Saturday, December 31, 2016

Product Review: Chocolate Strawberry Oreos

The other day, a friend alerted me to the existence of a new Limited Edition Oreo flavor: Chocolate Covered Strawberry!

The idea sounded promising, and I couldn't wait to try them out.

Let's just say: I'm glad these are being offered on a "Limited" basis, because they were really disappointing. HELPFUL HINT #1: When you see the words "Artifically Flavored" appear not once, but TWICE on the front of the package, that's a red flag that ought to be heeded.

*sigh*  I had such high hopes for these.  Chocolate covered strawberries are a delicious dessert combination, but in hindsight, part of the reason for that is because the strawberries add a fresh, juicy tartness that cuts through the heaviness of the chocolate.

Unfortunately, you get no such relief from the strawberry flavoring in this cookie, and I'm sad to report that the best thing about this taste test was admiring at the pretty packaging. It was all downhill from there.

As soon as I opened the package, the cloying aroma of artificial strawberry wafted out (reminiscent of those discount store strawberry-scented lip balms that 5-year-olds are so fond of), even though you can't see any indication of strawberry at all when you first open the package--it looks like only chocolate creme between chocolate sandwich cookies. Not a good sign.

When I saw the illustration on the front of the package, I thought that the tiny dollop of strawberry in the center of all of that chocolate creme would translate into the chocolate overpowering the strawberry flavor, but no--there really is nothing subtle or understated about the artificial strawberry in this one.

Once you split the cookie apart, the bright pink creme in the center is revealed--and it's disturbingly similar in color to Pepto-Bismol.  HELPFUL HINT #2: When a cookie resembles an old childhood diarrhea medication, that's never a good sign.

Nevertheless, I pressed on and decided to give it a try, and I'm sorry to report that it tastes exactly like it smells. Fake, cloying, and way too artificially sweet.  The chocolate creme by itself is actually not bad, but the strawberry dollop--small as it is--overpowers the entire cookie.

I guess it would have been expensive for Nabisco to use real strawberry flavor in this cookie, but it probably would have been money well-spent.

Final verdict:  These were dreadful. Not inedible, exactly, but really not good.  And given the potential for greatness that these cookies had, the end result was extremely disappointing.   Sorry, folks, I wouldn't recommend buying these, even just to try them out.  You're far better off spending your money on some real strawberries and a jar of Nutella instead.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher -- 2016 can't end soon enough

There have been so many celebrity deaths this year, several of which were creative souls that I admired so much -- Garry Shandling, Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Alan Rickman, Garry Marshall, Gene Wilder -- but none has pained me as deeply as the death of Carrie Fisher today.

When I learned of her death, I was sitting in a movie theater, waiting for the start of Rogue One. By the end of the movie, when the lights came up, I noticed a woman about my age crying and saying how she had really hoped Carrie would pull through.  I knew exactly how she felt.

As someone who grew up in the 70's, I can tell you that Carrie Fisher represented a new, different kind of heroine from any that we'd ever seen before.  She was so young when she made her debut in the original Star Wars in 1977, but unlike other "damsels in distress" that were so often portrayed in movies of time period, there was nothing helpless about Fisher's Princess Leia. She was a brave, bad ass woman who could blast her way through a squadron of storm troopers with far better accuracy than any of her on-screen "rescuers."  She made it okay to be strong and defiant, fighting off the bad guys and saving her own skin when trouble hit.

Despite being the child of two Hollywood superstars, Carrier Fisher didn't have an easy life.  Fame had its challenges, and she battled through bad relationships, mental illness, and various addictions during her 60 years, but she did not want to be referred to as a "survivor."   In her own words:

"I don't want to be thought of as a survivor, because you have to continue getting involved in difficult situations to show off that particular gift, and I'm not interested in doing that anymore."

Monday, December 19, 2016

Homemade Limoncello: Our First Batch Ever!

