Posted in Food, Soup

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

This past week we took the opportunity to leave the bitter cold of the Midwest to fly down to our favorite vacation spot. As Disney Vacation Club Members, we frequently visit the land of Mickey and Minnie to enjoy the warm southern breezes and bright Orlando sunshine. Our visit is most relaxing as we love to grab a cold drink and visit the pool, hang out on the deck while reading the latest novel, use the boat system to travel to various hotels and marvel as we view the beautiful flowers and unique shrubbery. We try to avoid the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. “Been there, done that…” is my motto. As our children were growing up, we always made a few trips to the parks. These days, I’d much rather sit back and relax.

The DVC homes are spacious and bright. They have all of the amenities of home. Most nights, I cook in our beautiful villa, other nights we take a short ride to a neighboring hotel to enjoy a meal or dinner show. This year we enjoyed the Ohana dinner show at the Polynesian Hotel. Another evening was spent sharing a meal at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge. One of the appetizers served during the “storybook” dinner at Artist Point was a mini vessel of winter squash bisque. The garnish; a “lollipop” marshmallow stick. What a delightful treat. We had a fun night celebrating with Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy, and the Wicked Queen.

Arriving home, the Chicago winds were incredibly cold and the icy rain was pouring from the heavens. Running from the courtesy bus to our car in the economy parking lot, The rain had soaked through my clothing and I was, once again, freezing. I really wanted to turn around and jump back on the flight to return to the warmth of Orlando. I decided then and there that I would make a trip to the grocery store and purchase ingredients to make a big pot of Spicy Butternut Squash Soup to warm our bones and remind us of our last evening in Disney World.

This recipe is certainly not the same as Disney’s version, but it is a favorite. I add lots of ground black pepper to balance the sweetness of the maple syrup and brown sugar. Garnish with pine nuts, walnuts, maple syrup, or pumpkin seeds.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

2 large butternut squash (seeded and roasted)

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup chopped shallot (about 2 medium shallot bulbs)

1 tablespoon salt

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon brown sugar

¾ – 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Lots of ground black pepper, to taste

4- 5 cups chicken broth (or water mixed with chicken base)

½ – ¾ cups half & half

In a large soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until. Add the chopped shallot; stir and cook until the shallot has softened and begins to turn golden in color. Add garlic; stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add butternut squash, maple syrup, brown sugar, nutmeg, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pour in chicken broth. Bring to a boil and turn down heat to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Cool slightly before using an immersion blender to cream the soup. Stir in half & half and serve immediately.

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Posted in Crafts, Uncategorized

Traveling with Portable Craft Projects


The greatest dilemma I face when traveling is “How can I travel with a few compact and relaxing crafts while I’m away from the amenities of home?”
Once a year, we travel to Disney World and I am often stumped as to what I can bring along that isn’t too complicated or oversized.

I have thought about bringing quilt squares to hand sew poolside but the sewing machine does a much better job of securing the blocks as opposed to my, less than stellar hand sewing skills. I have also thought about bringing along my long term crochet projects but most are large, cumbersome (blankets or scarves) and too hot to be draped across my lap in the summer sun.
This year, I visited a YouTube website and found a video for a super easy crocheted sock pattern and I was thrilled to find a project that I could easily travel with.  

Here’s the website: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gasKXmcyrXgGlamma’s easy crocheted tube socks

Here are a few pictures of the craft items I carried in my tote bag. 

Here are a few other ideas I packed for soaking up the sun in a relaxed environment:


All were perfectly portable and helped me to find plenty to do as I relaxed in the sunshine of the Walt Disney World – Old Key West -Disney Vacation Club – Main Pool.



Who says Spring Break in Walt Disney World can’t be relaxing?!  Once again, we had a “magical” vacation.

Posted in Cooking In Disney World, Dinner, Food, lunch box, Main Dish, Skillet Meal

Teriyaki Lo Mein Noodles and Veggies

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For years, we’ve been visiting Disney’s Polynesian Resort and O’Hana’s Restaurant for their well attended dinner show. This family-friendly dinner event includes generous helpings of Polynesian inspired delicacies with a bit of entertainment provided by a ukulele playing woman (or gentleman) dressed in island themed clothing and singing (Disney-style) Polynesian tunes. All the while, the friendly waitstaff scurries around the dining tables offering guests various grilled meats, sweet bread and family-style fixings. Children are invited to come to the center of the dining room floor to play games and celebrate special occasions. It’s a festive evening and we always look forward to our annual visit.
The sweet and savory aroma that fills the dining hall just can’t be beat as Ohana’s food is absolutely fabulous. Pot stickers, Hawaiian sweet bread, a scrumptious salad, chicken wings, bread pudding and a variety of grilled meats are delivered to the table with gusto and are unlimited. One of our favorite dishes is prepared with low mein noodles, pineapple teriyaki sauce and veggies. I’ve tried to duplicate the flavor of this dish at home and in a simplistic way. This recipe is a close second to the original and eating it brings back fond memories of our time spent at Disney over the years. We look forward to celebrating our vacation with the staff at Ohana’s for years to come.

