Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015 - Feast of the Seven Fishes Menu

Here's my menu for today!  And yes, while it is customary to do 7 fishes, I can never stop at just 7.  This year, I'm incorporating 12 different kinds of fish into the menu. The more, the merrier!

Links to recipes provided, where applicable. I've also put some "notes" at the bottom, and will post pictures in a few days, when all of the festivities are done.

UPDATE: Photos added!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!


Assorted Cheese & Crackers
Veggie Platter

Shrimp Cocktail

Salmon w/chive cream cheese, dill and capers

Mini Crab Cakes (top tray)
Fried Calamari (middle tray)
Fried Whole Smelts (bottom tray)

Stuffed Clams

Stuffed Mushrooms (Anchovies)

Fried Ravioli

Lobster Tails w/garlic herb butter
Angel hair pasta w/garlic & olive oil
Steamed Broccoli w/lemon

Pudding Trifle
Spritz cookies

12 Fishes: Tuna, Scungilli, Salmon, Crab, Clams, Anchovies, Smelts, Calamari, Baccala, Oysters, Lobster

A few notes: 
Shrimp cocktail is just a bunch of peeled, cleaned shrimp, boiled up the night before and chilled overnight in the fridge. Serve with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges on the side. 

The stuffed mushrooms are my own standard recipe (mushrooms stuffed with chopped mushroom stems, fresh bread pieces soaked in milk, egg, parmesan cheese, crushed garlic, salt & pepper to taste, and a drizzle of melted butter on top).  This year, I substituted a couple of mashed anchovies (the kind in the can, drained well) for the salt.

The calamari and smelts are done in a similar way: I season flour with Old Bay Seasoning, dredge the fish in flour, and fry 'em up in the deep fryer until golden brown and crispy

The raviolis are super-easy: I buy the square, four-cheese Buitoni brand, dip them in beaten egg, then Progresso Italian bread crumbs. Tap off the excess, and then into the deep fryer they go. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Rainbow Cookie Cake Pops!

Every year at Christmastime, it's become a tradition for me to make "Rainbow Cookies," also known as Seven Layer Cookies.  They're a lot of work because there are so many steps to the process, and they take two days to make (most of that is time spent setting up in the refrigerator).  It's a challenge every time I make them, and once I start, it's a great reminder of why I only attempt them once a year.

Rainbow Cookies!

To get the recipe at Epicurious, click HERE

This year, I did something a little different: when I got to the step in the recipe that calls for trimming around the edges of the layers to make them even, I saved the scraps and brought them all way to room temperature. I found them to be just sticky enough to form into 6 small cake pops, and coated them in the same dark chocolate as I use for the top and bottom layers of the cookie bars.  Then, I finished them off with--of course--rainbow sprinkles. 

They turned out great, with a minimal amount of extra effort, given all of the other steps in the process. It's a great way to use every bit of that precious cookie batter, too!
Rainbow cookie cake pops!

Feast of the 7 Fishes Prep Starts Today!

Christmas Eve 2015 marks the 25th "Festa dei Sette Pesci" (Feast of the Seven Fishes) that I will have hosted. Over the next few days, I'll be posting pictures and recipes from years past, along with the menu for this year's celebration.

With just 3 days to go, it's time to start soaking that baccala--get to it!
Salt-cured codfish...pre-soak!
If you've never worked with this stuff,
be prepared--it's very pungent!
Baccala Alla Vesuviana
This is baccala in a spicy tomato sauce. I made it in 2014, and it was terrific.
I used Mario Batili's recipe, which you can find HERE.
Baccala Salad
I made this in 2010. I don't recall which recipe I used,
but THIS ONE from the Food Network is pretty close.
I enjoyed it, but it didn't go over as well as
the Vesuviana did a few years later. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Eve BINGO

One week from today will be Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the entire year, when I celebrate "The Feast of the Seven Fishes" with my in-laws.  This will be my 25th time hosting, so in honor of this momentous occasion, I created a little Bingo game.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

I own a cookie press? Apparently, yes.

So, look what I just found, hidden away in my basement storage area: a Salton Cookie Press, brand new in the package. The manual is dated 2002, and I have absolutely no recollection of ever buying this, or receiving it as a gift. And yet, here it is!

