Gluten Free, Slow Cooker Apple Crisp

My mom can’t cook. She has lots of great qualities, but she can’t cook. Growing up there was lots of burned fajita veggies, pancakes with batter in the middle, and lumpy Mac and cheese. But, there were a few recipes she excelled at. Her apple pie was delicious.

A few years ago she went gluten free for health reasons, so no more apple pie for her. So when I found myself with lots of apples, I thought it’d be nice to make a dessert that was reminiscent of her apple pie that she could actually eat. Bonus points for it being made in my slow cooker.

Ingredients for the Crumble Top

  • 1 cup gluten free flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Flour)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
  • 1 cup walnuts

Ingredients for the Apples

  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 6 cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I used 8 small Gala apples)

Instructions

  1. Put all of the ingredients for the crumble topping, except the butter, into a food processor.
  2. Cut your butter into pats and add it to your food processor.
  3. Pulse for 30 seconds to 1 minute until you get a crumb texture. Set aside.
  4. Mix your white sugar, cornstarch, ginger and cinnamon together.
  5. Dump your chopped apples, the sugar mixture, and the lemon juice into your slow cooker and stir until your apples are evenly coated.

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    Chopped apples. Bite size.
  6. Evenly pour your crumb topping on top of your apples.
  7. Cook on the high setting of your slow cooker for two hours.

And that’s it. Serve with vanilla ice cream and enjoy having your whole house smell like apple crisp. And if you don’t have a gluten allergy, feel free to use regular flour, it’ll still turn out yummy.

 

 

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My Favorite Quick Service Restaurants at Disney World

I love Disney World. I love food. So, naturally I have a lot of thoughts on food at Disney World. I decided to share some of those thoughts with you. Below I highlight my favorite quick service (aka counter service) restaurants in each of the main theme parks.

Backlot Express – Hollywood Studios

Backlot Express is, fine. I chose it because right now, before the opening of Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) there aren’t a whole lot of interesting quick service options at Hollywood Studios. It beats out the other options solely because of the Star Wars theming to the food. I’m a sucker for Darth Vader waffles, what can I say?

It serves pretty standard theme park food, chicken nuggets, burgers, fries, with a Star Wars twist. So those chicken nuggets become Dark Side Chicken and Waffles (Vader waffles, yum), the burger has a black bun, etc. The food is good, but basic, and there are decent lighter options as well. My favorite things about this place are the super cute themed cupcakes and the Star Wars glow cubes in my drink.

Columbia Harbour House – Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom has lots of really good quick service restaurants, so what makes this one my favorite? Two words; Upstairs. Seating. I know, what’s the big deal about upstairs seating? In my personal experience, no matter how crazy busy the park is, the upstairs at  Columbia Harbour House is always relatively quiet. This is the restaurant I go to after using all my Fast Passes, riding all the mountains, meeting Mickey and the princesses, and the kids (and adults) have melt down. I get my good food and I head upstairs to find a table by the window.

Harbour House sits in between Liberty Square and Fantasyland, so depending on where you sit you have some fun views of Haunted Mansion or Rapunzel’s Tower. I like the food too! They have great Mac and cheese (my daughter’s go to), a huge meal with fried fish, shrimp, and chicken nuggets (my husband’s go to), and lots of other options that have a tendency to change so that I get the variety that I like in a restaurant.

Tangierine Cafe – Epcot

Okay, this was a hard choice. I loooooove eating at Epcot. Picking just one restaurant from there is almost as hard as picking which of my kids I love most. And honestly, I hardly ever have a full meal at a quick service at Epcot because I’m usually enjoying all the small plates that are offered at one of their many food-centric festivals.

But if I had to pick, Tangierine Cafe would be my favorite. It’s located in the Morocco pavilion in World Showcase and offers up huge, delicious portions of Mediterranean food. Shawarma, couscous, hummus, so much yum! They also offer up great vegetarian options and less adventurous options for the kids. The shawarma chicken and lamb platter is full to the brim with deliciousness and also enough to split between two people who aren’t huge eaters.

Flame Tree Barbecue – Animal Kingdom

Going from the hardest choice to the easiest. Here’s the thing. Animal Kingdom has really good food. The stuff at Harambe Market looks mouthwatering. I’ve heard great things about the quick service food in the new Pandora land. But somehow, even when I have every intention of expanding my horizons, and trying something new, I always end up at Flame Tree Barbecue.

Why? Well it probably has something to do with the smell. As soon as you enter Discovery Island you can smell the smoked meat, and once that happens all intentions of eating somewhere else disappear. The food tastes as good as it smells, and thank goodness that barbecue sauce is self serve so I can drown everything in it. And I can’t not talk about their French fries with pulled pork and cheese. Because it is my everything. I tried this late at night with Animal Kingdom’s signature beer, the Safari Amber, and all the stress of the day just melted away. And it had been a stressful day. We were visiting Pandora the second day it was open and I had Fast Passes for Flight of Passage for 8:15am. But none of that mattered when I bit into those fries.

