Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream! Cottage Pie! Fishy Green Ale! (What ELSE I ate at Harry Potter World)

Given that my post about what I ate at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2014 is still one of my most popular, I figured I should follow it up now that I’ve just been back–and visited the newer section of Diagon Alley. There were many new treats to try, both of the delicious and the eyebrow-raising variety, and with the help of my trusty husband and our voracious kiddo, I sampled as many as I could.

(First, though, I should probably just point out that visiting Harry Potter World on a rainy, 40-degree midweek in winter and on a sweltering Friday at the peak of tourist season in July are two vastly different experiences. Still, despite the crowds and the sweat, we had a great time even at the height of summer.)

We began the day in Diagon Alley, and it is impressive. I’m sure you can find many photos online if you want to check it out, but I did have to share my capture of the dragon atop Gringotts breathing fire, as he does at regular intervals. (Fair warning, the fire is HOT if you’re standing under it, and my toddler screamed from the noise every time.)


It wasn’t long before we found ourselves peckish. Word to the wise, there is no line at Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlor at 10am! Also note that they do not give samples. They have hard ice cream and soft, and my husband got apple crumble and strawberry-peanut butter hard ice cream. Both were delicious.20170714_101321
I opted for toffee apple soft serve, which is really just vanilla with toffee and green apple flavorings swirled in. It was fine, but the hard ice cream was better, and since you’re paying crazy park prices anyway, it seems worth the extra 50 cents.
All aboard the Hogwarts Express! Choo, choo!
Over in the Hogsmeade section of the park, I made my best culinary selection of the day: frozen butterbeer. You may remember that on my last (rainy, freezing) visit, I only tried the regular cold butterbeer and was less than impressed. Well, frozen is a hippogriff of a different color. SO much better–like a rich butterscotch slushee. Prices on all drinks have gone up quite a bit, but I’d say this was well worth the $7.50 (especially when waiting outside in the hot sun for a show to begin on the Hogsmeade stage).

On to lunch at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. Luckily, I had remembered to reread my own reviews of the food from my previous visit, and knew that my favorite things on the menu were the potato dishes. So that’s what I ordered. This time, the seasoned wedge fries were far superior to the garlic roasted potatoes (though my kid gobbled up plenty of the roasted ones without complaint).

My husband, who had not been to The Three Broomsticks before, got the rotisserie smoked chicken platter ($13), which came with corn and potatoes. Not exactly the most British of lunches, but we’d have much better and more British-y meals later on at the Leaky Cauldron.20170714_122618
Drink options at both The Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron now include apple and pear ciders (nonalcoholic), so we tried a pear one. Cheaper than the “specialty” drinks ($3 and change) but…meh. We suggest you save your sickles (and sugar allotment) for butterbeer and ice cream.

Honeyduke’s in Hogsmeade is still where it’s at for candy, though they seem to have gotten rid of the amazing animatronic girl continuously puking Puking Pastilles who used to be in the window. (Probably because they now sell actual Puking Pastilles at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley, though I didn’t see her there, either.) They did have this nifty setup inside, though, showing house elves clipping black licorice strands from a man’s hair and beard. 20170714_164054

We would have loved to see the machine in action, but alas–sickles only.20170714_164057

Back in Diagon Alley, we admired the window dressings some more. Books!20170714_175016


Fishy Green Ale! Wait, what?

We popped into The Fountain of Fair Fortune to try this specialty drink, which you can only find in Diagon Alley. Thankfully, it is not fishy, nor an ale (it’s nonalcoholic), though it’s certainly green. Ostensibly mint and cinnamon flavored, we thought it tasted mostly like sugar and were not terribly impressed. That is, until we got a mouthful of the “fish eggs” that live at the bottom.

I had read online that these eggs were like blueberry-flavored tapioca pearls, so I was expecting something chewy, along the lines of the “bubbles” in bubble tea. But…no. Somehow, the wizards of Diagon Alley have created supersoft little balls that explode in your mouth with a burst of fizzy blueberry flavor! The texture must be experienced to be understood. We still don’t know what they could be made of, and have decided we don’t want to find out. The toddler LOVED them, too. (We generally kept her away from the sugary drinks, but we figured these were the closest things she was gonna get to fruit all day, so we let her eat them.)  I still say the green drink itself is pretty icky, but the fish egg experience probably made it worth the $5 to try.

