Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Fair Play: Oven Broiled "Grilled" Cheese


One of our favorite summer activities is going to the fair.  The kids love the games and rides, the whole family loves the exhibits and the food.

Since our county fair is cancelled this year, we held our own fair in the backyard.

We made sure there were games.







And prizes to go with the games


And we even got them some new backyard toys which subbed in for rides.



This saucer swing has turned out to be a great pandemic purchase.  They've used it every day since our backyard fair.



I ordered a kit so we could make our own funnel cakes.  Because what kind of fair doesn't have funnel cakes?






Each of the boys set up their own exhibit for us to visit.  Thatkid chose "Rocks and Minerals" which is their favorite exhibit at the fair.  Thatbaby decided he would do the animal exhibit.  It was a far cry from the cows and goats we usually see.





The little guys usually get corn dogs at the fair, and since that's an easy enough thing to replicate at home, we all had corn dogs for lunch!



While Thatbaby napped, Thatkid got his face painted.  It's MUCH cheaper at the backyard fair than at the actual fair.


When Thatbaby woke up, we broke out our cotton candy machine and whipped up an afternoon snack.




And then I taught myself how to make balloon animals!  Or at least balloon parrots which is what the boys wanted.


We headed back outside for a little hula hoop competition.



And some spin art.




Thatboy and I like to try the new and unusual foods at the fair.  That's a little harder to replicate at home, but I thought we could work it out by doing twists on regular ole food.  So we had a "choose your own adventure" grilled cheese.  I've had some fun grilled cheeses at the fair - like buffalo chicken, or macaroni and pulled pork.  



Thatbaby stayed pretty traditional with just cheese, but he did use 3 different kind of cheeses.  Thatkid went for some adventure and picked several meats, cheeses, and avocado for his grilled cheese.  Thatboy went with truffle butter, harissa,  bacon, and cheese, while I went with tomato basil sauce, caramelized onions, and cheese.

For the past few years, the fair has been having some pretty fun doughnut desserts, like doughnut cotton candy sandwiches.  We went for an easier fair dessert - doughnut ice cream sandwiches!


It wasn't exactly the same as going to the fair, but it was a pretty good replacement for these times.


I'm not going to lie - one of the reasons I picked choose your own adventure grilled cheese was because I could make everyone's dinner at one time that way.    Even with everyone picking their own toppings.   That way everyone could pick what they wanted, I could pop it all in the oven, and then we could all eat at the same time.  Really, a mother's best friend.


Oven Broiled Grilled Cheese
8 slices of bread
4 Tbsp butter, room temperature
Cheese - cheddar, gruyere, muenster, monterey jack, mozzarella, swiss, feta......
Other ideas - salami, bacon, ham, turkey, chicken, pepperoni, mushrooms, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, sriracha, pesto. tomato sauce, harissa, tahini, alfredo, barbecue sauce, wing sauce, tapenade, pickles, ranch, Italian dressing.....


  1. Preheat the broiler.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.  Butter each piece of bread with 1/2 Tbsp of the butter.
  2. Place 4 of the bread slices buttered side down in on the baking sheet.  
  3. Top each of these bread slices with cheese.
  4. Top the cheese with whatever toppings you want.
  5. Add another slice of cheese on top of the toppings and then the remaining slices of bread, buttered side up.
  6. Broiled the sandwiches about 3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden.  Flip them and broil for another 3 minutes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Pandemic Birthday


We interrupt our regular weekend adventures to document an important and momentous occasion - Thatbaby turned 5! 


I, of course, turned another year older too, but as usual, that's less of an occasion than his birthday.

Turning 5 during a pandemic is definitely a different kind of birthday.  And since there's no Disney trip, and no party, we decided to just make him in charge of the day, getting to do whatever he wanted.  We also went a little overboard with presents.

The thing he wanted most of all was an Elsa costume, complete with wig, crown, and shoes.  He was so happy to open it up the morning of his birthday - and immediately had to put it on. 


He said he was going to wear it every day for the rest of his life.

The other thing he loves as much as Frozen is King Trollex from the new Trolls movie.  Oh you don't know who King Trollex is?  Probably because he's really only featured in the first 5 minutes of the movie and there's almost no merchandise related to him.  There is a DJ set, since King Trollex is a DJ.




I managed to find a sheet set and we put in on his be while he slept.  HE LOVED IT.  He brought it out the living room so he could cuddle in it all day, and that night he took all the stuffed animals off his bed so he could see all of it, all the time.



We let him pick all the meals for the day, and so he got pancakes with whipped cream and sprinkles for breakfast.



And the rest of the morning was really just playing with all his new stuff.







For lunch he wanted a salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, and hard boiled eggs.


In terms of a party, I had thought about doing a Zoom party run by Storybook Entertainment - the company that had been keeping my kids entertained for months with their Princess led crafts and Superhero led activities.  We had talked about Wonder Woman hosting the party and doing crafts and activities with Thatbaby and his friend.  But a couple weeks before the his birthday I talked to Thatbaby about who he would want to invite....and he only wanted to invite 2 people.  Wonderwoman and 2 kids seemed a bit overkill.  

