Impressions of Disneyland Paris: Part 2

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Since returning from my honeymoon with Todd, I’ve been busy baking and cooking and running 10 miles at a time and enjoying weekends without having to worry about wedding planning. Unfortunately I’ve also fallen a bit behind on blogging. But I am going to try to rectify that, starting with this second installment on our impressions of Disneyland Paris, which will cover our experience at Parc Disneyland. (For our thoughts on Sequoia Lodge, Disney Village, and Walt Disney Studios, check out part 1.)

We spent two full days in Disneyland Paris, and we devoted our entire second day to Parc Disneyland, the larger of the two parks. It resembles Magic Kingdom in layout (hub-and-spoke design) and lands. There are some differences: Tomorrowland has been recast as Discoveryland and has a really cool retro-futuristic steampunk style. Haunted Mansion is Phantom Manor, with a slightly different storyline (as far as I can tell, since it was all in in French). Some of the rides are more intense: I expected a nice calm trip on Space Mountain but ended up screaming my head off as we went around corkscrews and loops. And instead of Cinderella’s Castle, there’s Sleeping Beauty Castle—which features an awesome dragon that moves and blows plumes of smoke at visitors.

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Beware: A dragon’s lair lies beneath Sleepy Beauty Castle!

Theming

One of my favorite aspects of Parc Disneyland is the theming. Each of the buildings and ride queues have so many intricate details that I could spend hours just exploring the park without even venturing on any attractions. It really feels like you’ve stepped into different worlds as you enter each of the lands. I especially loved the theming for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction: You progress through dark caverns until you get to the loading dock for the boats, and the ride starts by passing alongside the Blue Lagoon Restaurant as if it’s part of the town where the ride’s scenes take place. Another favorite was Discoveryland; the steampunk theme didn’t feel outdated, and new surprises waited around every corner, even along back pathways that didn’t lead to any major rides.

Food

It’s no secret that Todd and I are extremely passionate about food: We love to cook it, bake it, eat it, review it. So it was really disappointing to discover that the food at Parc Disneyland just isn’t up to par with the delicious offerings at Walt Disney World—in fact, it doesn’t even come close. We could barely drink the coffee, which tasted like buttery sludge; the quick service spots had only one to three options (and mostly the same options at each spot); and even the ice cream was pretty underwhelming.

But it wasn’t all bad. We did enjoy our meal at Blue Lagoon. Todd started with a fish soup accompanied by curry bread. The soup wasn’t too fishy and had a nice, thick consistency, and the curry bread made for an interesting flavor combination. I chose a salad as an appetizer, which came with pineapple, kidney beans, tomato, and avocado, with a mango dressing. All of the ingredients were really fresh! For his main meal, Todd got shrimp-filled ravioli that had a pleasant taste and were quite large and filling. My main meal featured grilled shrimp with fruit and veggie salsa and toasty rice. The shrimp here, as in all of the places we visited in Europe, still had the heads and tails attached, which kind of creeped me out. The salsa was really tasty but I wished there were more of it, and the rice didn’t really have any standout qualities but was good enough. For dessert we ordered banana, coffee, and chocolate cake that was super soft and really rich; we both enjoyed it a lot. Here are a few pics from our meal:

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Nighttime Show

The very best part of our stay at Disneyland Paris was the nighttime show, Disney Dreams! It features projection mapping on Sleeping Beauty Castle that makes it look like the castle is changing color and even growing or shrinking in size. Characters flit across the castle, too, and scenes from popular films. There are also water effects (so colorful!) and fireworks (so shimmery!), and all of these come together to create a truly magical experience. The audience sang along to some popular songs (of course, “Let It Go” was one of them) and many people in the front of the audience remained seated for the show in order to give everyone a good view. It was a great ending to a great trip in Disneyland Paris.

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Now imagine this 10x better than my picture.

 

Recipe: Coffee Cheesecake

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A few weeks ago I really wanted to make a coffee cheesecake, but every recipe I came across called for coffee liquor, which I didn’t want to use. Finally I stumbled across a recipe from the blog Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt, made a few changes to it based on what I had available in my apartment, and got a super-creamy cheesecake with a light coffee flavor (because I used cold brew instead of instant coffee; for more of a coffee flavor in your cheesecake, use instant coffee as recommended in the original recipe), with a chocolate ganache layer and also topped with ganache, coffee whipped cream, and chocolate-covered coffee beans. It looks like a lot of steps, but I promise it’s not actually that hard and it’s totally worth it!

