer when you think about it.  Chocolate chip banana bread is already a thing, and peanut butter seems like a natural addition.

I always have frozen bananas on hand, and defrosted frozen bananas make the BEST mashed bananas for banana bread.  My family agrees.  We ate this entire loaf in 2 days!  No leftovers here!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bread
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 stick butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs
3 bananas, mashed
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup peanut butter cups, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 325.  Spray a loaf pan with baking spray.  Combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium sized bowl.
  2. Beat the butter in an electric mixer until soft and fluffy.  
  3. Add sugar to butter and continue to mix.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time.
  5. Mix in mashed bananas and sour cream.
  6. Add the dry ingredients on low speed, continue mixing until just combined.
  7.  Stir the peanut butter cups into the batter and pour into the prepared pan.  Bake for 75 minutes, or until cooked through.
  8. Cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes before turning onto a rack and allowing to completely cool.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Pumpkin Everything: Pumpkin Butter

With the intense fall heat we've been having, and given our experience with getting pumpkins too early in the month, we decided to hold off on all pumpkin-ing until the week of Halloween.

First stop, the pumpkin patch!

We still have the rule that you can't get a pumpkin that you can't carry.  And my kids couldn't be more different about that.  Thatbaby likes little ones, veering away from anything that even looks heavy.

Thatkid, on the other hand, is always going for broke, trying to get the largest pumpkin he can physically hold.  Thatboy even tried to institute a new rule that you had to make it all the way to the wheelbarrow with your pumpkin, but Thatkid was up on that game too.

Once we had our pumpkins, we headed to the other things the patch has to offer.  We skipped the hay ride this year, because it was already hot and sticky.  We didn't want to sit in the hot sun, getting even hotter, and getting stuck by straw.

We did get lost in the corn maze.

And Thatbaby always loves the petting zoo portion of the pumpkin patch.

This year they even opened up the sunflower for "u-cut" sunflowers at $1 a stem.

Monday night, we got to work turning our pumpkins into works of art.

And then Tuesday night we headed to Plan 9 for their annual pumpkin carving contest.  As usual, Thatboy and Thatkid collaborated on the idea.  Thatkid came up with the idea, and Thatboy worked on different designs, until they both agreed.  Then Thatboy did the actual carving.

This year however, we invited Thatkid's friends and Thatkid helped his friend with his design.

Then Thatkid cheered his heart out so that his friend ended up taking second place!  Poor Thatboy.

With all that pumpkin fun, I really wanted to use the pumpkins to make pumpkin butter.  It's fairly well known about my love of all things pumpkin flavored, and in fact, my friends teased me for not picking up pumpkin butter with my annual Trader Joes pumpkin haul.  But pumpkin butter is one of those things that's so easy to make.  And while I didn't get around to making it with real pumpkin this year, canned pumpkin puree is one of the reasons this is so easy!  I love it thrown on top of toast, bagels, or english muffins, used in a turkey sandwich, and it works great as a cinnamon roll filler!

Pumpkin Butter
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
juice of 1/2 lemon
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, and let simmer for about 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely before using.  

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

7 Reasons to Visit Hal-Glow-Een at the San Diego Zoo: Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

Every year we try to incorporate one new Halloween event into our calendar.  Sometimes they end up being keepers (like the Gingerbread house building we did last year) and other years we decide that we don't need to make it a yearly event.  This year our new event was Hal-Glow-Een at the zoo.   For three weekends in October the zoo, which normally closes at 5pm, stays open late for Halloween festivities.  Prior to us going I could find very little information about the event.  What does it entail?  Is it worth it?  If you're considering making this a family event for next Halloween, here are some good tips to keep in mind.

#1: Music and Dancing

 Hal-Glow-Een is made up of several different areas throughout the zoo with activities at each area.  And a lot of the activities involve music and/or dancing.  We started the evening out with the Skeleton Band, who played a bunch of kid friendly Halloween music that got both my kids up and on their feet grooving.  

We also stopped by Dusty Keys, who, along with his skeleton friend, played Halloween songs on the organ, told jokes, and generally kept the kids entertained.  
Special tip: Dusty Keys is located at the Boardwalk Beer Garden if the grownups want to grab a drink while the kids watch the show.  

