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Category: travels

  1. Thursday, September 11

    Inside the McDonald’s Machine

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    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    This post is sponsored by McDonald’s. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.

    In May, McDonald’s flew me to Chicago to visit their headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. I sat down for 60 minutes of discussion with some of their leadership team, including the senior directors of marketing and management. McDonald’s understands that they have a polarizing brand and they are making efforts to reach out to people who have neutral or negative opinions about the company (people like me!) to engage in a dialogue. When they first approached me about potentially doing a sponsored post on my blog involving an interview with members of the leadership team, in all honesty my initial reaction was “no way.” But I thought about it a lot and decided that this could be an excellent opportunity to talk with decision-makers at the company, ask them direct questions and hear what they had to say (as well as maybe get a chance to share my thoughts around their business).

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    I feel strongly that what we do in the kitchen has a strong impact on Mother Earth. My New Year’s resolutions always involve an environmental goal that’s directly related to how our family eats. I also try to cook at home as much as I can to feed my family a nutritious and balanced diet. But guess what? We also go to McDonald’s. Not all the time, but we go. Cate doesn’t like McDonald’s and normally doesn’t order anything (she’s well-versed in the concept of monoculture farming but also does not enjoy the food). Anna and Owen, however, love McDonald’s, and it’s a special treat for them when we go. That said, on the occasions that I visit McDonald’s, questions and concerns about sustainability and our food system are constantly swirling in my head.

    *

    When my girls found out that I was going to interview people at McDonald’s, I asked if they had any specific things they wanted me to talk about. They both said they wanted me to ask McDonald’s to please put baby carrots in the Happy Meals. I shared our family’s wish with Chef Jessica, so I’ve done my duty. Even though McDonald’s does not accept unsolicited advice – “Jane Maynard’s Requests” was not on the “How a Product Is Developed” infographic they shared with me – if baby carrots ever do appear in the Happy Meal, the girls and I are totally taking credit!

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    On to the interviews! Here are the folks that I had the chance to talk with, both in person and over the phone:

    • Justin Ransom, PhD, Senior Director, Quality Systems, Supply Chain Management
    • Erik Gonring, Manager, Global Government Relations & Public Affairs
    • Chef Jessica Foust, RDN, Director of Culinary Innovation
    • Cindy Goody, PhD, MBA, RDN, LDN, Senior Director of Nutrition
    • Darci Forrest, Senior Director Marketing, Menu Innovation Team

    In my discussion with Justin and Erik, we talked about food sustainability and supply issues, which have always been my biggest concerns with McDonald’s and other big food brands. I learned from talking with Justin and Erik that when McDonald’s looks at sourcing, there’s a triple bottom line that’s defined by three Es: ethics, environment and economics. Those three factors drive how the company sources their food. One interesting takeaway that I learned – and something that I honestly hadn’t thought about before – is that McDonald’s wants to get their food from sustainable sources, because they need those supplies to not disappear.

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    Erik gave the example of the Filet-O-Fish, an iconic McDonald’s item. At one point, the company learned that they were contributing to the depletion of the cod supply off the Atlantic coast. This problem had ethical, environmental and economic implications. McDonald’s knew they had to make a change, especially since they needed a long-term fish supply in order to continue serving the beloved sandwich. After years of work, McDonald’s USA has reached a point where all of the whitefish they use is sustainably harvested, and McDonald’s was the first national chain to serve whitefish sourced from a Marine Stewardship Council-certified sustainable fishery.

    I also inquired about organic and local sourcing. Justin said that 14,000 restaurants using local and/or organic ingredients is a challenge. Taking into account their high standards for quality, safety and consistency, McDonald’s has to minimize risk in their supply chain, which makes organic and locally sourced foods difficult to implement. I understand this on a logical level, but it’s still a concern for me. I asked Justin if he was at all optimistic that, in the future, we could source foods in more sustainable ways at this scale. Justin said he is. Honestly, I don’t know that I am, but I’m glad someone is.

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    We also discussed waste. On the customer side, I asked about recycling and compost bins in restaurants. Erik said that when there is infrastructure to support recycling and composting, typically they get on board: restaurants in cities including San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Austin have recycling bins, and many of those markets also compost organic waste behind the counter. But he also stressed that customer behavior is the biggest challenge when implementing these systems. On the supply side, I learned that the bulk of the waste at a restaurant happens behind the counter. McDonald’s recycles their corrugate and cooking oil in many restaurants, which makes up to 40% of that behind-the-scenes waste. The company is also taking actions like phasing out polystyrene coffee cups and joining the How2Recycle label program to make it easier for customers to recycle away from the restaurant.