The first time I tried Limoncello, it was in Sorrento, Italy--a place known for its spectacular lemons, and the high-alcohol liquor made from them. Last year, I found a recipe for it on a friend's Facebook page, "Right Dish," and was excited to make it for the holidays....until I read the recipe and discovered that it takes 90 days to make from start to finish.  Oh well, I said, there's always next year!

And yes, I actually marked my calendar for October this year, and printed out the recipe about 100 days ahead of time.   The first item on the list was something called, "Everclear", which I had never heard of before.  I know, there are college kids and Jell-O shot enthusiasts reading this thinking that I must have grown up living under a rock.  Sorry--I never got into the whole binge-drinking thing.   For those who haven't partaken of this particular libation, it is almost pure grain alcohol, and comes in two strengths: 70% alcohol, and 95% alcohol.   Good lord....this is the kind of thing that can melt your internal organs or peel the paint off of a car.  Who drinks this stuff?

Oh, wait....I guess the answer is, "Me."  Because it is the primary ingredient for making Limoncello. I went to my local liquor store, and he only had the 95% alcohol version, so that's what we brought home. The recipe calls for two 750ml bottles of Everclear.

The next ingredient is the zest of 20 organic lemons.   Let me tell you, if you've ever wondered what carpal tunnel syndrome feels like, go ahead and start zesting almost 2 dozen lemons in one sitting.

[EDITED TO ADD: Since you're only using the zest, you end up with 20 naked lemons, which translates into a whole bunch of fresh lemon juice that would be a shame to go to waste.  CLICK HERE for my solution: Homemade Lemon Sorbet.]

Next, you put the zest into a large glass container, and--only AFTER filtering the Everclear through a coffee filter several times to make it less taste less like jet fuel--you pour the strained grain alcohol into the container and give it a quick swirl.  (RightDish recommends using a gold coffee filter but I didn't have one--I eventually made do with a  fine mesh strainer for the next round of filtering). Then put on the lid and store it in a cool, dark place for 45 days.

I kept it on a shelf in my clothes closet. Every once in a while I gave the jar a little swirl, and watched the happy little bits of lemon zest swirl around in the Everclear like an alcoholic's most sought-after snowglobe.  Good times.

Once 45 days have passed, it's time to strain out the lemon zest, and then strain the limoncello-in-progress through the strainer 4 more times. Even after the straining process, it became apparent that the term "everclear" no longer applied--I tried to tell myself the neon yellow lemon-infused liquor looked cool, but that little voice in the back of my mind kept chiming in:

C'mon, admit it, you were thinking it, too.

The next step is to make a Simple Sugar Syrup, consisting of 4 cups of white sugar and 6 cups of water.  You stir the two together in a pot and then just leave it alone until it comes to a boil.  Let it boil for 5 minutes, then cool completely before adding it to the jar of strained liquor.  As soon as you stir in the cooled syrup, you start to see the color of the finished product shaping up.

All it needs now is time--another 45 days, to be exact, in the same cool, dark place you kept it before.  Right Dish recommends straining it one last time, and then bottling it up and keeping it in the freezer until you're ready to serve it.

For those who've never tried Limoncello, fair warning: it is STRONG stuff.  Typically, it goes like this:

First sip:  OH MY LORD this stuff is NASTY although it kinda tastes like lemon but WHOA.

Second sip:  You know, the lemon note is actually really nice and refreshing, but wow, you really do need to sip this stuff slowly, right?

Third sip: This limoncello is SO good!  You can taste the lemon even through the liquor so it's sort of like drinking lemonade only stronger, ha ha ha, I mean a LOT stronger, but still....

Fourth sip:  Wow do I love this stuff. You have pretty eyes. I want a unicorn for Christmas. What day is it??

Yes, I would not advise having more than three sips of this if you want to stay lucid and coherent. And please, do NOT overindulge on this stuff. When I posted on social media that I was making limoncello from scratch, I was inundated with horror stories from friends who, thankfully, lived to tell the tale of drinking too much of the stuff--but just barely.

It definitely tastes best when it's been in the freezer for at least a couple of hours, because it gets thicker and the coldness helps take the edge off of the burning from the high alcohol content.

