Belinda_kisses_tnCook club is coming to the Escape Club, so why don’t you join us! Mandy is a fantabulous cook, as we all know by her mouth-watering recipes. I, on the other hand, suck at cooking.


bad cookI failed Home Economics in high school. To some extent, flunking wasn’t entirely my fault. I’ve tried to remake the recipes in that lovely, photocopied and stapled together cook book, 20 years later and I am convinced it wasn’t me, it was the recipes.  They were not good, whichever way you cut it.

Who the heck eats carrot salad with sultanas in it anyway…? Eww.

I’d love to not be a failure in the kitchen, and if anyone’s recipes are worth testing its Mandy’s. So let’s see if I can manage to not screw up everything I touch in the Cook Club.

I’m sure some of the other staffers will want to get in on the fun, and hopefully I won’t be the only one giving stuff a go. Maybe they’ll post pics of their efforts, or impress us with youtube clips of their own.

I’m hoping Mandy will go easy on us for the first one. And if I should fail, at least it will be fun… I hope.


Mandy Wrangles_2_tnCook club is coming to the Escape Club, so why don’t you join us!

First off we’ll be making Tim Tam cake pops!



So we’re on the cusp of Halloween again, the perfect time to curl up in bed with a spooky book. Last year we compiled a list of our favourite scary stories – this year let’s explore some of my favourite ghostly reads.

 Mediator Series – Meg Cabot

When Suze moves to sunny California the last thing she needs is a hot boy ghost haunting her bedroom. Especially one who has no intention of moving on. Now, on top of settling in to a new house, family and school, she has to juggle her duties as a teenage mediator, and not all of the ghosts are friendly. The Mediator series is not really spooky, but it’s sweet, romantic and entertaining.

Doll Bones – Holly Black

Because what list would be complete without a Holly Black novel, right? Doll Bones is a little more middle-school than the rest of the books on this list, but a haunted doll called The Queen is creep-tastic enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine.

A Coming Evil – Vivian Vande Velde

An oldie, but still one I return to regularly. During WWII Lisette is sent to stay in the French countryside with an aunt who is harbouring Jewish children. When their safety is threatened, the only thing that might save them is a ghost that Lisette met on a lonely hillside.

 Glass Houses – Rachel Caine

Technically not a ghost story, this book still manages to fit in a pretty compelling haunting sub-plot. Also the books are being made into a TV series so now is definitely the right time to be picking the Morganville Vampire series up.



Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This one will always, always be on my scary books list. Best. Vampire. Story. Ever.

Madigan Mine by Kirstyn Mc Dermott

Because wow.

 Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Do I need a because for this one?

 The Tommyknockers by Stephen King

The first book of King’s I ever read (many, many years ago) so I’m not sure if it’s really that terrifying, but I’m happy to let it sit in my memory as just that.

 Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

There were moments with this book I had to put it down, walk away and catch my breath. Phew. Suspense to err, die for. Joe Hill gives just as good horror as his Daddy (Mr King himself).






Mandy Wrangles_2_tnSan Francisco is famous for many things. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Gay Pride, the Painted Ladies, Lombard street – the twistiest street in the world…the list goes on and on. And then – there’s the clam chowder.



USA-cc3One of my foodie ambitions was to try the famous San Franciscian chowder in a sourdough bread bowl while we were in town, and I wasn’t disappointed. Different versions are available from every second street vendor, but we got lucky on our very first purchase.

We stayed right on Fisherman’s Wharf, almost directly across the road from the world-renowned Boudin’s Sourdough Bakery – also the oldest bakery in the city. After a long day bus-touring around town, my beloved popped out to grab takeaway for the kids, and returned with this to our hotel: The original clam chowder in a bowl. You can see below how excited I was:


It was so omg delicious that we returned the next day for more, this time eating in at the downstairs cafe-style outdoor dining room. By the way, chowder goes to down really well with beer….

And finally, on our last night in San Francisco, we returned again to Boudin’s with our entire party of 16. This time we ate upstairs, which is more of a fine-dining experience. While I skipped the chowder this time around (for lobster), my 10yr old ordered it from the kid’s menu. Check out the turtle bread that it was served in!

So clam chowder achievement was unlocked. And it lived up to all expectations!