    The biggest takeaway from my discussion with Erik and Justin is that McDonald’s won’t compromise on their final product. The McDonald’s fry is a good example of this. Justin said that the taste of McDonald’s fries must remain consistent around the world. This means that McDonald’s only uses a handful of potato varieties from specific regions of the world. I was told that identifying new varieties is a long and arduous process and McDonald’s would never allow customers to notice a change in their fries. For me, this is a perfect example of how our demand for one specific product leads to problematic farming practices. If there were more room for variation, we wouldn’t need to farm such limited varieties of potatoes. When there is such a high demand for just a few crops, those plants are susceptible to pests, which in turn necessitates the use of either GMOs – which McDonald’s made clear that they do not use – or pesticides. Industrialized monoculture farming, where you grow un-diversified crops, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our demand – what we will or will not buy – directly impacts how food is grown.

    *

    In my discussion with chef Jessica, nutritionist Cindy and marketer Darci, we talked at length about the menu, how it’s developed and efforts around nutrition. Here are four key takeaways from that discussion:

    • When a new product is rolled out, it takes anywhere from nine months to four years to develop, from conceptualization to finally being sold in restaurants.
    • McDonald’s has reformulated a long list of their ingredients, from the Big Mac bun to nuggets, to contain less sodium.
    • McDonald’s is working on a set of initiatives for their top nine and top 20 markets to be fulfilled by 2020 that include, among other things, increasing the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables that are served, as well as offering more salads and produce as options with meals.
    • Taste is key. McDonald’s won’t sacrifice when it comes to taste and is completely focused on serving customers what they want and will buy.

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    The Arches, a full-service McDonald’s restaurant in the corporate office building.

    A lot of the issues that I have with McDonald’s and our food system in general map back to the consumer. For instance, I asked Darci why McDonald’s peels the apples in their Happy Meals. (I really wish that the apples were not peeled so that my kids would at least have the option of eating better.) Darci explained that McDonald’s serves apples that way because it was the best balance they could find of serving a product that parents would feel good about giving their kids but also one that the kids would eat, based on testing prior to the product launch. Corporations as large as McDonald’s have a social responsibility and should take a leadership role, but purchasing power is also incredibly important when it comes to effecting change.

    *

    So did I learn anything new through this process? Yes. Did I get some answers that weren’t completely satisfactory? Yes. Did I get some positive answers I wasn’t expecting? Yes. Could I have asked questions all day long? You bet. And do I still believe that we, the consumers, are at the root of the food system and that we can make a difference? Yes!

    A visit to the McDonald's headquarters by @janemaynard

    Let me know in the comments section below: if you could ask the McDonald’s team one question, what would it be?

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  2. Thursday, August 28

    A Visit to Tillamook, and Happy Cows Don’t Moo

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    Earlier this summer I received an email from Tillamook, inviting me to visit the Tillamook cheese factory in Oregon as well as see one of their dairy farms. After a little “please pretty please can I ditch our family for three days” begging with Nate, I promptly emailed Tillamook and said YES to the invitation. We love Tillamook around our house. From the time I was a wee thing my mom taught me that Tillamook cheese was the best. Not only do I think their products are great, but I always love getting a peek into food production, so I couldn’t wait for this trip. (I want to add a little something here, copying and pasting one of the comments from one of my mom’s best friends, Jona, who is the source of our family’s loyalty! “Your mom was indoctrinated by me when she was 17, Jane. So glad you loved Tillamook and beyond. I hope you saw my grandfather’s picture in the Cheese Factory. He was one of the earliest cheesemakers back in the early 1900’s. I am so proud of that heritage.”)

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    Two weeks ago I flew to Portland, OR, where I arrived at what appeared to be the set for Portlandia. Oh, wait, it was just Portland. Portland IS Portlandia, in case you were wondering. I loved Portland and had a wonderful afternoon exploring and eating my way around town. A delicious lunch at Tasty n Alder, dessert at Voodoo Doughnut, and a large portion of my very short time spent at Powell’s Books, which is now on the list of my most favorite places on the planet, made for a pretty perfect day.

    A Quick Visit to Portland, OR by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

    Let’s get down to the business at hand, shall we? Cheese! I have so much to share about Tillamook it’s almost overwhelming, so I’m going to let my pictures from the trip guide me through this post.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

    We headed west from Portland to Tillamook, OR. The drive was unbelievably picturesque and you can’t miss the factory once you reach town. There I am in front of the GIANT Tillamook sign with Stephanie from 52 Kitchen Adventures…she is wonderful, btw.

    tillamook factory #blog2farm

    We of course were given a tour of the factory. Anyone can visit the factory for tours and to shop in the store, so if you’re ever in the area be sure to stop in! We also had a chance to go behind the scenes and see where the cheese is aged and stored. The facilities are quite impressive.