I love the seating here as well. It’s all outdoors, but covered, and a lot of it has very nice views of the water. It can be very tranquil, however, my favorite place to sit is where I can see Expedition Everest and hear people screaming on the ride’s big drop.

So those are my personal favorites and why I like them. Agree? Disagree? Let me know. And if you go to Disney World soon, bring me some of those fries?

 

Mojito Recipe

Full disclosure; the only reason I grow mint every year is so I can have mojitos all summer long. I love them. They’re light and refreshing and pretty easy to make.

Ingredients

  • 1 shot (1 oz) of light rum
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of lime juice
  • ice
  • club soda
  • 5 or 6 fresh mint leaves

Instructions

  1. Put the mint leaves, sugar, and lime juice into your glass (I use a 12 oz glass).
  2. Muddle(smash the heck out of) the ingredients at the bottom of your glass. The more you smash and bruise your mint the more minty your mojito will taste, so get violent.
  3. Fill your glass about halfway with ice. Pour in your rum.
  4. Fill with club soda. Stir.

And enjoy your refreshing mojito!

I also enjoy making virgin mojitos for my kiddos. Just leave out the rum (duh) and put in more sugar. Another 1/4 teaspoon should do the trick.

Pancakes For Beginners

This is not the recipe for the best pancakes you will ever eat (at least I kind of hope not), this is a basic recipe and more importantly, some simple tips for cooking pancakes. This is for people who curse at their griddles and can’t figure out why their pancakes never work. This is for people who have all but given up. 😉

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter (melt it before you start mixing your ingredients so it cools slightly)

Instructions

  1. Mix your dry ingredients.
  2. Add your wet ingredients, making sure to not over stir your batter.

Cooking Your Pancakes

  • Get your griddle or non stick frying pan to the right temperature. I put mine on a little over medium heat and let it warm up while I make my batter. ***Test your griddle or pan to make sure it’s the right temperature by splashing just a little bit of water on it. If the water droplets “dance” on the pan it’s a good heat for cooking pancakes. If the water evaporates right away, the pan is too hot. ***
  • I spray my pan with cooking spray right before I drop the batter in the pan because my “non stick” frying pan has a tendency to stick. If your pan or griddle is better than mine, feel free to skip this step.
  • Drop some batter into the pan. The smaller the pancake, the easier to flip and the faster it’ll cook, so if you struggle with pancakes, you might want to start with silver dollar size.
  • *** Don’t try to flip your pancake too soon. Wait until your pancake starts to “bubble” before you flip it. 

    IMG_2370
    Bubbles and my sticky non-stick pan.
  • *** Don’t smush your pancakes once you flip them. It’ll make them dense, aka, like hockey pucks.*** Let them cook on the other side for about two minutes and you should hopefully have some pretty decent pancakes.

I hope these tips and tricks help you impress your family with a delicious pancake breakfast. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

A Love Story

Since it was Father’s Day yesterday, and my five year wedding anniversary on Friday, I wanted to write a love story about my husband. The problem is, which love story should I write? With five years of marriage, two kids, ten years together, and over twenty years of friendship, there are a lot of stories to choose from.

I could write about the first time we kissed. In college, at a party. There was alcohol involved and he cut our makeout session short. He had to get up early the next morning to sing in the choir at church.

Or I could talk about the time early in our relationship when I went to Disney World with my family. I missed him so much I called him while I was riding Maelstrom (RIP Maelstrom) and provided him with colorful commentary for the entire ride. There might have been alcohol involved with that one as well.

Or the time on New Year’s Eve, where he pulled me off the couch to dance to “I Only Have Eyes For You”. He whispered the lyrics into my ear while we slow danced. No small feat given the thirteen inch height difference between us.

Then there are the obvious stories I could tell, our wedding day, driving through McDonald’s after the ceremony because we had both been too busy and nervous to eat anything beforehand. The births of our children, when our daughter came out covered in meconium (her own poop, pregnancy is so gross) my husband exclaimed, “She’s beautiful!” and I thought he was crazy because she was literally covered in s**t.

And then there are countless other stories I could tell. Stories of him patiently cleaning our daughter’s toe after she’s picked the nail down to nothing. Of him spending hours reading the same five books to our son, because those are his favorites. So many stories of his selflessness, as a husband, son, and father. Stories of his passion as an artist and a friend.

There are thousands of love stories this man has given me. A new one every day.

 

 

 

 

Animal Kingdom Lodge Review

AKA: Why Animal Kingdom Lodge is the best hotel ever…. unless you’re my mom.

