Cooking Disney's Recipes as a Family Helped Us Rediscover the Magic of Our Connection

Tonilyn Hornung

I can find my favorite corn dog cart at Disneyland blindfolded. It’s mostly a straight shot down Main Street, past the town hall and the cinema. Disney snacks and movies, and the magic they represent, are my family’s happy place, especially for our little son. Living in Southern California allowed us to spend special occasions visiting our favorite mouse, duck, and whatever Goofy is supposed to be. True to Walt Disney’s original vision, the magic he created has allowed my family to rediscover our own magical connection time and time again.

On our first day of isolation, my husband made Mickey-Mouse-shaped waffles. We hoped to set a happier tone for our 6-year-old as we started social distancing. Mickey worked his magic as usual and saved the day, and we didn’t feel all that isolated. The strangeness of being home all the time strengthened our dynamic and made us feel safe. We were relieved to have each other – and the occasional Mickey waffle.

Our yummy Dole Whip.

Then as fast as our bond tightened, it began to unravel. The fear of contracting an unseen virus in conjunction with the stress of spending time in a frenetic daily routine of work and homeschooling caused a crankiness, and our connection was pushed to the side. I wanted to maintain our family’s bond, but with everything we’d known changing on a daily basis, it was tough to hold on to that Hakuna Matata spirit.

But then, in an unprecedented move, Disney released its coveted Dole Whip recipe online. Dole Whip is the most well-known dessert snack at the theme parks. It’s made of an über-secret combination of vanilla ice cream and pineapple. Since we couldn’t get to the Happiest Place On Earth, maybe the next best solution was bringing some of the happiest treats on Earth to our kitchen. And once again, it was the magic of Mickey that lifted us up.

Small but mightily delicious churros.

Now, the greatest gift I can give anyone is for me not to cook, but this was different. Disney had always been a family adventure, so doing this together seemed like just the thing. Everything needed was easy to find at the grocery store. I showed my husband and son the recipe, and together we made our very first batch of homemade Dole Whip. Assembling our favorite creamy, cold dessert sparked our memories. We talked about favorite rides at the park, and that led to a happy conversation about favorite times spent together recently. We were remembering who we are as a family.

To our amazement, the Mouse released another popular recipe: the churro. I instantly remembered how the smell of the fried dough would float through the air in the evening hours at Disneyland. We all loved sharing a churro while sitting on a bench next to the Rivers of America, and this is what we talked about while we deep-fried dough without a deep fryer. In true Disney fashion, the recipe is easy to follow, and the tiny bite-size churros tasted like delicious cinnamon, fried air. We’d found our connection again in the most unlikely of places – our kitchen.

My son loved making his favorite treat, beignets.

Taking time to eat our favorite foods at the park together always gave us time to bond. It was one of the best times of the day, and a moment we all looked forward to. This is what we needed to be reminded of: the magic we create while doing an activity we enjoy. Then when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the final pièce de résistance came when Mickey released my son’s favorite recipe – the beignets. Each time we enter Downtown Disney we stop along the way to grab a paper bag full of these powdered sugar delights. Cooking the Disneyland beignet recipe was our grand finale, and by far our favorite.

The desserts were yummy, but our time together in the kitchen was the real sweetness we needed. The Disneyland recipes brought back the magic we’d lost – not because we were hungry for sweets, but because we were craving connection. I’d do anything to help my family – even dress up like Mickey himself – but this was a much better solution. The Happiest Place on Earth will be open again someday soon, but until then my family now knows we can find our happy place in our kitchen – and most importantly in ourselves.

The final product!

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