    A visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    Have you ever noticed a boat on the Tillamook logo? Well, there it is! The ship Morning Star was used in the early days to deliver cheese up and down the coast. Obviously it’s a little landlocked now but it is just as beautiful as ever.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    Part of our tour was lead by Dale Baumgartner, Tillamook Head Cheesemaker (a.k.a. the Head Cheese…that joke is irresistible). Dale has been working for Tillamook for for over 40 years and he knows his cheese. It was fascinating learning how the cheese is made today, but maybe even more interesting hearing about his early years at Tillamook. I always love talking with people who truly love their work and are such experts at what they do. It’s inspiring to me and something, quite honestly, I can’t imagine.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

    Want some fun cheesemaking facts? Here you go! (I stole these from the signs on the tour.)

    • Each of the eight stainless steel cheese vats holds approximately 53,500 pounds of fresh milk. On average each vat makes three batches of cheese per day.
    • It takes 10 pounds (1.16 gallons) of milk to make 1 pound of Tillamook cheese.
    • More then 1.7 million pounds of milk arrive at the plant each day. Approximately 167,000 pounds of cheese are made each day.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    In addition to learning all about how the cheese is made, we also spent part of our day with Jill Allen, Manager of Product Quality. Jill leads the sensory team, which spends all day every day tasting every single batch of everything that is made at the plant, from butter to yogurt to cheese to ice cream to sour cream. Jill was equally as fascinating to listen to, plus she let us taste all kinds of delicious things. And, in case you are wondering, her team expectorates everything they taste so that their tastebuds are as ready to go on the first bite as they are on the last. Bottom line, after everything we learned about sensory, I would absolutely not want to be on that team! I’m glad other people are up for the job!

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    During our session with Jill, we taste tested Tillamook products alongside leading competitors. You can even tell from this crappy indoor photo how different Tillamook’s cheddar is compared to other brands – the difference was night and day! Many factors play into this, from the quality of the milk to the water content or the cheese to the smaller blocks of cheese that are made. Great care is taken at every step in the process, making for a higher quality final product.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    I think one of my favorite things we tasted that day were the cheddar cheese curds. The curds is what the cheese looks like before it’s compressed naturally into blocks. Sadly you can only buy the curds at the Tillamook factory store, which was, by the way, awesome.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    That evening we drove west, where we had a view of the amazing Oregon coast.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farmStephanie, Deseree, Me and Anita – I’m kind of in love with all three of these ladies

    We stayed at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, where my hotel room looked out on this:

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    I didn’t want to leave. But they made me, which wasn’t too hard since they gave me cute yellow boots and told me I could go look at cute baby cows. Sold!

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

    Before we flew home, we spent the morning at one of the Tillamook dairy farms, owned by Ryan and Wendy. Tillamook is a cooperative, so the farmers all have a stake in the business. There are less than 150 farms in the co-op and they are all within a fairly short distance of the plant. And, from what we witnessed, the cows on those farms are living good lives as Tillamook employees.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    Here’s the deal. We did not hear one “MOO” the entire time we were on the tour. Wendy said that cows only “moo” when they are discontent or warning other cows about something, so if they’re quiet, it pretty much means they’re happy and content.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    Wendy and Ryan were gracious hosts and taught us all kinds of interesting things about being dairy farmers. I think what struck us most is how much work it is and how tied they are to the farm. It’s really hard for them to ever get away and I think they said it’s been 2 years since their last vacation. Heavens. And Ryan is up before 3:00 AM every day. I can’t even imagine.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    They explained that it costs more to make high-quality milk but that Tillamook incentivizes the farmers to make high-quality milk, so it’s worth it. It is amazing how much goes into the process of milking cows twice a day. This particular farm has around 400 cattle and it costs $7/day/cow just for feed. Ryan is a 4th-generation dairy farmer, so he knows what he’s doing. He and Wendy were both incredibly relaxed and happy.

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    The whole crew! Liren, Glory, Dorothy, Jesseca, Heather, Lizzy, Anita, Stephanie, Deseree, Rachael, Lisa and Yours Truly

    Needless to say I had a fabulous time, surrounded by wonderful people, delicious food and cute cows! I learned a lot and am so appreciative that I was able to be a part of the trip. Also, we had the chance to taste a new Tillabar flavor that is coming out next year and it is AMAZING. I’m not allowed to tell you what it is, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it hits stores!

