Kelly the Culinarian: January 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

How We Saved Money at Disney With Kids

It's been almost a year since we surprised the kids with a trip to Disney. Now, there is no way to do Disney on the cheap. It is a Bremuda Triangle for your bank account. Just walk in the door and *poof*, you're $800 lighter than when you started. That said, there are a few things we did to take the sting out of the pricetag of Disney so that we could focus on enjoying the experience rather than dissecting how much we were spending.

First, we chose the low-point of the season. I'd love to say it was intentional, but it wasn't. First, we found cheap airfare, and then we looked to see if we could do two days at Disney. We went right around Martin Luther King Day, which was cold, but the parks were empty and hotels nearby were cheaper.

Next, we ordered gift cards for both kids in advanced through Disney. Each card had $25 on it. The kids could spend it any way they wanted, but when it was gone, it was gone. This eliminating the kids constantly asking for stuff from street vendors or the gift shops that were ubiquitous. We would ask, is that how you want to spend your gift card? It also took the pressure off our family, too, because when you're swept up into the manufactured magic of the moment, it's hard to say no.

B spent his giftcard on this sword
The note from Mickey
Then, we went to WalMart and bought a bunch of Disney stuff in advance. When we arrived at our hotel, we went down to the pool and the kids returned to a note from Mickey Mouse and two small trinkets that were purchased without the Disney mark up. It was a fun memory and gave them T-shirts to wear and souvenirs to remember the trip. They didn't know it was 1/3 the price of everything at the park. I found Disney shirts, notebooks, a kids' handbag and stickers for a grand total of $15.

We packed a bag into the park wisely as well. Each day, I carried into the park a backpack with an empty water bottle, glow sticks, snacks, bandaids, suncreen, ponchos, extra socks, another set of clothes for the youngest and several ziploc bags. Most things are obvious, but the dollar store glow sticks were crucial. When the kids asked for a balloon or some knick knack during the parade for $8 a pop, we gave them 10-cent glow sticks instead. It worked like a charm. And the ziploc bags were great for wet clothes or in the event we bought a snack and couldn't finish it (Mickey pretzels or whatever).

10-cent ponchos in action!

We chose our food splurges wisely. We ate a few things in the park, but we didn't waste our time and calories on stuff that wasn't notable. If we weren't by waffle sandwiches or roast beef-topped macaroni and cheese, we either filled up on snacks to keep going or ate in our hotel room. We had a room with a kitchenette and bought cereal, milk, yogurt, cheese and beer (believe me, this was critical).

Finally, we took advantage of food delivery. After the first night, we were exhausted and undecided on dinner. After going back and forth and reaching a frenzied state of hangry, I called a pizza delivery company. For 1/6 the price of a character dinner we couldn't get reservations for, we were fed, happy and off to bed for another day of adventure.

Waiting for our pizza delivery
Disney is a financial black hole, but there are ways to cut corners here and there. And I'd say we had a more memorable, pleasurable experience as a result.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three Things Thursday

1. My sister had her birthday party this weekend and we had a blast. We started at Binny's in Lincoln Park and then took a party bus to a few breweries. Hilarity and selfies ensued.

2. Man, the weather this weekend was amazing! On Saturday, we scraped 60 degrees. We washed cars and played outside and generally tried to soak up the sun. We might not see a day like this in Illinois for a while.

3. Founder's, who gave us a lovely wedding gift, had an awesome tasting this week at Mariano's. A representative paired some of their best beers with different cheese I never would have thought to buy. It was a fun night, and only $10. I'm going to have to keep an eye on the events page for Mariano's.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

AquaMermaid Chicago

I was fortunate enough to score an invite to AquaMermaid Chicago last weekend for myself and my stepdaughter, which is perfect because I've been eyeing these classes for some time. For the uninitiated, it is mermaid school for humans. Every student gets a tail and learns the ins and outs of navigating the high seas with a fin. The classes are taught at the UIC student rec center and the 20-minute drive downtown was filled with all sorts of excitement and wonder from the small one.

Getting the fin on was tough, but once we were all suited up, we jumped into our lesson. The instructors taught the kids and me how to float, propel ourselves forward, swim in unison and wave our fins. The highlight of the class for Z was learning to do a handstand with the fin. It's harder than it looks - the fin is pretty heavy.

At the end of the class, we spent some time free swimming and taking photos, then jumped back in sans fins to swim a bit. It's amazing how much easier it is to swim with full use of your limbs.

All the kiddos left the class with a magical glitter memento, and I promptly printed up photos so Z could tell her friends about it at show and tell.

It was super adorable, and is sure to make some memories. This was a reward for Z, and would be a great birthday gift if you're like us and definitely don't need another toy.

Check out the video! It really was as cute as it looks.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Three Things Thursday

1. Napoleon had an early teeth cleaning last week, because now I'm paranoid about keeping up with it. He did not enjoy it one bit. He was so high on the ride home that he didn't even attempt to look out the window. But it's for his own good, even if he doesn't agree.

2. I've never had a fireplace before this home, and it's getting a workout. I see why it's the height of luxury to be able to turn on an indoor fire with the flip of a switch. Smores on demand!

3. Ah, the things I do for my stepkids. Z still very much believes in fairies, and writes them notes regularly. In turn, I write very tiny little notes that I fold intricately and sneak into her room and wedge behind the fairy door while she's sleeping. It's not forever, but I hope she never loses that sense of wonderment. It's been a good exercise in resolve, too, since her friends don't believe her and she's sticking with what she believes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sneak Peek at First Look for Charity Bites and Bevs

It's the most wonderful time of the year! It's almost time for the Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity on Feb. 10, which is a highly anticipated event in my household. It's a great event for an even better cause. Annually, the Chicago Auto Show opens its doors to a black-tie clad crowd, all in the name of 18 local charities. It's a great way to get close to some beautiful cars with beautiful people without the crowds.

