23 July 2020

Get a Head Start on Your Holiday

You may have heard this before, or know a December baby that feels similarly, but I hated having a birthday in December as a kid. There were always events happening so that friends couldn’t make it to my birthday parties, and it often felt like a day meant for me was being overshadowed. Silly, I know, but as I got older I came to love the holiday season and wrapped myself in its trimmings, making my birthday an integral piece of the merriment.

As so many are celebrating Christmas in July this week, I thought I’d use my role as an unofficial ambassador of the holidays to offer up something festive to drink that you can make at home. This comes straight from one of the classiest cocktail set-ups in all of Disney, Carthay Circle Restaurant. While the Poinsettia Cocktail may be perfect for Christmas, I dare say it would be just as much at home for Thanksgiving or New Year’s. The Poinsettia Cocktail has a ton of variations, with the only common thread being the cranberry juice, but the Carthay Circle recipe is a spot on holiday favorite. Put on your favorite Christmas album, turn down the thermostat, throw on a light sweater, and let’s get to shaking!



3 Oz. Cranberry Juice
1 ½ Oz. Cuvée
½ Oz. Orange Liqueur (I recommend Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao or Grand Marnier)
1 Orange Peel Twist (for garnish)


Combine orange liqueur and cranberry juice with ice in cocktail shaker.
Shake for 10 seconds.
Strain into a glass flute and top with cuvée.
Garnish with an orange peel twist.

Simple enough, right?

If you’ve ever had cranberry ginger ale, a holiday treat that was much easier to find when I was a child, then you already have and idea of what you are getting into here. The bubbles are nice, the tartness of the cranberry is the first thing you taste, but the subtle flicks of orange come out on the back of each sip. Short of dosing the beverage with cinnamon or a peppermint stick, which I do not recommend, the Poinsettia Cocktail covers many of the favorite dessert holiday staples. That said, this is definitely not a sugary cocktail.

Whether you are looking for a cocktail for this weekend or storing up recipes for when the holidays roll around, the Poinsettia Cocktail from Carthay Circle is about as easy as they come, both in terms of ingredients and preparation. I hope it makes whatever day you produce a batch of them on just a little bit merrier and brighter.

22 July 2020

King of the River

Disneyland, the television show where Walt Disney provided viewers with a wide variety of stories, films, and behind the scenes looks. It would also be the playground that would spark ideas for the theme park. One of the icons to make the jump from small screen to the Frontierland canvas was Davy Crockett. In the show’s first season, in 1954 and 1955, Davy appeared in three episodes, culminating in his death at the Alamo. His legendary tales were so popular that he was resurrected for a pair of episodes in the second season, and introduced another larger than life legend, Mike Fink. Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race aired on November 16, 1955, and Jeff York’s gruff, tough, and sometimes less than honorable Mike Fink paddled his way into the imaginations of viewers young and old and to the title of King of the River. His bewildering friendship with the King of the Wild Frontier, Davy, would carry over to the last of Crockett’s tales on Disneyland in 1956.

Mike Fink’s keel boat, Gullywhumper, would find its way to the Rivers of America less than a month later on December 25, 1955. It was accompanied by Cap’n Cobb’s Bertha Mae, both the original watercraft that had been used to film the race months earlier. The boats were popular enough to be replicated as an opening day attraction when Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom welcomed its first guests in October of 1971. After Disneyland’s Gullywhumper capsized in 1997, both boats were shuttered at the park, with the Magic Kingdom’s pair of keelboats continuing to ply the waterways until 2001.

Of of the two ships to make up the Mike Fink Keel Boats, the Bertha Mae was, shall we say, the lovelier of the two ships. The Mike Fink Keel Boats attraction originally boarded in Liberty Square, down beneath the carriage house that is now associated with the Haunted Mansion. The attraction would later receive a dock in Frontierland as well. This second dock is still standing, though not in use, and you can still see Mike’s name on the boards if you’re looking from the side of the Liberty Belle, or from Tom Sawyer’s Island, back towards Big Thunder Mountain. The free-floating keel boats were an opening day B-Ticket attraction at the Magic Kingdom.

Photographs of extinct attractions are wonderful time capsules into the past of Walt Disney World. They remind us of beloved attractions and the stories they themselves harkened back to. We are given a sense of what the lay of the land was like in days when we were younger or, perhaps, not even alive to visit the parks and resorts. These pictures also remind us that Walt Disney World is ever-changing, even when exploring the world of yesterday. The Bertha Mae and Gullywhumper keel boats where a wonderful part of my child, as they were for many of you who also adored Davy Crockett. From this photograph, it is easy to see that they had a wonderful perspective on the Magic Kingdom as well.

Often times, we see the keel boats as a part of Liberty Square. I would argue that they feel more at home with a backdrop of Frontierland or Tom Sawyer’s Island, like this photograph of the Bertha Mae, but that’s just my opinion. In this photo we are clearly in Liberty Square, and you can see a line of people queued up in front of The Yankee Trader, now Momento Mori. Could they be waiting to get into the Haunted Mansion or a chance to take their turn aboard the Gullywhumper or Bertha Mae? Either is possible given the location of the crowd, but the Haunted Mansion is more likely. The romantic in me hopes it was for a cruise aboard the double-decker keel boats.