    A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

    Thank you, Tillamook!

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  3. Tuesday, July 22

    One More Travel Post…Warwick, New York

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    My parents recently moved to northern New Jersey, very close to the New York border. It is absolutely beautiful where they live, complete with rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. This is the third summer that we’ve visited them at their new home but the first summer that we made two really great discoveries – Dairy Swirl in Vernon, New Jersey and the little town of Warwick, New York.

    absolutely wonderful ice cream shop dairy swirl in vernon, nj by @janemaynard

    First, let’s talk ice cream. Dairy Swirl is literally five minutes from my parents’ home but, for some reason, we never went until this year. And that is a crime because it is awesome. They serve homemade ice cream in all kinds of wonderful flavors that are creative but make total sense. You know, nothing crazy, just all completely wonderful combinations of ingredients. And just outside the shop there are these giant rocks embedded in the side of the hill that are perfect for sliding. The kids could have stayed there all day. If you’re ever in northern New Jersey near Vernon, be sure to stop in!

    a visit to warwick, ny by @janemaynard

    After you hit the Dairy Swirl, keep driving north about 30 minutes to the town of Warwick, NY. Again, I don’t know why we never ventured to Warwick before but I’m so glad that we did! The town is adorable, with lots of little shops and restaurants, a cute town green where they play live music on the weekends, farmstands and more. I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the fall when the leaves are aflame!

    a visit to corbett's cookie bar kitchen in warwick, ny by @janemaynard

    My dad and I spent a few hours in Warwick with all three kids, so we kept the visit simple: lunch, dessert and a visit to the local bookstore. After lunch at Eddie’s Roadhouse (the filet sliders were awesome, the ribeye steak was just okay according to my dad), we hopped over to Corbett’s Cookie Bar Kitchen, where we had a really fun chat with the owners. They’ve been open about a year and only serve cookie bars. I love talking to small business owners who are so passionate about what they do – I really admire them because I am too chicken to do anything like that! The carmelita was our favorite flavor – it was like taking a big bite out of the best cookie dough. And the Mexican brownie was my other favorite. One bar is enough for 2-3 people, by the way, so pace yourself!

    a visit to ye olde warwick book shoppe in warwick, ny by @janemaynard

    After stuffing ourselves silly, we took the kids to Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe. This bookstore is tiny and like a maze of book shelves, which I love. The kids’ section is tucked in a back corner and the kids and I spent a lot of time back there. Basically, we loved it.

    Quick side note: another 10 minutes north there is an even smaller town called Sugar Loaf that also has some really cute shops, where you can buy things like handmade candles and soaps.

    So, this fall when you east coasters are wondering where you should take a drive to enjoy the leaves, head over to the Warwick Valley. You can’t go wrong! (For that matter it was perfectly fun in the summer, too!)

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  4. Thursday, July 3

    Kimball Farm and Beautiful New Hampshire

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    As you know from my non-existent weekly menus, we are on a multi-week trip visiting our family in the Northeast! We started our trip in New Hampshire and I wanted to share a little of the fun we had in that beautiful place.

    To start, well, you know, when in Rome…

    new hampshire maple syrup from @janemaynard

    Pat, my mother-in-law, got a good deal on a ONE GALLON JUG of maple syrup so she had to buy it. I just wish I could take some on the plane with me! Owen was hilarious when we took pictures of him with the bottle (don’t worry, he had a diaper on!), but when we actually let him stick a straw in the bottle to drink, he refused. Shocking, I tell you.

    kimball farm by @janemaynard

    For dinner one night we visited Kimball Farm in Jaffrey, NH and thoroughly gorged ourselves. For you New Englanders out there you’ve probably been to Kimball’s already and know just how yummy it is. We ordered quite the assortment of food, including to-die-for fish and chips, lobster roll, clam chowder, and onion nuggets. And, of course, NO salad.

    kimball farm by @janemaynard

    kimball farm by @janemaynard

    kimball farm by @janemaynard

    We ended the night with Kimball’s homemade ice cream. See that there cone? That is the smallest size you can order. For a little perspective, that is a giant waffle cone being held by Nate. Ice cream insanity!

    kimball farm by @janemaynard

    Another day we returned to Hillsborough Center to show Nate how beautifully magical this little village is. And to give Cate a chance to properly leap over puddles.