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Teriyaki Lo Mein Noodles and Veggies

1/2 package of Low Mein Noodles
1 (9oz.) package frozen teriyaki vegetables
1/2 cup Lawry’s Pineapple Teriyaki Marinade
1/4 cup prepared sweet and sour sauce

In a medium saucepan, prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain and return to saucepan. Microwave vegetables according to package directions. Mix in remaining ingredients and heat thoroughly. Serve piping hot.

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, lunch box

Simply Made Veggie-Style California Roll

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Our local grocer has a wonderful sushi station set up in the produce section of the store. Each time I visit the store, I load up my cart with a few packages of veggie style California Roll. M loves to take it to school in her bento box. She eats it for lunch or saves it for her after-school snack, just before track practice. Lately, my long work hours have kept me from visiting the market during the sushi making hours. It seems the hours for the station are limited and once the station is closed, the remaining sushi is often removed from the refrigerator case well before I arrive.
M and I were out shopping yesterday, and once again, the sushi station was closed. As M passed by the station with a disappointed look on her face, she spied a display that included all of the supplies needed to make our own California Roll recipe. We quickly gathered up all the supplies and headed home to begin our sushi making project. On a recent visit to Disney, we had purchased a bamboo sushi rolling sheet so we were excited to finally put it to use. We carefully read the directions for making the rice, although, we eliminated the addiction of sugar and salt. We then proceeded to assemble the California roll. Wow, what a simple project…and so delicious! I hope you have a chance to try the recipe on your own. Add any combination of fresh veggies you prefer…cucumber or jicama might be nice. This is really a fun family cooking project.

Simply Made Veggie California Roll

2 cups Premium Grade Nishiki Sushi Rice, cooked according to package directions
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
5 sheets nori (dry seaweed)
1 avocado, sliced thinly,
3 stalked celery, cut julianne style, about the length of the nori sheet
3 carrots, peeled and cut julianne style, about the length of the nori sheet

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Transfer cooked rice to a bowl and carefully cut in rice vinegar using a rice paddle or wooden spoon. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Place a sheet of nori, on the rolling mat.

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Place 2 to 3 pieces of each of the avocado slices, celery, and carrots on top of the nori in one layer.

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Using the mat as a guide, carefully roll the California roll into a tight log. Remove the rolling mat.

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With a sharp wet knife, cut roll into 6 even pieces. Repeat with remaining sheets of nori and filling. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

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Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, Cake, Desserts, Food, holiday

Old Fashioned Vanilla Pound Cake

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You probably recognize this cake shape from an earlier post. Yup, it’s the Mickey Mouse cake mold that we purchased in Disney World a couple of weeks ago. My twins, M and P just celebrated a birthday and M requested this delicious vanilla pound cake with cream cheese icing and strawberry topping. I usually use this recipe to make my Easter Lamb Cake. I use a special two-piece mold for a three dimensional cake. I am happy to say that this flat mold worked out just as well. Follow the recipe below for instructions to fill a more traditional pan size. A good rule of thumb when using a pan other than suggested in the recipe is to make sure that you don’t fill the pan too high or you’ll have a real mess on your hands! The pan will often overflow or you’ll end up with a lopsided, domed cake that often needs to be shaved down for a uniform shape. For a moist, dense cake, try to set your kitchen timer a few minutes less than the suggested time so that you can check out the cake before it becomes too well done. Ovens vary in temperature so get to know your oven. This way, you can avoid an over-baked cake that will most likely end up dry and crumbly. I must admit, this is a great pound cake recipe. I hope you have a chance to try this old fashioned favorite. It’s certainly isn’t a figure friendly recipe but it’s sure to please when baking for a special occasion.

Old Fashioned Vanilla Pound Cake

2 2/3 cups sugar
2 cups butter
8 eggs
8 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 1/2 cups cake flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Separate the yolks from the egg whites. Reserve the yokes. In a stainless steel bowl, beat the whites to form stiff peaks.
In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter thoroughly. Beat in egg yolks. Stir in milk, vanilla and almond extract. Add flour, 1 cup at a time. Carefully, fold in egg whites. Pour batter into well greased 10″ tube pan and bake for 90 minutes. Cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting. Optional: Top with fresh fruit before serving.

