Legoland California and Sweet and Sour Chicken

Apologies for the hiatus.  We were in Times Square this time last week:

Lego Times Square

Also here:

I had planned to post while in California, but I got hit with a *major* (sweat) deadline right before leaving, so all my “free time” was spent working on that. With the job, plus an amazing book event in my hometown, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, visiting Legoland, and all the requisite driving in between — I barely had time to sleep!

As soon as we landed, we rented a car and buzzed up the California coast to my home town, Lompoc.

Truck stop off the 101. Didn't get to see friends in Los Angeles and San Diego -- hopefully next time! Took pictures here for research for next book project...TBA!

The next day I had an amazing book event at The Bookstore.  So many old friends I grew up with, and friends and teachers from elementary and high school showed up!  (Did I mention that my mom is my best publicist?)

My friend, Joy, from high school, picked up a copy

The highlight was seeing my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Jackson, whom I haven’t see since.. um… 1977.

I had an amazing year in his class learning all about Latin America from which he has a passion.  He taught me my first Spanish words (we learned a new one every day), and I still remember to this day things about Central and South America that I learned then — a testament to his great teaching.

Mr. Taniguchi, my awesome Biology teacher

I also saw a guy from my Kindergarten class and met his family (he didn’t remember me– lol), my Biology teacher from high school (he looks exactly the same), my graphics arts teacher, a 3rd grade teacher, and my Blue Birds troop leader and babysitter.  Our dear family friends I’ve known all my life and their children and grandchildren also showed up.  I feel really blessed have all their support.  Thank you, everyone!!

That evening we had another “Hawaiian Potluck” — only it was a dessert one due to time constraints!

Mrs. V's bread pudding (recipe is top secret!)

Amanda's Valentine cupcakes

Mrs. W's bundt cake -thank you for organizing the potluck!

The main reason we went to California this time of year (other than to get out of dreary NYC winter days) is because Jamie had a winter break and this past summer I won 4 all day passes to Legoland for two days that we had to use before they expired!  Thank you, Santa Barbara News Press for sponsoring the sweepstakes! We spent the latter part of the week there with my mom and met up with friends who have a son Jamie’s age.

Anubis Jamie near Pharaoh's Revenge

Legoland in California was the only one in the US until last year when Legoland Florida opened.  Legoland is divided into different sections based on different Lego themes.  Jamie rode his first real roller coaster, The Dragon, in Castle Hill and he got his first “driving license”.

Jamie driving on the wrong side of the road -- good thing those pedestrians aren't real!

This is how I felt after two days of Legoland.

We were lucky it was sunny and warm while we were at Legoland.  Can you believe it rained half the time we were in California?  I had to drive 55 mph on the 405 going down to Carlsbad because of pouring rain– a rare event on both counts!

Fortunately, we were able to stop and rest half way there in Irvine where we got to meet a blogger friend, Judy and her adorable daughter, Bebe E!!

playing peek a boo!

It was so great to meet her in person.  I found her via her her blog, Bebe Love Okazu and fell in love with her wonderful recipes and writing.  I especially love her Japanese recipes passed down from her mom.  The gyoza is one of my favorites.  This one too! It’s corny, but it felt like she was an old friend that I was visiting — not someone I met on the internet!  We didn’t even talk about cooking, there was so much to chat about.  And as it turned out, we discovered we actually have friends in common in Los Angeles.  Such a small world!

Bonding over technology.

She baked us yummy cookies for the rest of our trip.  Thanks, Judy!

With fantastic memories of our California visit fresh on our minds, we’re back in Brooklyn now. My only regret is that I didn’t get a photo of Jamie and my mom playing their new ukeleles she bought on a recent trip to Hawaii!  One night when I was working really late on the laptop while Denis and Jamie were sleeping, my mom kept me company and practiced her ukelele and serenaded me with Hawaiian songs and “Silent Night”.   🙂

I’m SOOO happy to be car-less again, and living in a walking city.   It’s also a relief to be eating at home again and cooking!  I confess we indulged in our In-n-Out burger fixation, eating there three times while on the road.  Also diner food.  Mexican food… Denny’s.  It got bad.

I thought I’d conclude here with a recipe I recently made up that is decidedly non-take out, but tastes like it could be and is much healthier!  I took various recipes I found on line — from the most decadent to the least, and made a hybrid version.  Lots of prep work is required, but it comes together fast at the end.  I used vegetables my boys would eat, but it would be easy to swap these out for other ones.   The chicken is tender and flavorful and it’s not as oily as a restaurant version.  Also the batter is thinner (which my son prefers — he picks off thick crunchy batter!) and lighter.