Further beyond The Yankee Trader, the foliage that divides Liberty Square and Fantasyland hasn’t yet created a natural barrier between the two lands. The happy coincidence from this lack of greenery is that we can see the side of the Swiss chalet that was home to the Skyway to Tomorrowland. In fact, as the trees and shrubs would grow up, much of the detail that can be seen here (and it is limited to do the distance the photograph was taken from) would have been swallowed up and very rarely seen, except by those in line for a ride aboard the Skyway. A section of the Skyway can even be glimpsed rising above and behind The Yankee Trader and Columbia Harbour House.

The photograph of the Gullywhumper, featured further up in the article, is almost obscured by the stately manor overlooking the river from the hill. In later years, The Haunted Mansion would have landscaping that intentionally highlighted the decay and disrepair of the grounds. At this point in time, however, you can see well-manicured green spaces and lovely, if overgrown, shrubs lining the riverbank. The dilapidation is left to the Gullywhumper, though it looks far better than its namesake vessel that set sail on the Disneyland program decades before.

Maybe it is my fondness for Frontierland that came from spending my formative years at Fort Wilderness, or the Davy Crockett episodes of Disneyland that spurred me into dressing as the King of the Wild Frontier for several Halloweens, but the keel boats were always something I loved to see on the Rivers of America. Tom Sawyer’s rafts and the Liberty Belle keep that spirit alive even today, but whenever I’m admiring the watery boundary of Frontierland and Liberty Square I always let my imagination play and remember what it looked like when Mike Fink and his boats worked the river.

08 July 2020

Get This Wagon Train A-Movin'

As we have all found ways of coping with the pandemic, Disney has done their best to provide at home projects and things to lighten the heaviness of the disease ravaging our population. One of the ways they have done this is through releasing recipes of some of their dishes that have been scaled down, and in some cases modified, for home consumption. Among these are some tried, true, and well-known recipes, such as Tonga Toast or the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup. One newcomer to Walt Disney World, and to the collection of official recipes, is the Totchos from Woody’s Lunch Box. A fairly straight-forward and simple recipe, we decided to give it a go in our kitchen.

To start with you have to create the Chili with Beans and the Queso Sauce. The Chili with Beans, like any good chili, takes a while to come together, but it can also rest on a warm burner while you prepare the remainder of the dish. The Queso Sauce is an easy component to throw together and can be completed while you’re baking your tater tots.

I’m also going to say right now I have trouble using the Disney phrase ‘potato barrels’ when I’ve known them my whole life as, and the bags at the grocery store are listed as, tater tots. For that reason, you’ll see a lot of ‘tater tots,’ not ‘potato barrels’ in this recipe, but you’re free to call them what you like.



1 Pound Lean Ground Beef
1 Medium Yellow Onion (finely chopped)
3 Cloves Garlic (minced)
1 Can Crushed Tomatoes (14.5 oz.)
1 Can Tomato Sauce (15 oz.)
1 Can Kidney Beans (15 oz.; drained)
2 Tbsps. Chili Powder
1 Tbsp. Ground Cumin
1 Tbsp. Coarse Salt
Black Pepper (to taste)
Ground Cayenne (to taste)


Brown ground beef in a 5-6 quart Dutch oven, or large pot, over medium heat until fully cooked.
Drain off excess grease.
Add onion and garlic and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until onion is translucent.
Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, chili powder, and cumin. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt.
Add black pepper and cayenne, as needed.
Keep warm until ready to serve.



2 Cups Jar Cheese Sauce
1 Can Diced Tomatoes with Chilies (10 oz.)


Place cheese sauce and diced tomatoes with chilies in small saucepan.
Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, until warm.
Keep warm until ready to serve.

The chili itself is pretty similar to my own chili, with a couple of changes, but I knew the flavors I was dealing with. As you can see in the photo above, this makes a hearty, chunky chili, not a soup or stew. This consistency is key to the Totchos. We actually had many of the ingredients already in our house, and I imagine many of you do as well, making this an easy dish to throw together. One of the few items we actually had to get was the jar of cheese sauce. Now, on to the main attraction!



1 Bag Frozen Tater Tots (2 pounds)
 Cups Corn Chips
Chili with Beans
Queso Sauce
¾ Cup Cheddar Cheese (shredded)
6 Tbsps. Sour Cream
2 Tbsps. Green Onions (thinly sliced)


Cook Tater Tots according to package instructions.
Divide tots into 6 bowls.
Place ¼ cup each of corn chips, chili with beans, and queso sauce on top of each bowl of tater tots.
Top each bowl with 2 tablespoons shredded cheese, 1 tablespoon sour cream, and 1 teaspoon green onions.

The directions are for a serving size of 6, but both the Chili with Beans and Queso Sauce keep just fine in the fridge for several days, so don’t worry if you aren’t serving 6 people at once. Also, only make enough tater tots for those you are serving the Totchos too. Last note, while they give you specifications for shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and green onions, you know your palate, use these toppings as you would like.

This is a hearty meal that will fill you up and then some. Depending on your use of cayenne and chili powder, as well as the heat level of the jar of cheese you use, there is a definite kick to the Totchos. It wasn’t sweat inducing to me, but just they way I like to get a kick in the taste buds. The creamier components soften up the corn chips and mush up with the tots, but the different textures and flavors just give this a fun feel to me.

The Totchos would be perfect on a chilly autumn night by the fire or for a warm summer backyard campout. With all of the ingredients, it also allows for personalization and can get the little chefs, or favorite deputies, in your house in on the fun. I hope you put on your favorite Toy Story movie or soundtrack and give this little dish a try!