At last, on to The Leaky Cauldron for dinner. Similar meal prices to The Three Broomsticks, but in my opinion, much better food. I got the cottage pie, which was filled with ground beef and vegetables with a potato top, and it was very good. (Then again, I guess all I’d eaten all day were potatoes and sugary drinks, so maybe I was just really hungry!) The salad was nice, too–not just iceberg, which is what you get at the other pub.20170714_183236

My husband got the bangers and mash, which we forgot to photograph until he was halfway through the meal. Oops! It was really good, too. Great flavor in the sausage, nice peas on the side, and a variety of roots in the veggie mix, including parsnip, which I don’t think we’d actually eaten since we were in Scotland a couple of years ago.20170714_183240


You may have noticed some drinks in the picture of my dinner. We wouldn’t have bothered, but we lucked into some meal coupons that included drinks, so I got a lemonade (ugh, too sweet and fake bright yellow), and against my counseling the husband tried pumpkin juice. I took a sip and it was just as I remembered, kind of like drinking a pumpkin spice Yankee Candle, but he managed to drink it down. He said it was worth the $0 we paid for it.

So, in summary, some of the food lived up to its price in goblin gold, and some of it didn’t quite. The atmosphere of the parks is as stunning as ever, though, the rides are fun, and the shows–particularly Beedle the Bard in Diagon Alley and the Triwizard Tournament in Hogsmeade–are really enjoyable to watch.

Next time, I’ll be heading straight back to The Leaky Cauldron, Florean Fortescue’s, and anywhere I can get some frozen butterbeer. Cheers!

Like this post? Then you’d probably love my middle-grade novels about tween restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby!



#FCSDay and The Food Side of Things

ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverPeople who’ve read my novel All Four Stars and its sequels often ask me how I became a writer. Sometimes they also want to know where my book ideas come from. (Ha, if only I knew! I’d go back and grab a few more.)

But recently, a friend asked a different question: How did I get interested in “the food side of things”? Cooking, and eating adventurously, play a huge role in my books—and I bet a lot of readers assume that (like my foodie heroine, Gladys), I’ve been passionate about food since childhood. But they’d be wrong about that.

I don’t talk about my “foodie awakening” as much as I should. But here goes. Though I wasn’t like Gladys as a kid, my parents were in some ways like her parents. They weren’t cooks. They didn’t own any cookbooks, or clip recipes from magazines. And neither of them had been taught to cook when they were younger. It was a skill that had, between generations, slipped out of use in our family.

Stars of SummerAs a result, the kitchen was like a foreign country to them—and a kind of scary one. Sharp knives could cut you! The stove burned! They didn’t have experience using these tools, so they only saw the dangers. The microwave seemed safe enough, so they cooked pretty much anything they could in it (and some things that you probably shouldn’t). And when our freezer ran low on microwaveable meals, we ate cereal or got takeout.

So perhaps not surprisingly, I was not an adventurous eater when I was a kid. (I was a lot more like Parm in my books than like Gladys!) I hadn’t been exposed to a wide range of good-tasting food, so I didn’t like much of it. Finally, in high school, I started trying new cuisines, thanks to a club advisor who made it his mission to blow our minds with Indian, Ethiopian, Malaysian, and Japanese food.

STARS SO SWEET by Tara DairmanBut it wasn’t until much later—when I was a college student, on the verge of living on my own—that I took a hard look at my future as an eater. I could go the way of my parents, relying on frozen-meal companies and fast-food joints to feed me for the rest of my life, or I could roll up my sleeves and learn how to cook.

I bought a copy of Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, asked for a food processor for my birthday, and never looked back.

Those first days of cooking, on break from school at my parents’ house, were slow and a little painful—especially when I’d promised everyone dinner at 7, only to get it on the table at 9. But with practice, I grew more confident, and the results grew more delicious. My parents may not have cooked much for me, but they let me cook for them, and soon we were sitting around the table together, enjoying a homemade meal. I had turned a pile of raw ingredients into something nourishing for the people I loved—and I was truly shocked at how powerful that made me feel.

So, that’s my story about “the food side of things.” I kept enjoying new cuisines and making food for others. I finally got brave enough to attempt my dream of writing a novel, and I wanted to make my newfound passion for food a part of it. When I got the idea to write about a young girl whose parents ban her from the kitchen after a cooking mishap—a girl whose dream is to become a restaurant critic—I knew I’d struck gold.

When I meet readers today, some tell me that my books have nudged them to try a recipe out for themselves. It’s not often that we fiction writers get to hear about our stories affecting people’s real lives. But knowing that Gladys’s foodie adventures have inspired kids to develop a skill that I know will serve them—and others around them—for the rest of their days…well, I can’t help but weep salty little tears of happiness.

What “Dining In” looks like for me these days

Saturday, December 3, is #FCSDay, when tens of thousands of people commit to “dining in” with family and friends. To celebrate, the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences (AAFCS)—with support from my publisher, Penguin—will be giving away several sets of the All Four Stars trilogy to participants as prizes. To learn more and sign up to “Dine In,” visit aafcs.org/FCSDay, and follow the #FCSDay and #healthyfamselfie hashtags on social media.