I had read about a company out of New York, Camp.com, that was running free virtual birthday parties every day.  You signed up in advance, sent them information about your child, and they sent you a link to share with your friends and family.  They promised singing, dancing, puppets, magic, and personalize it for each birthday kid.  We sent the link out to the 2 friends and our family and logged in at the appropriate time.

They separated the "guests" from the birthday kids (we had one other boy there besides us).  The guests were in a non-interactive Zoom room where they could see and hear us, but we couldn't see or hear them.  We had a "host" who came out with a puppet and started out by trying to the kids pumped up.  He addressed each birthday boy, had them introduce their families and how old they were going to be.  


A screen was made for each boy with their picture and their favorite things, while one of their favorite songs played.



Then they brought out a different "counselor" who led the kids in a dance party and then a Disney trivia game.  Around this point I don't know if it was because they had a poor connection (they'd been coming in and out thus far) or whether the other boy really wasn't into it (he didn't seem like he was loving it), the other boy dropped off the Zoom and it became a private party for Thatbaby.   

After trivia they brought in the other room with our friends and family and they all got to say hi and give birthday wishes.  The host and puppet led a scavenger hunt for all the participants, and then had everyone grab their cakes and cupcakes so we could all sing Happy Birthday.  (We sent cupcakes and goody bags to all the participants before the party so they could join in for this part)



And that cake?  Oy that cake.  Thatbaby had originally asked for a watermelon that looked like a cake as well as a cake that looked like a lobster tail and corn.  2 days before his birthday he reminded me he wanted chocolate chips in his watermelon cake and seemed astounded when I told him I can't get chocolate chips into the middle of an actual watermelon.  Right then and there he decided he didn't want either of those cakes.  He wanted a cake that looked like a watermelon - so he could have chocolate chips in it that look like seeds.

So that's what he got.



After Thatbaby blew out his candles, the host did a fun little skit with the puppet and then hosted a dance party for all the friends and family.

In fitting with the theme of "do whatever you want" day for Thatbaby, Thatboy blew up the pool and let them play in it - a big deal since we don't usually let them play in the pool during the week.


He took a little break for some cake.


After he was pooled out, we headed back inside to watch Frozen 2 and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.


But before bed, we did a quick happy birthday for me too.



Where I gave him a little frosting "kiss"



And he gave one right back to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Disneyland, Home Edition: Walt's Chili


Yesterday Thatbaby turned 5.  5!!!!!  He'll always be my baby, but he certainly isn't one anymore. 

All he wanted for his birthday was to go to Disneyland.  He's been talking about it since November.  When we figured out that couldn't happen we decided to bring Disneyland to him the weekend before his birthday. 

We started the morning off with Mickey waffles.


And then we headed to California Adventure.  One of the things we've never done at California Adventure, but I knew the kids would enjoy, was the Animation Academy, where you learn to draw Disney characters.  We worked on a couple different versions of Mickey Mouse.




Thatkid LOVED this, and he spent all of Thatbaby's nap drawing more characters, then got up the next morning and did some more. 

Then we virtually rode some of the California Adventure rides.  Including some Thatbaby would never ride in real life, like Guardians of the Galaxy.


After we rode all our favorite rides, we crossed over to Disneyland park and went on a cruise.  A jungle cruise.


We took a break to watch some parades and eat lunch - Monte Cristo sandwiches!


Next we headed to the Tiki Room (this one was really for me, I love the Tiki Room!).  And you can't go to the Tiki Room without stopping for Dole whip.  I used the "official" recipe posted by Disney, but after several friends passed along their experience I'll give you my super secret tip.  Everyone I know who made it claimed it was more of a smoothie than anything else, so after making it, I threw it in the ice cream maker to process for a couple minutes which gave it that awesome soft serve consistency.





This is the point where Thatbaby went down for his nap and Thatkid spent more time in the Animation academy.  After that, it was all rides for the rest of the afternoon.



We did take a little churro break while we rode the Mark Twain.


And the great thing about virtual rides is that you don't get sick if you eat right before going on them!



For dinner we headed over to the Carnation Cafe for a little chili in a bread bowl while we watched the Disney Family Sing A Longs.


And we watched a little World of Color while having our dessert.



About that chili.  My initial thought was gumbo in a bread bowl.  I love gumbo in a bread bowl at Disney.  But the kids are not gumbo fans.  The sausage is too spicy for them.  Bah.  But chili is something we can all do.  And Disney published the recipe for Walt's Chili served at the Carnation Cafe.

When I actually went to make it, I ran into small problem.  The recipe was a mess.  The ingredients didn't match the instructions.  There were ingredients listed that were never used in the instructions, and the instructions told you to use ingredients that weren't listed.  Not to mention the fact that the ingredients called for canned beans when the first step involved rinsing, sorting, and soaking the beans overnight.  So I don't know how authentic this is, but if you're looking to make Walt's chili, at least know this is going to get you closer than Disney's recipe!

Walt's Chili
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, diced
3/4 lb beef stew meat
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp beef broth
1 1/2 cups water
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add onion and garlic and saute until translucent (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add beef and green pepper and cook until beef is browned.
  3. Add tomato paste, onion powder, cumin, and chili powder and cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, beef broth, and water.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour.
  5. Stir in fresh tomatoes and beans.  Continue cooking until they are heated through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.