It just so happens I was baking Christmas cookies today, so the timing of this discovery was certainly serendipitous.

Following the recipe in the manual, I made a batch of Holiday Butter Cookie dough, and made cookies in two shapes: trees and hearts.

Not gonna lie--this thing is not as easy to use as you'd think.  The dough has to be just the right consistency, not too cold and stiff, not too warm and sticky.  I had a few "fails", but ended up with about two dozen cookie so far that look pretty good.  Looking forward to experimenting with this new contraption and making some more cookies tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Toasted Coconut Oreos: Folks, we have a WINNER

I have been searching EVERYWHERE for these Toasted Coconut Oreos.  A couple of weeks ago, my daughter found them in Pennsylvania, but when I asked her to pick me up an extra bag, she went back to the store and they were sold out.

Fortunately, her willpower is a lot stronger than her mother's because my daughter actually saved the rest of the bag she bought and brought the rest home for me to try. 

I will cut right to the chase: of all the "Limited Edition" Oreos I have tried, these are the best.

Hands down. No contest. Mic drop.

I know, I can hardly believe it myself. I have been so anti-vanilla cookie when it comes to Oreos, and I take it all back. The combo of the vanilla cookie with the toasted coconut center is perfect. The ratio of cream to cookie: perfect. And the flecks of toasted coconut?  JUST RIGHT.

When you take a bite, it actually takes a couple of seconds for the coconut flavor to come through--it's not overpowering or cloying, and it is instantly addictive.  

Then, I did my usual routine of splitting the cookie apart and eating just the cream--again, GLORIOUS. Not too sweet, and just the right amount of coconut. 

Now if you'll pardon me, I have to go search these out online.  I still haven't been able to find them in stores, and I need these in my life. 

Thanks, Dad (March 22, 1932 - November 24, 2006)

"My father gave me the greatest gift
anyone can give another person:
he believed in me."
--Jimmy Valvano

Friday, November 20, 2015

Great info on Credit Card Deals--from someone I trust!

This blog is mostly just my own musings, and food reviews, and other random ramblings, but every once in a while, I do try to share information of value--IF it's something I truly believe in.

Yup...this is one of those times. 

My husband has many talents, but the one that never fails to impress me: his Information Management skills. He's a financial whiz--that's been his lifelong career, after all--but he's also got great instincts when it comes to money, and an incredible amount of patience when it comes to researching things.  

Lately, he's been on this mission to boost our credit score (which was already quite good) so that we could take advantage of the many credit card deals and bonuses that are out there.  If you know where to find the info, you have good credit, and you act fast, you can take advantage of some amazing offers that give you free airline miles, gift cards, points towards free hotel stays, and more. 

I finally convinced him that he needs to share this info with the rest of the world, to create a "one stop shopping" resource for people who don't have the time or patience that he has for sniffing these deals, but still want the opportunity to get them.  So, he's created a website:   I hope you'll check it out!

You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

The Man On the Moon

Wow. This John Lewis Christmas ad is absolutely beautiful, and it made me think of my Dad.  He was an electrical communications engineer, and he worked on the Gemini and Apollo space projects for NASA.  He helped design the circuit boards that were used in the lunar module, and because of that, his name is written on a scroll that was left on the Moon.

He's been gone for almost  exactly 9 years now, but I still think of him every single day, especially when I look up at the Moon.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dear Hallmark Channel: Seriously?

I've already admitted that one of my favorite "guilty pleasures" this time of year is watching the Hallmark Channel's "Countdown to Christmas" movies. They're all very similar: sappy, romantic movies with a B-list cast and predictable plot, set against the backdrop of the Christmas holiday season. There are several old favorites that I look forward to each year--The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Christmas with Holly, the Nine Lives of Christmas--but I also enjoy seeing the new crop of movies. One that debuted recently: Christmas Incorporated.

I understand that these movies are not meant to be Oscar-worthy, and I adjust my expectations accordingly, but this one was really tough to watch right from the start. It felt low-budget, and the actors had zero chemistry or likability, but my daughter and I decided to give it some time and see if it would get better. 