This will be my third year attending the event and I can't say enough nice things about it. It's well-run and a fun event. #FLFC17 is also a way to try a bunch of offerings from local eateries and connect with the minds behind the dishes. I enjoy the food as much as the cars, but I like beating the crowds best of all.
So without further delay, I present some of my favorite samples of what to expect Feb. 10 from the preview event at McGrath Acura last week:

Cake bites and blistered tomato skewers.

Poke bowls, lobster bisque bites and bruschetta.

Mac and cheese topped with pulled pork and barbecue sauce.

Barbecue sliders? Yes, please!

My mom always said to leave room for dessert, and I make room when banana pudding is available.

Will you be joining me for the #FLFC17? I'm wearing red and looking forward to being a bombshell. Watch for me :)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Three Things Thursday

1. We lost power during the weekend and were very grateful for our gas fireplace. It actually wasn't that bad - the kids did crafts and made smores and raced around the basement on their scooters with glow sticks. But man, it was a good reminder that we need candles, flashlights and matches.

2. It's January and I'm still running outside. I got this puffy vest at Costco for $9 and it's really making a difference in keeping me toasty outside. The catch? I found it in the little girl's section. So now we know I can wear a girl's size 12 if need be.

3. Today is the smallest one's birthday, and his school doesn't allow us to bring candy or treats to celebrate. I was at a loss, so we went with the one thing all kids love - glow sticks. A visit to the dollar store and some crafting over cocktails and here we have it. I hope the kiddos enjoy it.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Pizza Brunch at Robert's

There are few foods in life I enjoy more than pizza, and brunch is my favorite meal of any weekend. The fact that these two things have not found their way into my life together previously seems like an oversight. I was recently invited to dine at Robert's Pizza Company and it was a lovely experience. We showed up on a Sunday morning as soon as they opened. It was a snowy, blustery morning and we were greeted by Robert himself, who explained that the restaurant's artisanal pies are of his own design, and borne out of the frustration of trying to find a suitable Chicago alternative to New York pizza. After decades of perfecting his craft, he opened his namesake shop, which has a small menu of handcrafted creations using the finest ingredients. The restaurant bursts with personality, from the fully-stocked bar to the mounted (but operational) motorcycle Robert fixed up himself.

After getting seated and starting to thaw out, we decided on starting cocktails of mimosas and the brunch money, which was a very-welcome warm cocktail of hot coffee, Patron XO Cafe and heavy cream. Both did the trick in warming us up while we waited for the ZaDough cinnamon buns, a trio of rolls made with the eatery's pizza dough and topped with all the sticky sweet goodness one would expect from a dessert appetizer. The mint on top was a refreshing surprise.

As for the main event, we decided to try and tackle two of the restaurant's most enticing pies. We began with the huevos rancheros pizza, which is available all day long. It's a pie topped with black beans, chorizo, queso fresco, scallions, cilantro and salsa verde, along with four eggs baked right in. I am a sucker for runny eggs on top of almost anything and this did not disappoint. It was the perfect level of spice, and the egg brought the whole slice together.

We restrained ourselves from going too crazy because another signature offering was on its way. The LoxZA is everything a bagel and lox should be, except in pizza form. It features a generous portion of smoked salmon, along with double cream cheese, chives, red onion, chopped egg, dill and capers. It was as delicious as it was beautiful, We washed this course down with the citronge lime cooler. It cut through the heaviness of the entree with Patron Citronge lime, prosecco, sparking water and fresh lime juice.

In all, this was a pleasant, leisurely brunch in a very sleek and welcoming location with easy access to street and garage parking. I will be back, and I will be destroying a lox pizza. Special thanks to Robert's for the invitation and great service!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Three Things Thursday

1. I'm super excited that I've been invited to the Chicago Auto Show First Look for Charity again this year. I've already got a dress picked out and I can't wait to preview all the tasty bites we'll enjoy on the big day. Stay tuned ... 

2. Another month, another DeGustaBox delivery! I'm wondering what I should make this month. There's pumpkin pancake mix and a curry sauce that looks quite enticing.

3. My mother told me about this life hack - add Christmas lights to any kids' fort to make it downright magical. Napoleon agrees. He's pretty sure the kids built this hideaway for him. He sat patiently while the older kiddo read him a story.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What's in store for 2017?

I'm kind of over resolutions. Like what difference does it make when you start, as long as you start? Plus I'm happy with who and where I am in life, so I don't want to get all ambitious that I'm going to have a bikini competition body and spotless home any time this year.

Last year, I did a lot of grown up things - buying a house, selling a house, getting married, becoming a stepmom, donating bone marrow. It was exhausting.

One view of our house
So less of that stuff this year. Less life changes, more life enjoyment.

The biggest tangible New Year's resolution-type thing I want to do with my life this year is absolutely crush Ironman Wisconsin. I've done it twice, and both times I didn't go all out for various reasons. The first time, I had a ton of mechanical issues and was under trained. The second year, it was more important to me to finish together than test what was possible.

So in 2017, I want to find out what I'm capable of, if everything aligns on race day. I know I can take more time off of my finish, but I'm not sure how much. Instead, I will try my best to finish as speedy as I can.

Other than that, my only goal is to enjoy the life we've built. Cheers to another year!