Month: June 2017

Don’t Forget Mousekeeping!

Don’t Forget Mousekeeping!

I’m going to take a brief moment today to remind you of one of the most important Cast Members at Disney – and one of the ones you don’t often actually see or think hard about – Mousekeeping!

Without Mousekeepers, the resorts would be a mess. Think about it – they come in, clean up the rooms we’ve left messy, remade beds, restocked the soaps, emptied the trash, and a hundred other jobs I wouldn’t want to do, in HUNDREDS of guests’ rooms. Every. Day. They also make sure that all those gorgeous lobbies and restaurants and shops stay sparkly clean.

So if you’re planning a trip to Disney, don’t forget about your Mousekeeper. Leave them a tip. It doesn’t have to break the bank. I’ve heard that you leave a dollar a person, per day. That’s not so bad, considering how much they do every day. For our trip, I started saving my dollar bills and fives months in advance. I put them all in one envelope until I had enough set aside. That way, it wasn’t coming out of the vacation budget right before the trip (or during).

Now, you can just leave the money on a nightstand and write a little note on the pad they leave (which is what I do in a normal hotel, usually). But this is Disney – why not help spread a little magic and make something for the Mousekeeper?

You can (or the kids!) decorate a simple envelope with stickers and crayons. You can make something super fancy with a cutting machine. You can find tons of printables online. Whatever makes you happy!

I’ve tried to make some printables that you can download that are both something you can print, but also allow you to personalize them a little. They’re just the line art – made for you to color in! Markers, colored pencils, crayons, whatever medium suits your fancy! You can print them on regular computer paper, or make something more substantial from cardstock (though it really isn’t necessary – regular copy paper holds up just fine once it’s all glued and folded.)

If you want to access these (and there are more things already there, and in the works) you will have to subscribe to the blog. Hopefully since you’re already here reading this, that won’t be a problem! Once you subscribe, you’ll be given the password, and you can click on the “Resources” tab, enter the password, and download the PDF files for these envelopes!

Mousekeeping Envelope Dole Whip Mousekeeping Trader Sams PatternMousekeeping Envelope - Epcot Style

 

Margarita Cupcakes inspired by EPCOT

Margarita Cupcakes inspired by EPCOT

I have a confession to make before I begin – I don’t actually like Margaritas. I know, I know. Sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. I was hoping that if I made it into a baked good, I’d like it better. And I’d rather eat these than drink a margarita, so I suppose I achieved the goal! I think these cupcakes are good, but I haven’t had the same reaction that my margarita loving friends have. They say they are FANTASTIC. I even tested it out on my coworkers, and they loved them. So you should definitely try them!

The cupcakes

This recipe is actually pretty simple. You’re going to need basic cake baking items, and then you’ll need tequila, triple sec, and limes. That’s the only “unique” ingredients that this recipe requires. If you like margaritas, you may already have those things on hand.

You do need to complete one step about an hour before you plan to make your cake. You’re going to take two limes, and you’re going to zest them into a bowl, where you’ve measured out the 1 and 1/2 cups of granulated sugar you need. I use vanilla sugar because I like it. You don’t have to. (All vanilla sugar is, is a container of granulated sugar with a vanilla bean dropped in it. You can leave that bean in there for AGES and it will continue to scent any sugar you put in the container with vanilla. Try it. It’s awesome in baked goods!)

I use a microplane to zest my lime, but you could use a vegetable peeler in a pinch. Once you have your limes zested, stir the zest into the sugar and leave it to sit for one hour. This will help the lime flavor infuse into the sugar. It makes a difference. Really.

Lime Sugar

While you’re waiting, go ahead and put cupcake liners in two cupcake pans. Or grease and flour them. But the liners are way easier. You’ll want to preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit as well.

Once your hour is up, you need to get out your mixer. A stand mixer is a lot easier for this, but it doesn’t matter as long as you have a mixer of some kind. The beauty of this recipe is that you dump everything together, except the egg whites, and beat. There’s no creaming (though I do it when my butter is still a little hard) or anything like that.

So dump in your lime sugar, butter, baking powder, a teeny bit of vanilla, salt, and flour. Then beat it together on high for 2 minutes. If you’re using a stand mixer, I’d suggest draping a dish towel over it, so the splatter stays contained.

Great. Now is the time to dip your finger in and eat the batter. Cause there’s no eggs yet, so that thing your mom always told you about how you’d get the collywobbles if you ate raw batter? This is totally safe.

Tell me my mom isn’t the only one who said that.

Now you need to separate your eggs. You can save the yolks and make something, like lime curd or lemon curd, or you can throw them out. Whatever floats your boat.

After the egg whites are in, beat it again on high for 5 minutes. I’d suggest beating it for about 30 seconds on low first to get things started. Sometimes egg whites fly all over if you don’t.