Alas. About half an hour in, I spotted this sign on the front of a restaurant named "Ristorante Italiano":

"EXPRESSO"... Really, Hallmark?!?

And, just like that, we were done. I just couldn't bear to watch anymore.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Even in the face of Evil, Goodness persists

This video from Le Petit Journal features an interview with a young French boy, as he struggles to understand the horrific events that recently transpired in Paris. The father's calm, comforting words to his son are a beautiful testament to his parenting. When it comes to your children, the best way to fight back against fear and hurt is love. This scared little boy doesn't need to hear about "boots on the ground" or whether or not someone should be granted refuge--he just needed to be reminded that even though there's evil in the world, goodness and beauty will persist and endure.

I remember all to well the events of September 11, 2001, waiting anxiously for my eldest two children to come home from school so that I could help them process what had happened that morning in New York City at the World Trade Center.  School officials had done their best to keep the children shielded from the news, but in the age of technology and cell phones, rumors starting trickling through during their bus ride home.  My 7-year-old and 5-year-old came running in, wide-eyed, telling me they'd heard on the bus that a plane had hit the junior high school. Evenutally, they learned all about what had happened, and for many months afterwards, any plane passing overhead was met with a fearful upwards glance.  

My heart goes out to the children of Paris, and to their parents, who will be dealing with the trauma from this terrrorist attack for years to come.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Happens to the best of us...

Spotted while flipping through some holiday mail-order catalogs: 
St. Francis has really let himself go.

Offensive Campbell's Soup Commercial

Last night, a commercial for Campbell's soup depicted a young boy at mealtime, along with his Star Wars-obsessed dad...and, his other Star Wars-obsessed dad.

I thought the commercial was cute, but I knew immediately that there would be people who found it offensive, and point to it as an example of the "gay agenda."

Honestly, THIS COMMERCIAL by Campbell's, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, is the REAL culprit when it comes to being offensive. Double dipping--the horror!

But really.  It's just soup, people.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: Starbucks Christmas Blend 2015

When it comes to coffee, my motto is "The Stronger, The Better."  I'm happy to report that this year's Christmas Blend from Starbucks holds up nicely in the "bold and robust" category, rivaling my all-time favorite K-Cups, Revv and Jet Fuel.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: The Nine Lives of Christmas

Yes, Hallmark's "Countdown to Christmas" has been in full swing for two weeks already, with a daily lineup of holiday-themed movies to choose from.  I'll admit it--they're my guilty pleasure this time of year.

Unfortunately, not all of these sappy romance movies are worth tuning in for--some are painfully trite and obvious--but every once in a while, there's a gem hidden in there that is absolutely worth watching.

The Nine Lives of Christmas is one of my favorites. It's a heartwarming story about a veterinary student named Marilee and a firefighter named Zachary, who meet and bond over their love of cats, while facing down some serious trust issues and emotional baggage.  LOL...yes, it sounds hokey, but trust me, you'll enjoy it.  CLICK HERE to watch it on Vimeo, or check the Hallmark Channel schedule to see when it airs next.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bus Stop Bonding

Last year when my daughter started high school, we had to adjust to a new bus stop: instead of being located right outside my next door neighbor's driveway, the high school stop is 1/4 mile away, at the top of our long, steep hill.  No more waiting inside until the last second on a cold, blustery day--now, if she wants to make it in time for the bus, she has to leave the house at least 6 minutes ahead of the scheduled pickup window, lugging a huge backpack, laptop, and lunchbox for a power-climb to the top.

Throughout her freshman year, she was the only one on our street making that trek, and on days when the weather was particularly nasty, or if she was havinga slow morning and needed some extra time, I ended up driving her to the top. Soon, this luxury became more of a daily habit than a last-minute treat. And now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Yes, it is important to teach a teenager about the importance of responsibility, and I'm sure there are those who believe that forcing her to brave the elements and experience that heart-pounding dash every morning would help her "build character."

But I'll let you in on a little secret: sitting with her in the car for those few minutes at the bus stop, often bleary-eyed myself and in need more coffee, is the highlight of my day.