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Ingredients
For the crust:
~15 honey graham crackers, crushed
~1.25 cups mini oreo cookies, crushed
~1 stick unsalted butter, softened
~2 Tbsp. sugar

For the ganache:
~1.5 cups heavy cream
~20 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
~1/4 cup cold brew coffee

For the coffee whipped cream:
~1 cup heavy cream
~2 Tbsp. instant coffee
~2 tsp. cold water
~1/4 cup powdered sugar

For the cheesecake filling:
~3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
~1 cup granulated sugar
~3 large eggs
~1/2 cup sour cream
~1/2 cup thick vanilla yogurt (I used the New York-based brand Siggi’s, which is actually an Icelandic skyr, but any type of Greek yogurt should work fine as well.)
~1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste
~1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. cold brew coffee

~Chocolate-covered coffee beans or nuts for decorating

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Preparation
For the crust:
~Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
~Combine ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined. (I like to leave some large graham cracker chunks in my crust, but it’s up to you how chunky you want it to be.)
~Press into a 9-inch cake pan. (The crust will only cover the bottom of the pan, so if you like your crust to run up the sides, I suggest doubling the amount that you make.)
~Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool.

For the ganache:
~While crust is baking, start on the ganache: Bring cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.
~Remove from heat and add chocolate and cold brew, whisking constantly until chocolate is melted and ganache is smooth.
~Pour 2 cups ganache into cooled crust. Freeze until ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve remaining ganache at room temperature for decorating.

For the coffee whipped cream:
~In a medium bowl, beat heavy cream until small peaks form.
~In a small bowl, stir together instant coffee and water; pour that mixture into heavy cream.
~Add powdered sugar and beat until thick and fluffy.

For the cheesecake filling:
~In a large bowl, mix cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.
~Beat in eggs one at a time.
~Stir in sour cream and yogurt and mix well.
~Transfer 1/4 of the filling mixture to a smaller bowl. Add vanilla bean paste to it.
~In original large bowl, add cold brew coffee and stir well.
~Pour 1/2 of coffee-infused filling into crust, then add 1/2 of vanilla filling, swirling with a knife to mix. Repeat with remaining coffee and vanilla filling. Bake cheesecake until golden but still slightly jiggly in the center, about 1 hour, then let cool.
~When cheesecake has cooled slightly, use a spatula to spread a layer of ganache over the top. Decorate with espresso cream and coffee beans or nuts.

New Running Record: 13 Miles

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Todd and I in Ridge Hill at the end of our run.

To get ready for our half-marathon in October, Todd and I have been adding miles to our long runs each weekend. On our honeymoon we ran 9 miles in Budapest (the Buda hills were killer) and 10 miles in Paris; it was a really fun way to sightsee and keep up with our training at the same time. Back in the Bronx this weekend, we felt bored with the same old trails to Orchard Beach or City Island, so we decided to switch it up with a run to Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. Spoiler alert: We made it! But not without some struggles along the way.

After about 15 minutes of active stretching, our journey started on Pelham Parkway near our apartment. Though it sometimes gets congested, the street itself was closed to traffic Saturday morning so we had a nice open road before us and plenty of space to ourselves. We started off easy and slow, and our first mile took us about 13 minutes to complete. During that mile, I just focused on warming up, letting my legs and ankles and feet get used to the motion of running. I’ve been doing all of my long runs in my Asics GT-2000 sneakers (which I plan to wear during the half marathon) and they’re consistently the perfect balance of comfortable and lightweight.

Mile 2 took us near the Bronx Botanical Garden but not through it. The city had recently done some construction in the area; it turned out that the bike path had been repaved with smooth asphalt, but the run/walk path remained cracked and uneven. Needless to say, we followed the other pedestrians and used the bike path anyway. After about two more miles, we arrived at Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale. Its the third-largest park in New York City, and though I’ve explored it several times, I still don’t think I’ve managed to see everything it offers! There are tennis courts, a track, some historical buildings—and the Old Putnam trail, which is what we took to make our way up into Yonkers.