    hillsborough center by @janemaynard

    hillsborough center

    On a side note, we are loving the Highlander Hybrid that Toyota lent to us for the trip. It’s sooooo nice having a big car that gets almost 30 miles to the gallon, especially since we’ve already driven almost 1,000 miles! Plus, it’s just a really nice car. Nate’s great aunt couldn’t get over it, in fact. And it drives so quietly and smoothly. Basically, we’re taking it on the plane home with us.

    toyota highlander hybrid by @janemaynard

     

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  5. Sunday, June 29

    Week 388 Menu

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    Hi, everyone! Still on vacation, still not planning a menu! We are having a great time here on the East Coast and, as usual, it’s almost shocking how green it is out here. We definitely miss all these trees. I’m going to share some of our food finds with you this week, but for today just a quick snap of sunset over Mount Monadnock.

    mount monadnock from @janemaynard

    You know the drill…please share your menu for the week! I need you to inspire one another since I’m a useless vacationer!

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  6. Thursday, April 17

    Spring Break Part 2: Anaheim!

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    Time to share how we finished up our Spring Break last week! Once we were done having fun in Los Angeles, we hopped in the car and headed south 1 hour for a visit to Anaheim.

    I think in most people’s minds when you hear the word “Anaheim” you automatically think “Disneyland.” Disneyland is most certainly in Anaheim, but there is actually tons to do there in addition to visiting the Magical Kingdom. In the last few years the downtown area of Anaheim has been completely rebuilt, featuring local shops and restaurants. The Anaheim area has so much to offer (museums, sports, amusement parks, Medieval Times), you could easily spend a week staying in Anaheim and keeping incredibly busy! The other great thing is that there are so many hotels in town to choose from and many of them have shuttles that can take you to all the places you want to go. It’s basically a town built for vacation with the family and we have always had a blast when we visit. This time around we only had two days, so we visited Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. We also had the chance to stay in two hotels.

    What We Did!

    visit to knott's berry farm by @janemaynard

    Knott’s Berry Farm: Here’s the thing about Knott’s Berry Farm – it is totally fun, less expensive than Disneyland, and NEVER as crowded. As much as we absolutely love Disneyland, it is almost always filled to the brim with people, which can be a little overwhelming. Even on a busy day at Knott’s there is room to breathe and the lines don’t take hours to get through. Plus, our family loves Peanuts, and Camp Snoopy is perfect for the little ones. We also had lunch at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, where it all began. When you eat there, just eat a dozen biscuits and a few pieces of fried chicken and you should be all set. DELISH.

    visit to knott's berry farm by @janemaynard

    On our visit this time around we did a few things we had never done before, including the horse-drawn carriage ride and a ride on the narrow gauge steam engine. The carriage ride was actually really fun and the kids and I got to sit on top in front by the drivers. The steam engine was incredibly cool – it was the last working narrow-gauge engine in the U.S. when the Knott family purchased it for their park, and the cars you ride on are 130 years old. Owen is seriously obsessed with trains, so we chatted with the engineers for a bit and it was fascinating.

    visit to knott's berry farm by @janemaynardThis is the little train ride in Camp Snoopy, not the big steam engine. But the kids all look so happy here, I had to share. And, yes, this was the vacation of train rides. SO MANY TRAINS.

    Cate and I also did the Ghostrider roller coaster for the first time and, um, HOLY HEADACHE. Yes, that pile of wood you see below is a roller coaster. But Cate thought it was awesome, even “wilder than a buckin’ bronco!”

    the ghostrider at knott's berry farm by @janemaynard

    visit to knott's berry farm by @janemaynardWhen you’re 2 and you’re tired you just sit where you are.

    Disneyland: There is just something about Disneyland. Sure, it costs about a billion dollars to go. Sure, it’s almost always crowded. But it is also always magical. Everything there is just so well done and beautiful. We spent most of our day on this visit in California Adventure. Cate got to ride on Radiator Springs Racers THREE times (thanks to fast passes and the parent swap passes when you have a stroller). I think she also rode on California Screamin’ 4 times. Crazy girl!

    california screamin' at california adventure at disneyland by @janemaynard

    Cars Land will forever be my favorite part of visiting the Disney parks. It is just so BEAUTIFUL, both day and night. And the rides are all awesome.

    cars land at california adventure at disneyland by @janemaynard

    Oh, one more thing to mention! We have never ridden the entire train ride at Disneyland until this visit. The kids LOVED it. We had no idea there were dioramas at the end of the ride as you arrive back at Main Street. We actually circled the park twice before the kids would let us get off! Then we watched the parade from the train station above Main Street and it was perfect!

    visit to disneyland and california adventure by @janemaynard

    Where We Stayed!