Teenagers can be notoriously difficult to communicate with, but each morning, waiting for that bus, I've got a captive audience. I keep my cell phone firmly in my pocket, and as we watch the sun rise in front of us, we take that time to talk about the day ahead. Those still-sleepy morning minutes are when she's most likely to tell me about things that are weighing on her, and also the time she's most receptive to encouragement and advice.  Our bus stop bonding has brought us closer, and I treasure it.

Now that she's a Sophomore, we've added a new element to the mix: two boys from our street who I've known since they were born, both in their Freshman year. As someone who has no sons, these mornings are now even more special for me.  I love observing the differences between how these young men are first thing in the morning,  as compared to what I've experienced raising teenage girls. Every once in a while--usually on a Friday, when the excitement of the weekend is building--I see a flash of the carefree little boys I remember, riding bikes and skinning knees. Then they hop out of the car and I am jolted back to reality when I see that both of them are now taller than I am.

The first time I showed up at the bus stop on a rainy day, and urged the boys to get in to stay dry, I could see the conflict in their eyes: struggling with their feelings of obligation to "tough it out" and deal with the downpour in stride, while wanting to take refuge from the elements. The deciding factor? Deference for a mother-figure, when I roll down the window in exasperation and say, "Oh for heaven's sakes, get in, I'm cold looking at you!" Their respectful compliance speaks to the strong relationship each has with their own mother.

So, in addition to keeping up on things with my daughter, this new dynamic also has me doing a quick check on most mornings, lest I be unaware of the newsworthy football scores from the night before. The kids and I talk about everything and anything, from boring school assemblies and difficult exams they're worried about to their favorite after-school clubs and the new movie coming out this weekend that everyone wants to see.

Once the school bus comes into view, I wish them all a good day, and they reluctantly trudge to the corner, but not before thanking me for the chance to "relax in a nice warm car" for awhile.

Believe me, kids--the pleasure is all mine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Photographer as Artist

I only post links to videos on this blog that are absolutely "click worthy," and this one is no exception. It's from an article on Shutterbug about a fascinating experiment, where 6 different photographers were each given the same subject to capture on film. The twist?  The subject's backstory was changed for each photographer: one was told he was shooting a self-made millionaire, while another was advised her subject was a just-released ex-convict.  

The results are astounding, and proof-positive that professional photographers possess a talent and an artistry that deserves to be appreciated.


Keeping Family Meal Times A "No Tech" Zone

Today, Pope Francis advised families to turn off their cell phones, televisions and other electronic devices during meal times, and focus on conversing with one another. This seems like common sense to me, so the fact that it's making headlines and is considered a bold and revolutionary idea is surprising.

I agree with the Pope's advice 100%. In my home, meal time has always been a daily opportunity for my husband, my children and me to sit down together and converse about what's going on in each other's lives. It's when we hear about the latest drama at school, a new dream or goal for the future that is starting to take shape, upcoming weekend plans, or just a silly joke that someone overheard in the cafeteria.  We share our ups and downs, offering a daily dose of love and support, and reinforcing the concept that we are all connected as a family unit.  

As a parent, having a sit-down dinner as a family is a valuable time for sharing and staying plugged in to what my children are feeling and thinking, and it saddens me to think this daily ritual for us is more the exception than the rule for others.

Veteran's Day 2015

Remembering all who have served and sacrificed to protect our country's freedom and ideals, including this brave young Navy man:.

Thanks, Dad. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Grand Canyon in Arizona


It really is an incredible sight to behold--a testament to the power of time and persistance.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Well, Here's a Unique Way to Memorialize a Loved One!

Seen today at the Phoenix Zoo:

I love this. Anyone can dedicate a memorial bench or plant a tribute tree, so Arlene's family took things to a whole other level.

I never had the pleasure of knowing her, but I'm willing to be she had a great sense of humor.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Black Forest Cake - in the crockpot!

Last week, I tried a recipe I saw posted on Facebook, and I couldn't believe how easy and delicious it was.  That recipe was for Apple Spice Crockpot cake: put two cans of apple pie filling into a crockpot, pour the dry Spice cake mix on top, and then put two sticks (8 oz) of butter on top of that. Cover and cook on high 2 to 2.5 hours.