Have I mentioned I am a messy cook?

It should be a pretty smooth batter at this point. Take it to your prepared cupcake pans and then fill the liners about 2/3 of the way full. We will not discuss how long it took me to fill these while trying to be neat. And by the time I got to the end, I flipped batter on the pan anyway. It was a good try though, right?

Margarita Cupcake Pan

You should be able to get two dozen cupcakes out of this, give or take a few. If you overfill you’ll get less cupcakes, but it isn’t a big deal.

Put these in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. I would recommend putting these on a cooling rack when they come out, because you need to pop them out of the cupcake pans before they cool completely.

The Syrup

The key to making these cupcakes taste like a margarita is in the syrup. While the cupcakes are in the oven, you need to squeeze your two limes into a measuring cup. If you’ve made a margarita before, you’ll know how this works. My recipe for a Margarita is 1 part lime, 1 part triple sec, 2 parts tequila. For me, my two limes made just about 1/4 cup of juice. So I added 1/4 c triple sec, and 1/2 cup tequila. depending on the size and juiciness of your limes, your amounts may be different. But you want to measure how much liquid you have total. Don’t drink any. 🙂

You’ve just basically made yourself a margarita. Great. Now you’re going to add the same amount of sugar as liquid and pour both into a saucepan. Put it over medium high heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then take it off the heat and leave it to cool off just a little.

It will probably be more syrup than you need. You can always save it and use it on something else. I imagine whipped cream for pancakes made with this would be good. Or pouring a little over ice cream or pound cake?

Putting It Together (almost)

By now, hopefully your cupcakes are still warm, but not so hot that you can’t pop them out of the tin and put them on the baking rack. Put a sheet of aluminum foil underneath it to catch any drips. While everything is still warm, you will take your margarita syrup and brush a generous amount of the syrup onto the cupcakes. You can do this while they are in the pan, but they get sticky and it gets hard to get them out sometimes after. I discovered this the first time I made them.

I brushed mine with syrup twice, because I wanted to make sure the flavor really got in the cake. I also made sure I brushed a very generous amount on there. You can brush it with more or less, as you like.

The Icing

Let the cupcakes completely cool, and while they are doing that, you can make your icing. Its really easy. I use a stick of butter and a stick of margarine, at room temperature. Beat them in a mixer until they are fluffy. Add in 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar. Turn your mixer on low and start to beat the sugar in. Add 2 tablespoons of milk, and then slowly pour in about 1-2 tablespoons of the margarita syrup. You could also add about 1/2 tsp of vanilla, but since these are margarita cupcakes, I really wanted the frosting to taste like the drink. You can add more syrup if you want, but be careful you don’t add too much and change the consistency of the icing.

Once the cupcakes are cool, transfer your icing to a piping bag. You can use a tip, or you can just snip off the end and do it that way. How you choose to get the icing on is up to you. Use a knife if you’d rather!

After you frost them, get out a little bit of salt. I happened to have a sample pack of Hawaiian salts a friend sent me, so I used the red Hawaiian salt to finish mine. I think it really helps cut through the sugar, and help amplify the margarita taste. And, you know, it looks pretty.

Margarita Cupcakes Inspired by EPCOT's Mexico Pavilion

If you decide to give these a try, I’d love to know what you think! Tell me in the comments below!

table rating
This is a Table recipe – mainly because it requires advance prepping, and a few more steps and ingredients. It’s worth the extra effort!
Print
Margarita Cupcakes
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
45 mins
 

These cupcakes are inspired by EPCOT's Mexico Pavilion!

Course: Dessert
Servings: 24 cupcakes
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cup flour
  • 3 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 large egg whites
Syrup
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (from zested limes)
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1 cup sugar
Instructions
  1. Zest the limes and mix with the sugar. Let this sit to infuse for one hour. In the meantime, line 2 cupcake pans with 24 liners and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. After the sugar has sat for one hour, combine all ingredients but the egg whites in a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Beat for 2 minutes on high.

  3. Add the egg whites and beat again for 5 minutes on high.

  4. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full, and then bake the cupcakes for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

  5. Move to a rack to cool until you can pop out the cupcakes, then place these on a baking rack with aluminum foil underneath.

  6. Juice the two limes, measuring the amount of liquid produced. Generally, you should get around 1/4 c of lime juice. Add the triple sec, tequila, and sugar to a saucepan and heat over medium high heat. 

  7. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and remove from heat. Brush over the top of warm cupcakes, being generous.

  8. Allow cupcakes to finish cooling, then frost as desired.

 

Print
Margarita Cupcake Frosting
Prep Time
10 mins
Total Time
10 mins
 


Ingredients
  • 1 lb confectioner's sugar
  • 1-3 tbsp margarita syrup from the cupcake recipe
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 cup butter room temperature
  • 1/2 cup margarine room temperature
  • salt for decoration - optional
Instructions
  1. Beat butter and margarine until fluffy. 