    Ayres Hotel in Anaheim: Our first hotel was the Ayres Hotel in Anaheim. The hotel is located across the street from the Honda Center where the Ducks play, and just a block away from where the Angels play. It’s just a few minutes’ drive to Disneyland and all the other attractions, and the ART shuttle runs by the hotel if you don’t want to drive to those places. The rooms were very nice and sort of “fancy” – when Anna stepped off the elevator and looked down the hallway for the first time she exclaimed, “This hotel is BEAUTIFUL!” We stayed in a King VIP room, which had a king-sized bed and a pull-out couch, as well as plenty of room for the kids and all of our luggage. The pool was small but perfect for kids and they had a great time swimming. Plus, we got to see Owen’s true colors at the hot tub.

    owen wooing the ladies at the ayres hotel in anaheim by @janemaynardDon’t hate the playa, hate the game.

    The Ayres also had a fabulous full breakfast, with the busiest yet friendliest chef I’ve ever met! The kids were in heaven at the breakfast and I think it might have been their favorite part of the trip. (Kids are so funny!) The staff was incredibly helpful and friendly at every turn.

    The Anabella Hotel: For our last two nights we stayed at the Anabella, sister hotel to the Carousel (where we originally thought we would be staying). The Anabella is across the street from Disneyland and was just a short 10-minute walk to the park gate. The walk was also really lovely and un-crowded, running along the backside of California Adventure (rather than Harbor Blvd). We’ve gone to Disneyland both ways – staying in a hotel across the street and having to drive or shuttle ourselves in. If you’re going to Disneyland and can swing a hotel within walking distance of the park, DO IT. Parking at Disney is such a pain. Being able to just walk to the park is HEAVEN. They’re building even more hotels across the street from Disneyland, so there will be even more options in coming years.

    the anabella hotel in anaheim by @janemaynard

    The Anabella Hotel was a beautiful property, with a great pool and restaurant. We stayed in a Concierge room, which is an L-shaped room with a king bed, double bed and a pull-out couch. Our room had its own patio area, which was really lovely, too. After we put the kids to bed, Nate went outside to read on the patio in the perfect southern California air! The rooms were pretty, although we could hear our {noisy} neighbors pretty well and the bathroom wasn’t super easy to use, with practically no counter space or storage areas. There is a very long vanity area outside of the bathroom, however, which is nice for getting ready while someone else is actually using the bathroom. We had that counter covered with all of our stuff from the road trip – basically we are really good at using up all available storage space! (Note: The noisy neighbors arrived on our last night. The front desk quickly shut down the craziness at night and were very attentive to the situation. The neighbors were noisy again the next morning, but we were leaving so we didn’t request a new room or anything, but I’m certain the staff would have worked with us on that as well if we had asked.) Like the Ayres, the staff were very nice and friendly everywhere we went on the property.

    So, there you have it! A Spring Break packed with FUN. (And Nate and I even survived!)

    Knott’s Berry Farm provided us with tickets and lunch. Disney and the Anaheim Visitor and Convention Bureau provided us with media passes for Disneyland and California Adventure. We received discounted rates for our hotel stays at the Ayres and The Anabella. All opinions are my own! Anaheim is fun, fun, fun!

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  7. Tuesday, April 15

    I’m in love with Los Angeles and I don’t care who knows it!

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    We decided to be fun people for Spring Break. It’s a lot of work being fun people, by the way, especially when one of the fun people comes down with croup the first night of Spring Break (we’re looking at you, Owen). But in the end it all worked out and the week was a blast! First we headed to Los Angeles for a few days and then skipped on down to Anaheim for some theme park fun. I’m going to share two posts about the trip and today we’re starting with LA!

    hollywood sign from griffith observatory by @janemaynard

    Here’s the deal with Los Angeles. The only times we’ve ever gone up there have been for quick day trips for a specific reason – going to an event and then heading home – or driving through to go somewhere else. So, whenever we go, we’re on a schedule and all we think is, “How does anyone live with all this traffic?” and “Why would anyone want to live in a city essentially just made of traffic?” and “Holy Freeways, there’s a lot of traffic.” I was soooo biased. I have uttered the words “I hate LA” more times than I care to admit. I totally did not know what I was talking about.