I was skeptical about not mixing anything, but I tried it, and it was fantastic. Somehow, all of the ingredients came together, and it was like apple cobbler.

It got me thinking about other variations, so today, I tried the same basic technique using two cans of cherry pie filling, one box of chocolate fudge cake mix, and two sticks of butter.  The video I saw on Facebook shows the sticks of butter being placed right on top, but I decided to cut them up into pieces to make sure the butter was evenly distributed. It worked out great--absolutely delicious, and so easy.  Definitely going to stock these ingredients in the pantry this Winter for a fast, simple dessert.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Double dipping? NO THANK YOU, Campbell's!

I just saw this commercial for Campbell's Organic Soup, and I am horrified!  See if you can catch why:

She puts the spoon to her mouth, tastes the soup, and then STICKS THE WET SPOON RIGHT BACK INTO THE POT WITHOUT WASHING IT FIRST. Disgusting!!

This is why I can't eat anyone else cooking except my own. Blech!

Friday, October 23, 2015

The "Happy Place" aka Eastern University

I went to visit my daughter in Pennyslvania today, and this afternoon, we went for a walk to the campus of Eastern University--a location we call "the happy place."  It's a Christian university that integrates faith, reason and justice into the curriculum, and the deeply-rooted spirituality that exists there is palpable. It's difficult to explain, but the moment I step foot on the grounds, there is a feeling of peace and serenity that washes over me.  It is a place that exudes positivity, and hope, and yes, happiness.

These are two photos I took today--they barely do this beautiful place justice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Value of Protests

Saw this great quote in Reader's Digest regarding the value of protests:

We've never said protests are the answer, but protests create space for the answer. Protest is disruption. Protest is confrontation. Protest is the end of silence, and what protest does is creates space for the other work to happen.

social justice activist (quoted in Ebony magazine)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Soul-Stirring Images from Photographer Tom Hussey

I saw THIS ARTICLE about Tom Hussey's breathtaking photo series on, and had to share it. 

Hussey is a photographer who created images of elderly people looking at their own reflections, which have been superimposed with a photo of their much-younger self.  

All of the images are incredibly poignant, and absolutely worth clicking through to have a look. Two of my favorites: 

The former nurse, now in need of nursing care herself

The military veteran, smiling at his impossibly-handsome younger self

And a link to Tom Hussey's website:

Monday, September 28, 2015

To all the Chicken Littles out there posting about privacy today

I know everyone means well, but "better safe than sorry" is exactly the kind of thinking that perpetuates internet hoaxes and scams.  Please THINK before you blindly share a warning on your Facebook account...better yet, check a site like or to see if it's actually true before you spread it around.

Disney is not giving away a free vacation, Tiffany's is not going to send you a diamond ring just because you share a status, and Facebook isn't going to suddenly protect your privacy just because you declare publicly that they are not the boss of you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Rising From the Ashes

Although this day will always be filled with painful memories, especially for those of us who call the NYC-metro area home, it's also a day to remember how strong and united we are in the face of adversity. There will always be evil forces in this world, spreading hate and fear, seeking to destroy the traditions and values of the United States, but they will never prevail.  You may knock us down, but we will always get back up, rising taller and stronger than before. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Instagram Scam

Got this text message tonight--total scam. Did not text back, and blocked the number. There are numerous post online calling out this same number as a phishing scheme--don't fall for it! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Soup you brew in your coffee machine?

I saw this new product from Progresso at the grocery store this morning, and was both intrigued and repelled at the same time.  It's soup that you cook using your Keurig coffee machine. 

I didn't buy it--mostly because of the high calories and sodium content--but I'm really curious as to how this would taste. I'm also wondering what it's like for the person who tries to brew coffee on the same machine right after someone else has made soup.  Yikes.

The way it works, as far as I could tell from reading the package, is that you put a packet of freeze-dried veggies and other spices into a mug, and then "brew" the broth of the soup using a K-cup.

If anyone out there is brave enough to try this, let me know what you think!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Remembering Dorothy

I got a phone call today that I have been dreading. I knew this day would come eventually, but when it did, I was still unprepared.