Recipe: Soto ayam, the world’s best chicken soup!

It’s fall (or just about), and I have my first cold of the season. 😦

But all is not awfulness, because at least I have an excuse to make my favorite chicken soup–which, since 2011, has been soto ayam. (Sorry, matzo ball!) With its super-flavorful, coconut-milk-thickened broth filled with chicken, rice noodles, and crunchy sprouts and scallions, it’s not just the only chicken-noodle soup I’ve ever really gotten excited about; it’s one of the best dishes, period, that I tried during my world travels.

Soto ayam, Labuan, Java

Soto ayam in Labuan, western Java


The way I make this soup at home is in the style of the little roadside stall in Labuan (western Java) where I first tried it. Apparently, soto ayam varies by region in Indonesia, so when I returned to the states and wanted to learn how to make it, I had to sift through many different recipes. After a few rounds of experimentation, though, I finally developed this master recipe, which is very true to my memory of the soup I had in Java. It’s a bit of a project, but completely worth the effort, in my opinion. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Soto ayam

Soto ayam made at home

Soto ayam recipe
serves 4

Broth ingredients:
1-2 bone-in chicken thighs (depending on how much meat you like in your soup)
2 lemongrass stalks (or 1.5 TBSP lemongrass powder)
1 tsp salt
6 cups water

Spice paste ingredients:
8 almonds
3 garlic cloves
1-2 TBSP chopped fresh ginger (or one knob of ginger, peeled)
1 small onion (or 2 shallots)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 TBSP coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 small dried chili
1.5 tsp turmeric
1 tsp brown sugar
juice of one lime
1-2 TBSP neutral oil or coconut milk

Additional ingredients:
2 TBSP neutral oil
1 can coconut milk (or 1.5 cups)
reserved chicken broth
reserved shredded chicken
1 bunch bean sprouts, rinsed
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
7-8 oz thin rice noodles


1) Combine broth ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 40 minutes, partially covered. Remove chicken thighs and set aside to cool. Discard lemongrass stalks (if used). Reserve broth to use later in the recipe.

2) Combine spice paste ingredients in a food processor. Process for about 5 minutes, or until a thick paste has formed.

3) Once chicken thighs are cool, remove the meat from the bones and shred it. Discard the bones.

4) Heat 2 TBSP oil in your large pot on medium-high heat, and add spice paste. Fry spice paste for 5 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Add coconut milk, reserved chicken broth, and shredded chicken; bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add bean sprouts and cook 5 more minutes. Add spring onions and cook 1 minute. Turn off heat.

5) Meanwhile, boil a pot of water and cook rice noodles according to package directions. When ready, drain, rinse with cold water, and mix in a little oil to keep noodles from clumping.

6) To serve: divide rice noodles among four bowls and ladle soup over them, making sure to get a good mix of solids and broth. Serve with a spoon and either chopsticks or a fork. Enjoy!

(Note: In Indonesia, this soup would be served with a bowl of white rice on the side–but for me, the rice noodles are starch enough so I don’t bother. It might also be served with fried shallots sprinkled on top, which are delicious. I’m just too lazy to make them most of the time.)


Cover reveal & giveaway: STARS SO SWEET!

NOTE: The ARC giveaway is now closed, and winners have been announced. Thank you for entering!

Hey there! Guess what you’ll be able to find on…Sale

…next summer?

Hint: This young restaurant critic is involved.

And so is a visitor from a certain European city…French treats

Give up? Okay–reveal time!
STARS SO SWEET by Tara Dairman

Stars So Sweet

an All Four Stars book, coming July 19, 2016!
ISBN-13: 978-1-101-99648-5

Summer is winding down, and Gladys Gatsby’s stomach is full of butterflies about starting middle school. But her concerns go beyond juggling schoolwork and losing touch with old friends; she also has to worry about looming deadlines from her undercover job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic.

When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to the grown-ups in her life about her job. Her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold, though, when her parents arrive home with a surprise: Gladys’s aunt Lydia—one of the only adults who knows her secret—fresh off a plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but for how long will Gladys be able to balance the drama of middle school with her secret life?

This third book in the delicious All Four Stars series sees Gladys facing her biggest challenge yet: being true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.


Huge thanks to the Penguin Young Readers design team, and as always to brilliant cover artist Kelly Murphy, who has captured Gladys so perfectly in this cover!