    LA is AWESOME. There, I said it. I am in love with Los Angeles. It’s quirky and huge and fun and there is so much to do. Seriously, we had a blast and can’t wait to go back! Granted, we {amazingly} didn’t sit in any traffic the whole trip, but LA is truly a city filled with all kinds of wonderful gems, especially edible gems. Here’s a quick rundown of where we stayed, the fun stuff we did, and the food we ate, in case you find yourself visiting the City of Angels! (Thanks to those who gave tips, they were super helpful and we definitely need to venture back to do it all!)

    hotel angeleno by @janemaynard

    Where We Stayed: Hotel Angeleno
    We stayed in a suite at Hotel Angeleno, located on the 405 smack dab in between Bel Air and Santa Monica, sitting in the shadow of the Getty. Our room looked to the southwest, so we had a peek of the freeway and the skyline and a full view of the ocean and the Getty. It was beautiful. The hotel has shuttles to nearby sites, a pool, and free wine at 5:30 every afternoon. There is also a restaurant on the top floor with amazing views. The building is round, which was fun and made for an interesting-shaped room, and the rooms were very nice. The location of the hotel was super convenient, with easy access to so many of the great things that LA has to offer. Oh, and free parking! Woohoo!

    hotel angeleno morning view of the getty by @janemaynardThe Getty is at the top of the hill. This is what we woke up to, with the golden sun shining on everything.

    hotel angeleno view from the room by @janemaynardThe only thing we lost off the balcony was Owen’s binky. Fortunately we were over the pool area and the binky was recoverable. Also, it didn’t kill anyone below. Win-win.

    Fun Stuff We Did

    • Griffith Observatory and the Travel Town Museum at Griffith Park. If you have kids interested in trains, Travel Town is a must! Owen was in heaven. On Sundays they also have live steamers that you can ride on. We got there too late to ride the steamers, but we did get to see them scoot by, and there is still a train ride in the regular Travel Town museum area even if you miss the steamers. We ended up simply driving by the Griffith Observatory – the kids were pooped and since it was the weekend there were mobs of people, but the view is AMAZING and we plan to go back with the kids on a less-busy day for a show at the planetarium (if you have people under 5, you have to make sure to get there for the first show of the day).

    travel town museum at griffith park by @janemaynard

    travel town museum at griffith park by @janemaynard

    • La Brea Tar Pits. The tar pits were fascinating and the kids had a great time at this small and accessible museum. Plus, seriously, the tar pits are just plain cool. Note that you can walk around the park and see the actual tar pits without paying admission to the museum, but you’ll learn more if you go to the museum and it is very interesting. We bought an annual family pass, which also gives us access to the LA Natural History Museum, which we will definitely be visiting.
    • The American Girl Store. Our girls got American Girl dolls for Christmas, so we surprised them with a visit to the store. We thought about eating at the cafe but it was very pricey, so we decided to let the girls each choose one thing in the store and get their dolls’ hair done instead. We just didn’t tell them about the cafe and they were in heaven. We probably spent an hour in the store!

    the la american girl store by @janemaynard

    • The Getty Museum. We just spent a couple hours at the museum but it was beautiful. We went to the Getty near the end of our trip, so the kids were feeling a bit restless. But I am really glad we took them and I’m sure we’ll return! The exhibits are wonderful and the views cannot be beat. The museum is free, parking is $15 and you can park twice in one day. We also want to visit the Getty Villa in Malibu, which is supposed to be beautiful as well. The Villa is also free but you need to get tickets ahead of time.

    view from the getty museum by @janemaynard

    • Westwood Village. On our last day we stopped in Westwood Village for lunch and ice cream (see below). Westwood Village is an adorable neighborhood with movie theaters, food and more right next to UCLA. It was lovely sitting at a table on the sidewalk enjoying our food.

    westwood village by @janemaynard

    The Food We Ate
    We ate sooooooo well while we were in LA. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

    • Plan Check Kitchen + Bar: My sister told us we had to eat at Plan Check, a burger joint similar to Unami Burger but better, according to Anne. Every last bite was scrumptious. I don’t think you can go wrong ordering anything off the menu. My sister says pig candy is a must, which we didn’t know until after, but thankfully Nate got a taste of it on his burger.

    plan check kitchen + bar by @janemaynard

    • The Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax: When we left the Bay Area, part of me mourned the loss of the Ferry Building in my life. I LOVE THAT PLACE. The Farmer’s Market in LA is different from the Ferry Building but every bit as wonderful. It’s my new Ferry Building. So much food, so much ambience, so much history. The tater tots from Fritzi’s…I didn’t know tater tots could be good, and not only were they good, they were stellar. Moishe’s gyros pita was flavored perfectly. Bob’s Donuts were to die for. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I honestly could have spent all day just at the Farmer’s Market. Love love love love love. My dad told me after we visisted that when he was growing up, my grandmother also loved going to this Farmer’s Market. That makes me love it even more.