My dear friend, Dorothy, a woman I've known for 30 years, has died. She had a zest for life that, to this day, is unmatched by anyone else I've ever met. Until recently, I had no idea how old she actually was--she was always so vibrant and strong and a force to be reckoned with. When the friend who is handling her affairs called and told me she had passed away earlier this month, I was shocked, despite the fact that I knew she was 97 years old.

I worked for Dorothy in the law library at Fordham Law School, when I was an undergraduate student, as part of the work-study program. She was the Acquisitions Librarian, and the best boss I ever had.  She was SO intelligent, with a razor-sharp wit and wicked sense of humor. She was strong and independent and didn't take crap from anyone.  She loved to laugh, and cherished her friends. She was a woman without guile, without pretense: you always knew where you stood with her, good or bad.

She used to bring in a bottle of wine on Fridays in the summer time, and after we cashed our weekly paychecks at the bank, we'd share a liquid lunch and head home early to start the weekend.

When she went on vacation, I stayed at her beautiful NYC apartment in Greenwich Village to babysit her cat.  I was only 19 years old, still living with my parents and commuting to school every day, and those precious days gave me a glimpse of what her life was like: unmarried, untethered, able to come and go as she pleased, living in the best city in the world.

The thing I remember most about Dorothy was her laugh--it was a loud, cackling sound that reverberated through the office, making it impossible not to join in.  She loved calling her friends at work and telling the receptionist in a low, almost growling tone, "Yes, I'd like to speak to Mitzi please. It's Faye Dunaway calling."  She also did a fine Elizabeth Taylor.

Dorothy's gift was being able to listen to a problem or issue that I was having, immediately assess the big picture, and zero in on the best course of action. She minded her own business, but she knew how to choose her moments, and when she did offer advice, I always listened.  And she was always right.

We kept in touch over the years, through my graduation, on through my various full-time jobs in my chosen career. We met up for lunch now and again, catching up right where we'd left off, polishing off a bottle of wine and laughing the entire time.

Eventually, I got married, moved to the suburbs, had children, but still, my relationship with Dorothy endured. We saw each other less and less as the years went on, but always called each other for birthdays and holidays. Sometimes, a thought of her would pop into my head, completely unbidden, and sure enough, within a day or two, she would call.  We had some sort of telepathic connection that cannot be explained.

The last couple of times I spoke with her--for her birthday, and then again on my own birthday--she sounded tired.  I knew I needed to go and see her again, and very soon.  We had plans to get together in September, when the weather was a bit cooler and she might be able to go outside for a few hours (the humid dog days of a NYC summer were a little much for her these days).  Instead, I'll be attending her memorial service next month.

I'm so sad that she's gone, but I'm even happier that I had the gift of knowing her, and the privilege of calling her my friend.  I miss her so much already, and it pains me deeply to think that I will never hear her voice--or her laugh--again.

Rest in peace, dear Dorothy. You lived a long and full life, and this world was a better place for having you in it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


One of the most painful parts of watching Josh & Anna Duggar's wedding special on TLC was when Josh serenaded his new bride with "The Loyalty Song".  (see the lyrics, above)

And now, given recent events--the revelation of prior child molestation accusations against Josh, and now his being named as having an Ashley Madison account AND an OK Cupid account, all just weeks after Anna gave birth to their 4th child--his hypocrisy has reached epic proportions.

I'm not angry or outraged, I take no joy in how the Duggar's fame is unraveling...all I feel is sad.  Anna Duggar is a real person. Going through something like this would be devastating for anyone, but to have it exposed and debated so publicly is even worse than I can imagine.  My thoughts are with her and her kids.  I hope she has someone in her life who will advocate for HER, and her only, and help her get out of what is an increasingly bad situation.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Warning to iPhone Users: Are Your Frequent Locations Being Tracked?

A friend re-posted this video on Facebook, and I'm sharing the link to it here as a public service:

The original poster is Angel Smith Ruder, and I thank her for sounding the alarm about this latest privacy concern on the iPhone.

I'm always so careful about what permissions I give to apps, and yet, when I checked my settings, my past locations were listed, just like the video warns.  PLEASE go to Settings on your iPhone, go to Privacy, Location Services, scroll down to System Services, and scroll to the bottom where you'll see Frequent Locations.  If it says "On", you can click and see all of the places you've recently been, including the exact GPS location of your Home address.