Posted in Cooking In Disney World, Uncategorized

Cooking in Disney World

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The often unpredictable price of eating out while on vacation can be quite costly. My advice to friends is always the same when choosing a hotel for a family vacation; choose one that offers, at the very least, an efficiency kitchen to cook basic meals for the family while enjoying time away. Sure, it sounds great to spend a week away from the daily grind of preparing meals and cleaning up the kitchen, but a week’s worth of family meals eaten out can be mighty costly. And its always disappointing to find that when my family is ready to eat, the chosen restaurant has a line out the door that seems to be a mile long. Once inside and finally seated, the food never seems to measure up for the cost put out. Don’t get me wrong, we have our favorite restaurants in Disney World and we always make reservations at ‘Ohana, in the Polynesian Resort and the Hollywood Brown Derby. We absolutely wouldn’t miss the Polynesian inspired foods served throughout ‘Ohana’s Dinner Show and the incredible combination of flavors carefully mixed together in the Cobb Salad served at the Brown Derby. But, my oh my, things certainly add up quickly. I remember a time when it was common practice to have a soup or salad accompany a main dish or a basket of bread was given before the meal. Nowadays, everything seems to come with an added cost.
This week, our family spent our spring break vacation in Disney World. We are Disney Vacation Club Members and have ownership in Disney’s Old Key West Resort. Purchasing this property over twenty years ago certainly has been a great vacation savings for us. I thought I would take this opportunity to explain how I manage the food budget while on vacation. While we have a few favorite restaurants that we always visit while in Disney, for the most part, we really try to commit to eating “in” for the majority of our meals throughout the week. The vacation home that we stay in comes equipped with a sizable kitchen so I can prepare anything from the basic peanut-butter and jelly sandwich to a delicious pork roast dinner for the family. As mentioned earlier, finding a hotel room or suite with a small efficiency kitchen can really save money in the long run. You may have to pay a little more for the room up front but the food savings can be incredible for a family.
Here are some of the basic meals that I usually prepare when traveling with the family. They’re often prepared with convenience mixes or prepackaged ingredients but they fit the bill for a week away from home on a budget.

On day one, I usually buy groceries for the week. (I also bring from home lots of commonly used dry spices.)

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Some of our favorite vacation meals include…

Spaghetti with meat sauce, crescent rolls and Caesar salad,

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Cheeseburgers with crispy pickles and chips,

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Tacos with homemade salsa and guacamole,

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And finally, pork roast with corn and mashed potatoes,

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It’s a great idea to look at the online weekly sale flyer for the local grocery store where you intend to shop. This way, you can plan ahead to shop for deals. This week, as I grabbed my shopping cart and sale flyer at the front of the store, I noticed pork roast and ground beef were on sale for a great price. I picked up both for separate meals. The ground beef was used for the tacos, spaghetti, and hamburgers. The pork roast was used for the pork roast dinner and pulled pork sandwiches. (I shredded the left over pork and slathered it with barbecue sauce, then topped the extra hamburger buns with the tender shredded meat.)

Now, a vacation wouldn’t be a vacation without some sweet treats…

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J and I will be celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary tomorrow so I made a Mickey cake for our after dinner dessert.

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Some of the other food items purchased for the week include:
Old Fashioned Oatmeal
Greek Yogurt
Breakfast Cereal
Milk
Orange juice
Fruit
Peanut Butter
Bread
Jelly

For Dinners, I purchased:
Ground Beef
Pasta
Ragu- Chunky Garden Style Sauce
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
Taco Shells
Taco Seasoning Packets
Tomatoes
Onions
Shredded Cheese
Cilantro
Lime juice
Avocados
Pork Roast
Barbecue Sauce
Instant Potatoes
Frozen Corn
Romaine Lettuce
Caesar Salad Dressing
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Hamburger Buns
Pickles
Doritos
Chocolate Cake Mix
Ice Cream
Chocolate Frosting Mix

I paid a little over $150.00 for a week’s worth of food and was really able to stretch my food dollars.
Each of these basic meals can be prepared quickly with very little effort. Convenience mixes and prepackaged food items help to cut down on time spent in the kitchen. Paper plates and disposable tableware can certainly save time on clean up. Thankfully, our vacation kitchen is well equipped with a set of dishes, a full fridge and a dish washer.

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I’ve been cooking in Disney World for years and these meal ideas have been long standing family favorites. My crew seems to enjoy staying away from crowded restaurants and having a few home cooked meals while enjoying our time with Mickey Mouse in the bright Florida sunshine.