Mandy Wrangles_2_tnUSA_SFWith a lack of wifi in some of our hotels, I haven’t quite been able to keep the pace with our most excellent adventure. As I write this, we’re about to head into our last full day in San Francisco, having already done Anaheim (Disneyland), Carlsbad near San Diego (Legoland), Hollywood and Las Vegas. Tomorrow we’re jumping on an early plane for the wilds of the one and only Big Apple – New York.

While we’ve enjoyed numerous fine dining experiences (more on that later), it’s also been great to check out the street food in various locations. My 2nd favourite so far was at Venice Beach, about an hour’s bus trip from Hollywood central.

USA_SF2My two older sons are mad keen skaters, so getting to the Venice skate park was a big must for this trip. I have to admit, even for me it was pretty awesome to be on the home turf of the legendary Z-Boys – surfers turned skaters, who, back in the 70’s, changed the sport of skateboarding to the high-flying extreme sport we know today. Venice Beach has this kind of magical vibe about it – street stalls, artists, rubbish, homeless folks (not so magical), musicians, and dancers, palm readers and loads of hand-made wares. But best of all was the food.

While there are lots of cafes and restaurants, we were in a bit of a hurry to get the boys to into the Venice Bowl, so we stopped at ‘Big Daddy and sons’ for pizza and burgers, where we were greeted by lovely Liz out the front, who was a great help with the questions we had for the menu (that might have had something to do with her fascination for my youngest son, who has been a HUGE hit in America.

USA_SF3Something to do with the blonde hair and glasses and a bit of an attitude, I think!) Big Daddy’s is basically a few holes in the wall – you order and pay at one, walk around the corner to another window and wait for your name to be called. Pizza is sold by the slice – at $2.99 we were expecting small pieces, so oldest son ordered three – but no, these things are the size of an entire small pizza back in Australia! Check out the pic below of Mr 6 taking on his slice of Margarita!  The pizza and burgers were all fab – not oily at all, and the accompanying fries were crisp and delish. And cheap. Cheap. Did I mention cheap? All five of us ate for around $40.

Not so cheap was the street food at the theme parks. Yeah, we expected that. And most of it tasted pretty much as you’d expect too. We did four days at Disneyland / California Adventure Park, a day at Legoland  and another at Universal Studios. While I stuck mostly to the trusty pizza slice and occasional hot dog, Lovely Husband discovered these: Smoked Turkey Legs. Hmmm. Not quite my thing, and at about $10 each, they aren’t the cheapest snack, but Simon loved them – especially with a beer in the scorching California sun.

Next up – San Fran chowder. Oh, my….



Mandy Wrangles_2_tnOn our last night at Disneyland, we all (as in, all 16 of us) headed out to dinner at Napa Rose. Napa Rose is a (very) fine dining experience, located within The Disney Grand Californian Hotel, where we stayed.


Both the food and service were exquisite. Five big fat stars from me. After a couple of days of fast or mass-produced food, it was so good to sit down to fresh produce prepared with plenty of care. While I might be handing out big fat stars, that’s the last thing the meal made you feel. Sure, we left feeling full and satisfied, but it was a nice change to eat two courses (plus bread) without feeling bloated and greasy.

For starters, I – along with a few others on our table – chose the Pan Roasted Diver Scallops on a Sauce of Lobster and accented with Vanilla. Seriously, *I die*. This has to be one of the most amazing dishes I’ve ever eaten. So delicate, so delicious. The balance of textures and flavours was just divine.

For main course I had the Smiling Tiger Salad with Fried Lobster, Spicy Beef, Asian Greens and a Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette. Oh. My. Now, I’m not much of a drinker these days, especially when it comes to wine, but I did share a bottle or two of Moscato with my sisters-in-law, Tamzine and Kerrie. The sweet wine was a great balance to the spice of the Smiling Tiger Beef.

What a way to say good-bye to Disneyland! While Napa Rose might not be the cheapest dining option, it really was a special evening. The staff were efficient and full of personality, and treated the children of our group with just as much care as the adults

None of us could fault The Grand Californian Hotel either (except maybe to say that it is MASSIVE and the hallways are reeeeally long and it’s easy to get lost. But err, maybe that was just me…) If you’re ever fortunate enough to get the opportunity to stay there – DO. With exclusive park access to both Disneyland and California Adventure Park, and also to Downtown Disney – there’s not a location more convenient. And, no other location has Napa Rose. 





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