I did NOT choose to put Frequent Locations "On", so I suspect it means this is the default setting, and that you have to go out of your way to change it.  It's up to you if you do or not, but at least now you know about it and can decide for yourself.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Inspirational posters are annoying...

But I'm making an exception for this one:

Sunday, August 2, 2015 When "Delivered" doesn't always mean "Arrived"

Usually, is pretty good about delivering their packages on the expected delivery date--at least, they were until recently.

Last month, in an effort to "improve" their delivery service times, they opened a satellite facility just a few towns away from where I live.  Now, instead of my packages going to the main processing center, they end up at this satellite location.

Ever since, the reliability of Amazon's package tracking has gone completely downhill.  I've had packages say "Out for delivery for arrival by 8pm tonight" that didn't actually arrive until two days later.   And, when they do show up, it's in a sketchy-looking unmarked van driven by someone I've never seen before, rather than my usual mail carrier.

The latest debacle involved a package that said "Out for Delivery" for arrival yesterday, and then said, "Delivered."  Except--we didn't receive the package yet, and no one else on my street signed for it.  The shipment is most definitely not delivered, my husband logged onto his account to find out what's going on, and that's when Amazon explains that "delivered" doesn't always mean "arrived at your house when we said it was going to."   In fact, on their Customer Service page, they advise waiting 36 hours before you contact the company and report the package missing, because there can be a THREE DAY lag between when the Amazon system says "delivered" and when the package actually hits your doorstep:

If this is what "improved service" looks like, no thanks--I'd rather have my stuff routed through the central processing center, where at least I could rely on the tracking information being truthful.

Friday, July 31, 2015

REVIEW: Lay's "Do Us A Flavor" Contest 2015 Finalists

Unlike last year, it didn't take me long to find all 4 of the Flavor Finalists in the annual Lay's Potato Chips "Do Us A Flavor" contest--I found them all in one place, at Walgreen's.

Interesting note: while the store had small bags of all 4 flavors, sale priced at 2 for 2.50, they barely had any of the New York Reuben flavor.  I'm not sure if that's because they sold so many of them, or if they just didn't order that many of that particular flavor.  More on that in a minute...

Here the 4 finalists: 

Until you've sampled the flavors for yourself, I highly recommend seeking out these small, 2 3/4 ounce bags, rather than the large-sized versions...because I predict that some of them end up in your trashcan.  

Another interesting note this year: the chips are not all the same style.  The Reuben chip and Biscuits & Gravy chip are both the standard, thin variety, while the Gyro flavor are small, extra-crunchy kettle-cooked chips, and the Truffle fries are made in thicker, wavy style.  Here they are, side by side:

From left to right: NY Reuben, Gyro, Biscuits, and Truffle

First up: as a native New Yorker, you know I had to try the New York Reuben first, because my birthplace always comes first in my heart. 

As soon as you open the bag, you get a strong smell of corned beef on rye. Uncanny, really, how closely they were able to nail that aroma.  This carries over to the flavor the chip, which tasted very much like a reuben sandwich.  They could not have done a better job duplicating the flavors found in a reuben platter (corned beef, rye, even a hint of dill from the pickle).  So kudos to Lay's for that. 
Unfortunately, those flavors, while absolutely delicious in a sandwich, were incredibly weird coming from a potato chip.  I would much rather have an actual rueben sandwich--which clocks in at about 535 calories--as opposed to an entire 2 3/4 oz bag of these NY Reuben chips, which will set you back a whopping 430 calories, without being nearly as satisfying. 

Next up: Greektown Gyro

I was excited to try to this flavor, because my husband grew up in an area known for its large Greek population.  I love a good gyro, and had high hopes for this one.