Sweet and Sour Chicken


2 tablespoons  soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

½ teaspoon cornstarch

1 lb. chicken tenders, cut into ½ inch pieces

Vegetables and pineapple

1 ½ cups canned pineapple pieces, drained reserving juice

¼ large onion, cut into bite sized wedges

1 carrot, sliced

½ medium or 1 small zucchini, sliced

½ can baby corn

1 green onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon minced ginger

Sweet and Sour Sauce:

¼ cup reserved pineapple juice

1/3 cup rice vinegar

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup ketchup

½ teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water


1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup cornstarch

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 egg whites

oil for frying

kosher salt to taste

1 tablespoon dry sherry, Chinese wine, or sake

  1. Whisk 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, and ½ teaspoon cornstarch in a bowl.  Place chicken tenders in bowl and coat with marinade.  Refrigerate, covered for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Prep veggies while chicken is marinating.  Place vegetables and pineapple in dishes for ease of stir frying later.
  3. Prepare sauce.  Whisk together ¼ cup of reserved pineapple juice, 1/3 cup rice vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce in a sauce pan. Add cornstarch and water mixture and stir to combine. Bring to a boil then simmer on low until thickened.  Set aside and keep warm.
  4. Heat about 2 teaspoons oil in wok or large skillet.  Saute onions, carrots.  Then add softer vegetables, like zucchini, baby corn, and green onions.  Add garlic and ginger and pinch of salt.  Saute.  Add pineapple and sauté.  Add sherry, about 2 tablespoons water, and kosher salt to taste.  Then cover and let steam cook until vegetables are soft.  Transfer to a dish and keep warm.
  5. Mix flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and pinch of salt together in a shallow bowl.  Whisk egg whites in another bowl.
  6. Remove chicken from marinade, dredge in flour mixture, then egg whites, then flour mixture again.  Set on plate.  Repeat with rest of chicken.
  7. Clean wok or skillet and heat a tablespoon or two of oil.  Saute chicken pieces in oil until cooked through.  Drain on plate lined with paper towel.  Repeat with rest of chicken.
  8. To serve, combine chicken and vegetables and coat with sweet and sour sauce.  Serve immediately.



Filed under chicken, Dinner, Travel

15 responses to “Legoland California and Sweet and Sour Chicken

  1. Nice to see all those smiles and Amanda’s cupcakes look amazing. We continue to have sunny spring weather in California this week, at least up north.

  2. Lucky you! Now it’s raining in NYC!

  3. Thanks Melissa! Was so great meeting you too and thanks for the kind words.

    Wow! Sounds like you had a really amazing book event, especially with so many old friends showing up! We didn’t even really talk about your book event! Like you said, we really did have so many other things to talk about it. Truly is a small world. 🙂

    I spent the day at Disneyland today and I can imagine being as tired as you were after 2 days at Legoland! That’s awesome Jaime had such a great time, though!

    Your mom is such a sweetheart serenading you and keeping you company while you worked. Moms are the best aren’t they? I’m sure she misses you guys now that you’re back home. I’m glad I had the chance to meet her. 🙂

    Love your orange chicken recipe – will need to try it soon. I’ve been buying the frozen instant orange (sweet & sour) chicken from Trader Joes when I need a quick dinner. My Chinese-American husband doesn’t appreciate it much but he doesn’t complain either. Lucky me. 🙂 He’s offered to make me his version of sweet sour chicken but I don’t always trust him in the kitchen -shhh! 🙂

    • OMG, Denis loves that TJ orange chicken .I think it’s too sweet, and Jamie doesn’t like the thick batter! I usually use half the sauce and Jamie picks off all the batter and eats his with ketchup. ha ha.

      Yes, moms are the best!! 🙂

  4. PS – I had to update my blog with Denis’ photos because they were so much better than those that I took! LOL. 🙂

  5. It is wonderful seeing you look so happy – this post resonates vibrancy and life 😀
    Beautiful delicious recipe I’m sure from looks since I am veg and great sweet pics!

    Choc Chip Uru

  6. This looks like everyone truly enjoyed the time in California. I have heard about legoland, I do need to bring my nephew there! Also, I thought it was pretty cool that you caught up with your old teachers and a fellow blogger!
    Also thanks for this tasty recipe. We are off to the grocers, so I am printing this. I am sure I will be pleased with your version of this sweet and sour-yum!

  7. Wow, what a great time you had! Loved all the pictures and reading about everything you did. So nice that a couple of your teachers showed up! Jamie has grown quite a bit :). Thanks for the recipe, too . . .

  8. OH Melissa, you had SUCH a special trip! and Jamie must just be so happy to have LIVED the Legoland experience. I’m so impressed with your hometown book experience too…. again…special wonderful time! and even work too! welcome back home!

  9. how nice to meet people from when you were younger! we need to check out Legoland too. Love sweet and sour chicken….takeout at home! yum

  10. It is a ways for you, but if you can swing it — check it out!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s