    the farmer's market at 3rd and fairfax in LA by @janemaynard

    • Milo + Olive: We ordered pizza from Milo + Olive in Santa Monica as recommended by friend Gaby. Nate’s assessment: If the French made pizza, this would be it. The crust was seriously like eating a perfect baguette. And then they had this thing called the garlic knot, which we thought would be garlic bread but was in fact a piece of bread filled with cloves of garlic and baked to sweet, delicious perfection. Cate couldn’t get enough of the garlic knot! Awesome food.

    milo + olive pizza  by @janemaynard

    • Diddy Riese: When we checked in at Hotel Angeleno, the receptionist told us we should take the kids to a place nearby called Diddy Riese. The whole trip we kept planning to go but never making it. The last day, as we drove out of town, we finally went. We grabbed lunch at the Flame Broiler down the street and then walked over to Diddy Riese for dessert. I did not know that ice cream sandwiches could be so good. They make homemade cookies and then put together your ice cream sandwich based on the flavors you choose. The cookies were divine. I could have eaten 4 sandwiches and been happy.

    diddy riese in los angeles by @janemaynard

    There you have it, Los Angeles in 2 1/2 days with 3 kids! This was just scratching the surface and I can’t wait to get back!

    A portion of our hotel costs were covered by Hotel Angeleno. All opinions are my own and we still spent plenty of money on our little jaunt to LA! ;)

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  8. Sunday, April 6

    Week 376 Menu & Spring Break Here We Come!

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    Today we are hopping in the car and heading north to Los Angeles for 3 days and then down to Anaheim. We are going to be staying at the Hotel Angeleno in LA in one of their suites. I’m super excited because, as many times as we’ve been to LA, we’ve never gone and seen the sites or spent any time there. Any suggestions of fun things to do are welcome! We are for sure going to hit the Getty, the La Brea Tar Pits and the Griffith Observatory. Geesh, that might fill our three days right there, but would still love to hear your ideas!

    hotel angeleno in los angeles

    After LA we are heading south to Anaheim, where we’ll brave the spring break crowds for one day at Disneyland and then spend a few days exploring the area. Our hotel the Carousel Inn & Suites is literally across the street from the park, which will be super convenient (I hate parking at Disneyland, it’s bananas). Nate and I are both taking off time from work, which I think will be the best part of the trip, honestly!

    carousell inn & suites in anaheim

    Needless to say I am not cooking this week. Woohoo! I’m sure we’ll be sick of eating out before the week is done, but I am excited to get a little break from the kitchen.

    It’s weeks like these that we need you even more to share your menus and provide inspiration for one another. So, please post those menus!

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  9. Sunday, November 24

    Week 357 Menu

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    Hello from Disneyland! We are so excited for the next two days – it’s going to be a blast! We are currently taking bets on whether the holiday fireworks music show will make me cry.

    No picture today because, well, I’m at Disneyland!

    MONDAY:
    – California Adventure Park food

    TUESDAY:
    White Chicken Chili

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Pizza Port

    THURSDAY:
    – HAPPY THANKSGIVING! (Be sure to click here to share your Thanksgiving menu!)

    FRIDAY:
    – Leftovers

    SATURDAY:
    – Leftovers

    SUNDAY:
    – Hopefully we’ll still have leftovers…if not, breakfast for dinner!

    I am thankful that so many of you post menus – it makes me happy week after week! Thank you for helping make the blog what it is! Looking forward to seeing your menus for the week. And, don’t forget to click here to share your Thanksgiving menu!

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  10. Sunday, September 1

    Week 345 Menu

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    Last night we went to the San Diego Zoo for NIghttime Zoo. We got there just before sunset and were walking through the new koala exhibit when the sky looked like this. It was breathtaking!

    san diego nighttime zoo | thisweekfordinner.com

    I have to say, it is sooooo nice to be back into the school routine. Well, I do hate getting up in the morning, but everything else about being back on a schedule is great!

    MONDAY:
    – Happy Labor Day! Heading to some friends’ for a mid-day get together!

    TUESDAY:
    Homemade Pizza (if it’s not too hot outside!)

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Grammy’s Orange Chicken
    – Rice and veggie

    THURSDAY:
    – Leftovers

    FRIDAY:
    Sweet potato and black bean burritos

    SATURDAY:
    – Takeout

    SUNDAY:
    Chicken Piccata
    – Mashed potatoes and veggie

    It’s that time again, time for you all to share your menus for the week! Short, tall, big, small – bring on the menus! As always, thank you for sharing! They are so wonderful to read through when I plan each week!

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