  2. Add the confectioner's sugar, and turn your mixer on low. Gradually add in the milk and syrup. 

  3. Once combined, turn mixer to high and beat for 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

  4. Pipe or spread onto cupcakes, and garnish with salt, if desired.

Margarita Cupcakes Inspired by EPCOT's Mexico Pavilion

Spreading a Little Magic at Walt Disney World

Spreading a Little Magic at Walt Disney World

I have to apologize for being a little late with this post. I’m a teacher, and this past week was the last week of school. It’s CRAZY. But I’m back now, and I have lots of great posts planned! Mexico Margarita Cupcakes are coming – and they are fantastic!

But I want to talk about something different today. About magic.

©VanessaEdwards Cinderella's Castle

If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World or any Disney park before, I want to ask you to take a moment and close your eyes and remember walking into the park. Stroll through your memories. There were, I’m sure, a lot of fantastic images there. But I want you to see if you can remember something that most people overlook – the Cast Members (CM).

We talk all the time about magical moments and how to have a magical Disney vacation. Many times it’s a Cast Member who makes that magical moment or memory possible. Usually when you think about it, they blend into the scenery. They are there in the background taking care of serving customers, or picking up a piece of trash, or helping a family find something or do something. Many of the memories where something awesome happened, a cast member was involved in providing that boost of pixie dust for your family.

So today I’m going to suggest something – rather than just being a recipient of the magic, maybe we should help encourage it as well.

Cast Members deal with a LOT of guests every day. They do it with a smile, and in costumes and temperatures that would make lesser mortals melt into puddles of goo. Seriously. I’d die if I had to work outside in Florida in August in those costumes!

They help make all that magic possible, and I believe that you can’t do a job like that unless you have a real passion for it. And while going to Disney World is like nothing else, most people don’t think about making magic themselves. But there is no reason a guest can’t make a little pixie dust for a Cast Member.

Next time you’re there, take a moment to thank a CM. Maybe they helped make your day – maybe they are making magic for another guest and you saw it. But take a moment to acknowledge what they’ve done.

They do a hard job – Disney is supposed to be the Happiest Place on Earth, and working there means that even if you are having a terrible day, you are expected to act like everything is amazing. They work in a service position, and as someone who also works in a service position (sort of – all these things are true in education) where a lot is expected of you every day, often the most attention happens when you are doing something wrong, not when something is going right. It’s always a nice change to have someone tell you thank you for doing a great job. And in a CM’s position – where they deal with hundreds of guests a day, not all of them pleasant, I can see where a simple thank you and smile may go a long way.

In my experience, doing little random acts of kindness helps the giver just as much as the receiver.

So when you’re at Walt Disney World next, and you want to spread a little magic of your own, I’ve made up a couple of free printables that might work. I’d recommend printing them on cardstock or some kind of fancy paper (but that is just me). Have your kids hand them out. Carry one in your park bag and decide as a family that you’re going to give one away every day. These two designs are available to everyone. On June 12, I’ll have uploaded a few more designs that are for blog subscribers only. If you’d like access to those, just subscribe to the blog!Disney Cast Member Appreciation Certificates

Disney Cast Member Appreciation Certificates
Click on photo to download PDF.

 

If you aren’t comfortable walking up to a CM and handing them this and explaining, that’s okay! I’m not the most outgoing of people either. But if a CM or Mousekeeping or other person needs some recognition, maybe try social media. I’d suggest heading to Twitter. Send a shout out telling what the CM has done that was so awesome. Make sure you say where you are, and the CM’s name (if you can), and tagging the WDW twitter account. I’ve seen several times where WDW has seen those tweets and has gone back and recognized the CM for their work.

You can also take a moment to help make a little magic in another guest’s day. If you have an extra set of dollar store glow sticks you’ve brought in, share it with that family with small children next to you. If you’re playing a game in line while waiting for a ride, invite the family in front of you to join in. You never know – that may end up being the highlight of their trip.

Several years ago I went on a roadtrip with a friend. We met up with a group of her friends, and they were going to Harry Potter World at Universal, on opening weekend. I am not that big a Harry fan, so they dropped me off at EPCOT in the morning. I stood in line for Soarin’, and the wait was well over 45 minutes. A CM came by asking for “single flyers” and I got to jump to the front of the line.  I ended up at the end of a row with a large family. When we got off, they asked if I was alone. When I said yes, they were so concerned. “You can be part of our family for the day!” I declined, but it was one of the nicest things I’ve had someone do in a theme park. She genuinely wanted to make sure I had a great day in Disney World.