The Old Putnam trail, which follows the route of the former New York and Putnam railway that extended all the way up to Brewster, travels alongside a lake blooming with algae. The upside: the trees provided a lot of cover from the sun, which was good because on Saturday the weather service issued a heat advisory due to high UV and humidity levels. The downside was that the trail isn’t paved, so we ran about two and a half miles in the mud, constantly tripping on stray rocks and fallen branches and old railroad tracks. The path became very narrow at certain points and we had to be wary of bikers coming up behind us, so I was glad to reach Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers, where the trail becomes paved again.

For miles 8 through 11 we just continued up along the trail, past homes and a golf course and a shopping plaza where the smell of food kind of made me nauseous. Miles 8, 9, and 10 didn’t feel too hard physically, but mentally I just kept trying to remind myself that I was more than halfway done and that I’d run 11 miles before so I could definitely do it again. By mile 11 I had picked up the pace and was running closer to 11-minute miles. I felt tired; my legs ached. Then, around the 11.5-mile mark, we crossed off of the trail and onto a busy sun-drenched street. With no shade, the heat really hit me, and it only got worse when we reached the steep hill leading up to the shopping center. We slowed to a walk, which was harder than all of the 12 miles that had come before it. Drenched in sweat and out of water, I wanted to hitch a ride to the top.

But slowly, slowly, slowly we made it. Our total time was 2 hours and 36 minutes. We bought water at the candy shop and stretched our legs and tried to recover from the intense heat. Eventually Dad picked us up and gave us a lift home—there was no way I was running another 13 miles back. That night we celebrated with some delicious Vietnamese pho, followed by brown sugar pecan brittle ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery. After eating, we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight, a show inspired by the movie Avatar. The scenery and effects were really impressive, as were the acrobatics the performance troupe is famous for. All in all, it was a rewarding and exciting day.

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The closing scene in Toruk: The First Flight.

Recipe: Maple-Peach Glazed Ham

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Since returning from our honeymoon (the sequel to my Disneyland Paris update is forthcoming, as are some other posts about the trip) last week, I’ve been itching to get in the kitchen. On Friday I had the perfect excuse since two of my good friends were coming over for dinner. I had two conditions for my cooking: 1) I wanted to try something I’d never made before. 2) We had a half-day at work, so I wanted a recipe that I wouldn’t normally have time for on weeknights. That led me to a maple-peach glazed ham, adapted from this recipe in Taste of Home.

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Maple-peach glazed ham in the oven, nearly done baking, alongside a loaf of garlic bread.


I made a lot of changes to the original recipe, actually. Inspired by my mom’s recipe, which she’s been making for years and is really delicious, I surrounded the ham with Coca Cola during baking to keep it juicy. But since I had all that sweetness from the Coke, I didn’t want to also use sugar-laden peach preserves for the glaze like the original recipe called for. Instead, I used fresh peaches and a little bit of sugar to make my own peach compote, to which I added several more spices than called for in the recipe and a little bit of lemon juice and zest for brightness. Lastly, I used white peach instead of yellow peaches to give it a more subtle peach flavor, and I substituted litchi juice for the orange juice used in the original recipe…but that’s just because I don’t like orange juice. So if you can’t find litchi juice, feel free to use orange, or any other juice you love.

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Spices for the maple-peach glaze next to the little Ratatouille Eiffel Tower we got in France.

Ingredients
~1 (7- to 9-pound) fully cooked bone-in ham
~2 tbsp. brown sugar
~2 tbsp. garlic powder
~1 tsp. paprika
~1 tsp. ground black pepper
~10 medium white peaches, 3 sliced and 7 chopped (leave skin on)
~1/2 cup maple syrup, plus more for drizzling over ham
~1 (2 liter) bottle Coca Cola
~1/2 cup granulated sugar
~Spices for peach glaze, to taste: cinnamon, allspice, chili powder, pepper
~Lemon juice and zest (from 1/2 lemon)
~1/4 cup litchi juice (or any other juice)