Sigh. Last year my family and I were at Disney World, celebrating my mom’s sixty-fifth birthday and having an awesome time. This year, my family and I are deep cleaning our house. Which is great, I love getting the house in shape, but I’d rather be at Disney World. But since I’m not, I’ll take a break from all the cleaning to reminisce and write about Disney World.

Today I thought I’d talk about Animal Kingdom Lodge and why it’s an awesome hotel for some, but not all. I was blown away by the hotel, and would gladly stay there any time. My mom, on the other hand was a little underwhelmed. Since I’d rather end this post on a happy note, I’ll start with why my was less enthusiastic than I was.

My Mom’s Cons:

Animals 😦 Sad but true, my mom was underwhelmed by the animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I chalk this one up to reality not meeting expectation. I’ve talked a bit about the importance of expectations before, and my mom is a good example of being disappointed when expectations aren’t met. To be fair, the promotional pictures for the hotel do quite a good job of upselling the animal experience. My mom was expecting it to be more naturalistic, like you are waking up in Africa and can see savannah for miles and miles. In reality, you see other hotel room balconies, a well worn road that the keepers use, and (if you’re looking close enough) feeders and barriers.

Crowds 😦 Okay, so usually when we stay at Disney World we stay at Old Key West Resort which is the largest resort at Disney World in terms of square footage, and has the least amount of rooms. Which means it’s a sprawling, spread out, very quiet resort. Animal Kingdom Lodge has much more of a bustling hotel feel to it. My mom prefers the quiet hotels.

Location 😦 Animal Kingdom Lodge is a tad further from the parks (besides Animal Kingdom), and the only form of transportation is bus which gets tiresome. Especially after staying at the Grand Californian Resort at Disneyland the year before last. Walking from your hotel directly into the park will spoil you pretty quick.

My Pros:

Animals! I was blown away with the animal encounters! I was expecting to see the occasional zebra, or oxen in the distance, but we saw so many animals throughout the day. There was one ostrich that would keep coming by our balcony, strutting her stuff, I loved starting the day, drinking my coffee, watching her do her thing. And the animals are all over the place. Tortoises and birds outside the window of the restaurant, flamingos by the pool, if you are an animal lover (or have an animal obsessed kid) the animals are a lot of fun.

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My favorite ostrich down on the right.

Food! Everyone in my family agreed that the food at Animal Kingdom Lodge was delicious. The hotel has a signature restaurant (i.e. fancy), a buffet, a more casual sit down restaurant, a quick service restaurant, a lounge, and two pool bars that also serve a limited menu of food. And the food was goooood. There is a great mix of safer options (hamburgers, chicken nuggets, etc) and more adventurous, African inspired dishes. The best dish I had there was also the simplest, the bread service at The Victoria Falls Lounge. The lounge is a fun place to grab a drink, located between two floors, and overlooking the buffet. It was a nice place to unwind after a busy day of traveling. Listening to the African drumming didn’t hurt either.

Activities! This right here is why I’d go back to Animal Kingdom Lodge over and over again. The resort offers a whole slew of activities. It’s great for people who want to do something besides the parks. Most of the activities are geared towards kids, but there are several for adults only, some of which include wine ;). A lot of the activities were educational as well which I appreciated. My daughter actually chose to hang out at the hotel over the parks an afternoon or two, so that she could take part in more of the activities. She helped make enrichments for the animals, learned about conservation, how to track animals in the wild, and about Africa itself, she got her face painted by two sweet women from Kenya, and got to decorate a cake. All of these were free activities that added an extra layer to our stay.

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Not pictured; the mountain of candy rocks and sprinkles she covered it in.

In my humble opinion, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a breathtaking resort that is great for families who don’t want to spend all of their time in the parks, and don’t mind the extra hustle and bustle. It would be a waste to stay there and not explore all that it has to offer. Gorgeous pools, artwork around every corner, rocking chairs in quiet nooks for watching the sunset over the savanna, it has so much to offer. I can’t wait to go back some day!

 

 

 

 

 

Five Tips For Taking Babies And Toddlers To Disney

Suffice it to say, I’m a big fan of the Disney Parks. For me, it is always a good time to visit. Holidays, summer vacation, rain, sun, if I’m there, I’m happy. So I’ve never really understood when people talk about the “right time” to take their kids to the parks. It’s always the right time! Of course, I don’t go to Disneyland or Disney World for my kids, I go for myself. My kids are just lucky to have a Disney crazed mom, haha. But I understand that if you aren’t Disney crazy, the idea of bringing a baby or a toddler can seem pretty daunting. Which is why I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for doing just that.

1. Expectations

I think this is my number one tip for any Disney trip, know what you’re getting into before you are in it, and you’ll enjoy your vacation more. For example, if you are traveling with a little one, but you are planning on being in the parks from open to close and riding Space Mountain five times in a row, well, your expectations might be very different from your reality and you might end up disappointed.