And of course, the bubble dance party which goes on all night.  There are black lights, bubbles, and fun music for your favorite little dancer.
Special tip: In addition to the bubbles put on by the dj, they sell light up bubble wands which of course every kid wants.  So be prepared ahead of time to either buy one or tell your child "no" a million times.  

#2: Fun Shows

In addition to the musicians, there are also non-musical shows.  At several times and locations throughout the zoo there are "Animal Encounters,"  a chance to get a closer look at some very cool animals.  Thatbaby made us stop each time we passed one. 

There's also The Spooky Review which features aerialists, acrobats, and jugglers.  We happened upon it early in the evening, but I'm betting it would be even more fun at night when the performers neon costumes glowed.

The kids loved Dr. Zoolittle, which had a ton of crowd participation.  There was magic, bug eating, and a cupcake walk where 3 kids win cupcakes. 

Special tip: Both the Spooky Review and Dr. Zoolittle are located beside restaurants, so they make a great place to stop and grab dinner while you watch the show.

#3: Python Path

Most of the animals don't take part in the Hal-Glow-Een festivities.  With the exception of the reptiles in the reptile house.  Glow in the dark reptiles adorned the wall as we wandered through looking at different snakes, lizards, and frogs.

#4: See the Zoo at Night

Since the zoo normally closes at 5pm, you get to see a side of the zoo that few experience.  Some of the animals are more active as the weather cools down.  Others who may hide during the day come out and sleep in the open at night.  

Special tip: The zoo is really dark at night.  Most of us were using cell phone flashlights to get around.  I recommend either starting at Africa Rocks (which is the easiest to get lost in the dark) or bringing a light source with you.  Glow wands, sticks, and jewelry are definitely helpful.

#5: Boo Crew

Do your kids love costumed characters?  Street performers?  Both? Well Hal-Glow-Een has them! It's pretty cool to see the Boo Crew wandering around and interacting with kids.

#6: Food and Drink Specials

Almost every restaurant had specials for Hal-Glow-Een.  Like spooky straws for your drinks.  Or cotton candy shaped like candy corn with a light up stick.   The zoo doesn't usually run seasonal food specials, so if you like the idea, this is the time to get it!

#7: You Can't Do It All

There's so much to do at Hal-Glow-Een, there were a ton of events we didn't get to.  Other musicians, shows, and even glow in the dark hula hoops.  So if none of the events I wrote about appeal to you, maybe one of the others will!

Know Before You Go:

  • Hours: Weekends in October, 5-9pm.
  • Admission: Included with the price of zoo admission for adults ($56).  Since the zoo participates in "Kids Free in October" this event is free for kids.
  • Membership: Packages vary.  An annual pass is $174 for 2 adults and includes access to the zoo, Safari park, and special events at both locations. 
  • See Plan Your Visit on the San Diego Zoo Website for more information

Since Halloween is now over, I'm sharing my favorite "Halloween" recipes that are really great for the whole fall.  Like pumpkin macaroni and cheese.  Fall is my favorite time of year for comfort foods like this.  Comfort foods involving pumpkin.  Really, there's nothing better.  And while savory pumpkin dishes can be hit or miss, this macaroni and cheese hits all the right notes.  It's not overwhelmingly pumpkin spice, instead the pumpkin helps to make the sauce creamy and thick.  And with all the cheese in it, its a surefire winner with small kids.  I didn't even mention the pumpkin addition to mine and my kids devoured it.

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese
1lb macaroni or other pasta (I used the pumpkin shapes from Trader Joes)
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup mozzarella
1/4 cup parmsean
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
  3. Add in the flour and stir until it becomes a paste.  Cook for another minute or two until the paste starts to bubble.
  4. Slowly stir in the milk, and continue stirring until smooth.  Cook for 3-5 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken.
  5. Reduce heat to low and stir in pumpkin, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in cheese.  Continue stirring until all the cheese is melted and incorporated.
  7. Stir in the pasta and serve.