Preparation
~Preheat oven to 325; lay ham cut-side down in a roasting tin.
~In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper. Using your hands, spread rub all over top and sides of ham.
~Lay sliced peached on top of ham and layer them in bottom of pan, slipping some underneath the ham as well.
~Starting from the top left corner of the pan and moving to the right, drizzle maple syrup on top of peaches and ham in a zig-zag pattern.
~Fill roasting tin about halfway with Coca Cola.
~Bake ham uncovered for about 15 minutes, then cover and bake until a thermometer reaches 130 degrees, about 2 hours.
~Meanwhile, in a small saucepan on high heat, combine 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, and chopped peaches (but save a generous handful of them to add later on).
~Stirring frequently, let cook until peaches start to soften, about 5 minutes.
~Add spices. I didn’t quite measure out what I added, but here’s an estimate if you want a guide: 2 tbsp. cinnamon, 1 to 2 tsp. allspice, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. pepper. Cook 5 minutes more.
~Add maple syrup and litchi juice. Cook until sauce begins to thicken slightly, about 15 minutes. If it doesn’t, add more maple syrup as necessary. Remove 3/4 cup mixture for glaze.
~Remove ham from oven; brush with some of the glaze. Bake, uncovered, until a thermometer reaches 140 degrees, about 15 to 20 more minutes, brushing occasionally with remaining glaze.
~For serving, put remaining 1/4 cup compote into a gravy boat; to gravy boat, add juice and peaches from the roasting tin. Once ham is carved, pour some additional juice and peaches from tin over sliced ham.

Impressions of Disneyland Paris: Part 1

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The first stop on our honeymoon was Disneyland Paris, Europe’s answer to Disneyland and Disney World. There are two parks: Parc Disneyland, which is like the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland Paris (it’s laid out almost identically, with a main street and a castle hub that branches out in spokes), and Walt Disney Studios, which is more like Hollywood Studios but even smaller and less themed. Here are some photos and thoughts to convey our initial impressions of Disneyland Paris (hotels, Disney village, and Walt Disney Studios), with more to come in additional posts.

Hotel
We stayed at the Sequoia Lodge, which is located about a ten-minute walk from the parks and a five-minute walk from Disney Village. We lucked out with a quiet corner room and a private balcony. The rooms were comfortable and relatively clean, though the balcony could have used a dusting for spider webs. The beds and pillows were standard, but we were so exhausted by the end of each day that they felt like heaven.

Breakfast was included at the hotel, though it wasn’t anything to write home about, mostly croissants and some meats and cheeses. There was yogurt and cereal for us light eaters, and the guava juice was really tasty. A big bonus of Sequoia Lodge? The hotel pool, which I forgot to snap a photo of. There’s a slide going into the pool, which is both indoor and outdoor, connected by a little opening that guests can swim under (or they can walk around, like I did, if they don’t trust their swimming abilities or don’t want to get their hair wet). The pool area also featured a hot tub, a sauna, and a gym.

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Disney Village
Think Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs), but much smaller. There were a few shops selling toys, clothes, and art pieces, as well as a few food options. One note about the food both in Disney Village and in the parks: It was all very average. I think Todd and I have been spoiled by the exceptional quality of the food in Disney World. But everything looked super cute and we enjoyed browsing the shops. We even got to ride on the “hot air balloon,” and got great views of the parks and resort.


Walt Disney Studios
On our first day we visited the smaller of the two parks, Walt Disney Studios. We felt that it could be done in a day if you want to do everything, or a half-day if you are going to be selective about the rides you choose. We skipped Tower of Terror because neither of us were feeling 100%, but we did try out Rock-n-Roller Coaster and the Crush Coaster, both of which were more intense than we had expected. The Crush Coaster starts out with cute theming and a little story, and morphs into crazy loops and turns! Of course we also went on the trackless Rémy ride, which was so awesome. You go into a little “rat mobile” and wear 3D glasses, and really feel like you’re a rat being chased through the restaurant and kitchen! We then ate in Bistrot Chez Rémy  (so good!), but I’ll post a separate food review another day, probably when I’m back home. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of the shows, but we heard that they’re really enjoyable.

Finally, Part 2 is up! Check it out!

Snapshots of Our Wedding

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I can happily report that my marriage to Todd on Saturday was one of the best days of my life! The entire weekend was a whirlwind of activity—from the rehearsal dinner at our favorite pizza place to Sunday brunch at the hotel where the wedding took place. Today I returned back to work, but on Thursday we leave for our honeymoon to Paris, Budapest, and Barcelona! Continue reading

My Bachelorette Painting Party

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In the time since my last post, we’ve mostly been busy with wedding planning. We finalized the music selections for our ceremony and reception. We organized our seating chart and coordinated with the florist. We ordered our cake topper, created a program for hotel guests, and figured out our favors. We sorted hundreds of pearls based on size and shape: flat-bottom, large, medium, small, very small. But the best part of the past two weeks was the one thing I didn’t plan: my bachelorette party! Continue reading