That kind of attitude is what helps spread a little kindness. Like Cinderella says, “Have courage and be kind.” In the world we live in, it never hurts to help spread a little pixie dust – whether in everyday life, or the Happiest Place on Earth.

If you do this, please comment and tell me how it went – or even send a photo! I’d love to post it on the blog. And if you’ve had a magical experience at Disney World, I’d love to hear about that too!

Chien-Po’s Tofu Bowl

Chien-Po’s Tofu Bowl

This post may contain affiliate links, and purchases made by using these links will provide me a small commission that will go toward the maintenance of this site.

We were watching Mulan the other night, and the scene at the beginning where Mulan is making her first appearance as Ping came onto the screen. Yao is calmed by Chien-Po, who picks him up and chants something that sounds like a string of nonsense, but a few words are recognizable. The only one I really heard, however, was “tofu.”

Did I mention I was hungry when I started watching this?

I lived for the first two years of college on tofu and bad cafeteria pizza. While I don’t eat pizza much anymore, tofu has stuck with me. Add to it that one of my roommates through college was Japanese-American and from Hawaii… we ate a lot of tofu. One of the things I liked was Ma Po Tofu. But I didn’t have any mix, and short of ordering it online, there’s nowhere here to buy it.

So I decided, as I watched Mulan, that I could take the same basic concept and create my own dish. Thus, Chien-Po’s Tofu Bowl was born!

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can easily substitute veggie meat in this rather than including the ground meat. Regardless of your food preferences, I would recommend two things for certain – serve this with plain white rice, and make sure you use extra stock. You can add cornstarch or arrowroot powder to the sauce to thicken it if you want, but if you let this reduce too much, it will be REALLY salty. The soy sauce and black bean sauce are pretty salty on their own – reduced down they can be too much.

First, chop all the veggies. Don’t be like me and pull things out and try to prep as you go. It usually slows things down and something might burn. I’m getting better about prepping first, and I have to tell you it really makes things easier. When you’re chopping your onions and peppers, I would recommend a pretty fine dice. Then again, I am one of those weird people who doesn’t like huge chunks of veg in my dish. If you don’t have a problem with that, you can just rough chop them. Whatever makes you happy. It may change how long they need to saute and soften a bit, but you can judge that. I trust you.

Once everything is prepped, heat your olive oil in a big non stick pan. It is better to have too big a pan than not big enough. After you get the tofu in and you try to stir it around, you don’t want to have to worry about flipping it all over the stove. Not that I’ve done that or anything.

Chien Po Tofu Bowl Onions and Peppers

Once you’ve got the oil heated, dump in your onions, peppers, and garlic. Continue to saute these for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and softened a bit. After it hits that point, add in your ground meat and brown it off. When it is cooked through, drain off any excess fat.

Next add your sauces, broth, and seasonings. Don’t add any extra salt! You don’t need it. Trust me. After you have everything in, make sure everything is well combined and the broth is simmering. Let it cook for a few minutes. While its doing its thing, drain your tofu and cut it into small cubes. You can do big ones if you like, but when I did it the first time, I found the big ones had a tendency to end up a little torn if you weren’t paying attention when stirring them in.

Put your tofu in the pan and gently stir it into the sauce. You want to make sure its coated in sauce. Let it simmer for a few more minutes. You don’t need to cook the tofu, but you want to give it a chance to absorb some of the sauce flavors and warm up.

Chien-Po's Tofu Bowl

Once its done turn off the heat, and get your bowls of white rice ready. Serve some of the tofu mixture right over top. If you don’t own a rice cooker, I highly recommend them. I always manage to screw up rice made in a regular saucepan. Its either not done all the way through, or its stuck to the bottom of the pan. With the rice cooker, I don’t have those issues, and its relatively inexpensive. As a bonus, the one I bought also comes with a steaming tray that fits over the top.

 

 

Chien Po's Tofu Bowl

 

quick rating

Print
Chien-Po's Tofu Bowl
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
30 mins
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb ground pork, turkey, or beef
  • 1 block firm or extra firm tofu (usually 12-16 oz), drained and cubed
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 c chicken or beef broth, or veg stock
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp sweet thai chili garlic sauce
Instructions
  1. Chop and mince all ingredients. Heat olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onions, peppers, and garlic.

  2. Saute until onions become soft and translucent, around 7-10 minutes. If it looks like it needs more liquid, add a few tablespoons of broth to the pan.

  3. Add your ground meat and brown off the meat. Drain off any excess fat.

  4. Add in all the spices and sauces, and allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add in the tofu and gently stir into the mixture.

  5. Cook for another couple of minutes, until the tofu is warm and well coated in the sauce. 

  6. Serve over rice. 

chien-po tofu bowl