The aroma when you open the bag isn't nearly as strong as with the Reuben chips, and it's a smell that's difficult to place.  I think the most prominent scents are oregano and dill. Okay, so far so good.
Sure enough, the flavor profile was primarily oregano and dill, with hints of tomato,onion and sour cream, but also an interesting "charred" flavor that is very reminscent of the taste from rotisserie-cooked gyro meat. Not sure how that was achieved, but it again, kudos to Lay's on that. 
The kettle cooked style for these chips was a little off-putting. Gyros are many things, but crunchy is not one of them, so the disconnect between the flavor and the texture was a bit jarring. And, as with the Reuben chips, it was an odd flavor to experience on a potato chip. Not something I would buy again, for sure. 

One interesting note: of the 4 finalists this year, Greektown Gyro has the lowest calories: 410 for an entire small bag, as opposed to 430 calories for the other flavors, with just 8 grams of fat--that's still high, but a full 2 grams less than standard Lay's chips and the other flavor finalists. 

And now, on to Biscuits and Gravy.  This is the one I was most afraid to try, because I'm not actually a big fan of real biscuits with gravy.  I like them separately, and I know they're hugely popular in the Southern United States, but the combo is never something I got fully on-board with.  What can I say? Such a Yankee.

I opened the bag and took a deep whiff, like I did with the others, and smelled....absolutely nothing, other than a faint hint of salt and oil.  At this point, I thought maybe my olfactory senses were overloaded by the previous two flavors, so I tried that old standby: I stopped and smelled some fresh ground coffee to "reset" my scent sensors.  (That's why they have coffee beans in high-end perfume stores, fyi.)  Took another deep inhale--nada. Hmmmm.

Well, it turns out, the nose knows--because these thin chips don't really have a distinctive, discernible flavor.  I tried--eating more than I had planned to, just because I kept waiting for the flavor to show up--but it was no use.  The best I can do to describe the flavor is a much weaker version of Ranch or Sour Cream chips, with a slight hint of chicken flavoring.  Sure enough, the ingredients lists Skim Milk, Buttermilk and Cream, but it's really hard for any one of those to stand out, and you certainly don't get the same "mouth feel" that you'd get with gravy.  Overall take on this one: blah. 

 Last but not least, the one that I (and most of my friends) have been looking forward to the most: West Coast Truffle Fries flavor. 

These were done in the "wavy Lay's" style, and right off the bat, I think that gives them an advantage, because the chip is thicker and the ridges hold more flavoring than the other styles.  The aroma you get upon opening the bag is very faint, similar to the Biscuits and Gravy scent, but even more subtle, which I didn't think was possible. Just a hint of cheese and salt. 

As for the flavor, well, it matched the aroma pretty closely: parmesan cheese, salt, butter, and wisp of garlic.  I would love to do a taste comparison with the Cheesy Garlic Bread flavor from the 2013 contest, because I'm willing to bet it would be hard to tell the difference. I didn't get any truffle flavor from these at all--I'm sure it's there somewhere, but it gets completely overpowered by everything else. 

I also noticed that these chips are a lot "heavier" once you eat them, as in more substantial. At first I thought it was because they're wavy, but then I looked at the ingredient list, and saw that, unlike any of the other flavors, the Truffle Fries flavor lists duck fat and chicken fat as two of the ingredients. So perhaps that accounts for the difference.

FINAL VERDICT: This year's crop of  "Do Us A Flavor" contenders was decidedly disappointing.  Unlike last year, where Wasabi Ginger was such a clear standout winner, it's difficult to pick a favorite from the 2015 batch.  I can tell you that the bags I purchased of New York Reuben and Greektown Gyro will not be consumed any further--the small taste of each was more than enough. Biscuits and Gravy was too weak-flavored to be offensive, but they're the Andrew Ridgeley of potato chips--they may belong with the rest of the group, but on their own, they're pretty forgettable. (Although, in all fairness to Ridgeley, he IS in a committed long-term relationship with the hot brunette from Bananarama, so there's that.) 

So, by default, I guess the "best of the bunch" this year is: West Coast Truffle Fries.  Not surprising, given that it's a potato-based flavor profile--not much of a stretch to turn it into a chip. 

Honorable mention must go to New York Reuben, though, for absolutely nailing the aroma and flavor of a corned beef sandwich on rye. Some sort of devil-voodoo-magic going on in the Lay's Test Kitchen, I tell you!

If you end up trying out any of these flavors for yourself, let me know in the comments if you agree with my assessment!