Taking a little one to Disney can be SO MUCH FUN! And you appreciate what the parks have to offer on a whole new level. Character experiences, shows, slower rides, are all things I didn’t fully appreciate until I was with my babies.

2. Rider Swap

But don’t think that you have to miss out on thrill rides just because you’re with your little one. As long as you have another adult with you, you guys have lots of ways to ride Splash Mountain or Tower of Terror (my two favorites). Sure, there are single rider lines and Fast Passes, but a lot of people don’t know about another option specifically for grown ups with little ones, Rider Swap.

The way it works, go up to your favorite big kid ride with your whole family and tell the attendant that you’d like to do Rider Swap. Follow their instructions (my husband didn’t once and he said he feared for his life due to the look I gave him, I do not doubt this) which will be some variant of one of you goes on the ride then, and the other one gets to skip the line when the first one is done riding. The best thing about Rider Swap, and what sets it apart from the single rider lines, is that it’s good for at least two people! So if you are a family of four, no one has to ride alone and one of you gets to ride twice! Use this in conjunction with Fast Passes and barely spend any time in line!

3. Down Time

Happy baby means happy parents right? And well rested baby equals happy baby? If you are traveling with a baby or toddler, I would definitely recommend building in some down time into your day. Babies and toddlers need rest and even if they aren’t sleeping, the stimuli of the Disney Parks can be a bit much if they don’t have a break from it.

What works best for me and mine, is going to the park early in the morning. If you have a little one chances are you aren’t sleeping in anyways, so why not enjoy the parks in the morning when the sun isn’t as hot and lots of other visitors are still sleeping in? We stay in the park until just around lunch time and then we go back to the hotel for a few hours of relaxation, napping for our youngest. Then, we head back to the parks for the evening. This works great for us because we avoid the parks in the middle of the day, when they are the busiest and the hottest, and it gives us time to recharge and regroup, so we aren’t dragging and miserable when it’s time for fireworks.

If you can’t get back to the hotel, try to find some calm things to do inside the parks. Maybe a nice sit down lunch reservation, or just find a quiet corner to people watch. When she was tiny, my daughter would fall asleep in her stroller, so my husband and I took it as an opportunity to get margaritas and people watch.

Or you could always try…..

4. Baby Centers

I’ve professed my love for the Baby Centers before, and I’m sure I will again. I love them so much. These could be a great place take a breather and stay inside the park.

Seriously, if you are traveling to Disneyland or Disney World with a baby or toddler, make note of where the Baby Center is in the park, it could just save your life. Alright, that’s a little dramatic, but I’m guessing you’ll be glad you did. They are a great place to feed your little one, rock your little one, or buy that tube of diaper rash cream you forgot to pack. Sometimes I go there just to have a quiet, air conditioned breather with my kiddo.

5. Strollers, Leashes and Carriers, Oh My!

Carriers – If your little one isn’t walking, pack a good baby carrier. One that is easy to put on and take off, easy to get your baby in and out of, and doesn’t take up to much space. You can’t take a stroller in lines, and holding a baby for forty five minutes while waiting to get on Pirates gets old really fast.

Leashes – Okay, I never, ever wanted to put a leash on my kid. The idea horrified me. But, then I was planning on taking my eighteen month old to Disneyland and I changed my mind. She didn’t like being in her stroller that much, she liked to run, and I didn’t want to lose her, so, baby leash.

Word of advice, don’t wait until you get to the Disney to introduce it. The first time I put one on my daughter was at a bookstore. She laid flat on her stomach and refused to move. It was a fun experience. We ended up introducing it to her like a new snuggly friend, she started wanting to wear it around the house, holding it’s tail. By the time we went to Disneyland, a month later, it was smooth sailing.

Strollers – Bring a stroller. Last year I ended up renting one of the hard plastic Disney strollers…. for my seven year old. It was late, she was tired, but we both wanted to see the new Pandora land at night. Animal Kingdom is a big park so, I got her a stroller and speed walked to Pandora. She loved it, I loved it, and Pandora is not to be missed, especially at night. My point is, you are going to want a stroller.

I like to pack a decent umbrella stroller that’s easy to operate. Especially at Disney World, you spend a lot of time taking transportation to and from the parks, and it’s a lot easier with a stroller that folds easy.

**HOT TIP** There are a bajillion strollers in the parks at any given time. They all look alike, and the cast members will move them to make room for more. Decorate your stroller to make it easier to find. We tie curling ribbon around the handles and wrap Mardi Gras beads. Festive and easy to find.

**BONUS TIP**

Lines are boring. Babies and toddlers will probably let you know exactly how boring they think they are. Pack (or buy) something that will distract them in line. For my daughter, it was one of those light up spinning toys that we bought in desperation after we spent a miserable thirty minutes trying to keep her entertained in line for the Jungle Cruise. For my son we came prepared with one of those misting fans.