You can now preorder Stars So Sweet from the following vendors:

Penguin *  AmazonBook Depository (International)

…and it should be available from many more retailers within the next month. Please consider supporting your local independent bookstore (find one here) by preordering the book from them. And, of course, if you’re in Colorado or New York, I hope to see you at a launch event next summer!

And you can add Stars So Sweet to your to-read shelf on GoodReads!

Giveaway alert!

TWO lucky commenters on this post will win their choice of either a signed hardcover of The Stars of Summer OR an advance copy of Stars So Sweet.

Leave a comment on this post if you’d like to enter, and you can earn extra entries by signing up for my e-mail newsletter and/or by tweeting about the giveaway.

Here’s a sample tweet you can use:

Check out the cover for STARS SO SWEET, third book in ‘s ALL FOUR STARS series, & win an ARC! http://wp.me/p1VIEB-Tz 

Just let me know in your comment if you’ve signed up for the newsletter (either now or in the past) and/or tweeted. And feel free to share this cover far and wide. I hope you love it as much as I do!

The book can be sent to a mailing address in the USA or Canada. I’ll announce a winner one week from today, on Thursday, November 5.

New blog tour posts, and first launch party!

SUMMER blog button3The blog tour for The Stars of Summer continues! Yesterday, the fantastic YA author Dahlia Adler–who is also a friend and a big fellow foodie–helped welcome my new book to the world with macaron pics and hot dog condiment chat at The Daily Dahlia. YUM.

And today, at For What It’s Worth, book blogger Karen has a review of the book and shares a recipe for brats with a slaw that contains blueberries! Wow!

In other news, last night was my first launch party for The Stars of Summer, at my terrific local indie, Boulder Book Store. We served completos Italianos and homemade cookies from the book, gave away prizes in a hot dog trivia contest, and generally just had a blast with all of the terrific friends, writers, kids, and even strangers who came out to celebrate. I’m still basking in the happy glow of being surrounded by so much love and support. Thank you, Boulder!! Here are a few of my favorite pics–full photoset at my Facebook author page.

signing at BBS

completo Italiano!the crowdTara reads


Winners, and guest post!

Thank you so much to everyone who entered last week’s giveaway for Natasha Wing’s books The Night Before Hanukkah and The Night Before the Night Before Christmas. The winners are Sara and Clare! Congrats, guys, and happy reading.

LinkBackButton-02Continuing with the holiday theme, I have a guest post up today at one of my very favorite book blogs, Pop! Goes the Reader. Not surprisingly, I’m talking about holiday food…but perhaps surprisingly, I’m revealing some not-so-Gladys-approved shortcuts that I’ve been known to take from time to time. Many thanks to Jen for inviting me to participate in her “Authors Talk Holidays” series!

The Night Before Hanukkah: Review & Giveaway!

blog_tourToday I’m excited to be participating in the blog tour for my friend (and fellow Colorado author) Natasha Wing’s new picture book, The Night Before Hanukkah! It’s a terrific addition to her uber-popular Night Before series, which helps kids get ready for important milestones in their lives.

As they go to sleep the night before Hanukkah begins, “visions of chocolate gelt” dance in the heads of the sister and brother who are the main characters of this delightful book. Once the holiday begins, they learn to light the menorah, sing songs, hear the story of Hanukkah, and play dreidel. Wing does a great job of giving an overview of this sometimes-complicated game!

hanukkahYou could probably guess that my favorite part of the book, though, involves food. I love the illustrations of the family enjoying potato latkes, jelly donuts, brisket and gravy, and melty chocolate gelt coins. I’m getting hungry just writing this. 🙂

And there’s an adorable twist at the end in which one of our main characters saves the night when the family runs out of candles for the menorah. I won’t give it away here, but I’ll just say that it’s really resourceful and cute.

Xmas_homeThis is a great story to help kids learn what to expect from a Hanukkah celebration–and, just in time for Hanukkah this year, I’m giving a signed copy away! And what’s more, I also have a signed copy of Natasha Wing’s The Night Before The Night Before Christmas to give away to an additional winner.

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this blog post sharing your favorite food to eat at holiday time. And it doesn’t just have to be at Hanukkah or Christmas! Any holiday will do. I’ll announce a winner next Monday, 12/15.

You can also earn extra entries by posting about this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter. Please mention that you’ve done so in your comment (or in an additional comment) to get credit!

Sample Tweet:
giveaway! Win a copy of ‘s delightful new picture book, THE NIGHT BEFORE HANUKKAH!

Sample FB post:
giveaway! Enter to win a copy of Natasha Wing’s delightful new picture book, THE NIGHT BEFORE HANUKKAH!




Thanks again to Natasha Wing for appearing!  For other stops on her 8 days of the Night Before Hanukkah Blog Tour, please check www.natashawing.wordpress.com.