Here's my finished batch, all bottled up and ready for gift-giving:

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Because...RAINBOW COOKIES

Whipped up not one but TWO batches this year...and I still think it'll be a miracle if any of them make it to Christmas

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Movie Review: Once Upon A Holiday

I've confessed before that one of my guilty pleasures at this time of year is hunkering down against the cold, wintry chill and watching a cheesy Hallmark Christmas-themed movie.   I don't expect these movies to be Oscar-worthy, in fact, the more predictable they are, the better. For me, Hallmark Christmas movies are like the equivalent of boxed mac 'n cheese as comfort food: not the best or most high-quality thing, but reliable and generic enough to be entertaining and (if you're lucky enough for the movie to be like the boxed mac 'n cheese with the impossibly gooey, pre-made sauce in a silver pouch) satisfying.

Unfortunately, Once Upon a Holiday was a disappointment. It was bland and not engaging at all. The acting was awful, even by Hallmark movie standards, and the two romantic leads had zero chemistry.

As soon as the movie started, I was blindsided by the appearance of Greg Evigan, a TV heartthrob that I remember from my youth as a ruggedly-handsome, "guy's guy" type.  As soon as he appeared onscreen in this movie, I recognized him, or should I say, this smoothed out, "age defying" version of him.  I fear he may have used the same plastic surgeon as country singer Kenny Rogers--their eyes look eerily similar now, and there's something odd going on in his cheeks, like fillers or implants.

I hopped over to to confirm whether or not it was him, and that's when I learned that his daughter, Briana, was playing the romantic lead. Ugh. Even more of my childhood memories dissolving before my eyes. Nothing like watching the 29-year-old adult daughter of an actor you once pined for in middle school to make a person feel like Methuselah.

The premise of the movie itself was the usual Hallmark fare: a princess hides her identity to sneak away for some anonymous fun with common folk in New York City, where she meets a blue collar regular guy and becomes smitten, and he has no idea who she really is. Oh, the drama that will ensue when he finds out! And then they get past it and it all ends well.

There was a very similar version of this story on ION TV just the other day, but with the gender roles reversed, called "A Prince For Christmas." That one is worth checking out.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

"Fall Back" My Favorite Day of the Year!

Tonight at 2am we turn the clocks back an hour to mark the end of Daylight Savings Time. Although I absolutely love Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, THIS is my favorite day of the year.  

There's something about getting that hour back that makes me positively joyful--as if I've received a long-awaited gift that I finally get to unwrap and savor.  It's the very concept of being "given" more time--an entire hour of Life that you can do with whatever you please.  Personally, I love the idea that the extra hour comes as we're sleeping. An extra hour of sleep is a rare commodity once you reach adulthood, and it's something I look foward to every year.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Understanding The Concept of Halloween

This is one of my all-time favorite photos of my daughter, Amy, taken on her 2nd Halloween. It captures the EXACT moment when she grasped the meaning of the holiday: You go door-to-door visiting strangers, they give you free candy, and then YOU GET TO EAT IT.

Nevermind that, for the other 364 days of the year, we spend our time as parents trying to teach our children to be cautious around people they don't know. On October 31st, it's all about the chocolate.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Maybe Samsung Should Make Fire Extinguishers, Too?

This is not a joke: I just discovered that Samsung sells a gas range with built-in WiFi that lets you turn your oven and burners on remotely...when you're not home...using an app on your smartphone.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Debate Fatigue

I endured 45 hours of induced labor with my first child.  Tonight's Presidential debate was only slightly less painful.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hot Mic, Cold Heart

It has been such an odd, unsettled day today.  And what's this I hear about a certain candidate mishandling cats to get a woman's attention?

Time to unplug and read a book.

[Edited to add the following front page headline, courtesy of the NY Daily News.  There are no words.]

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Book recommendation: Ridgerunner by Rusty Barnes

I'm blessed to have many writer-friends that I've had the pleasure of meeting both online and in person over the years, and each time one of them is published, I celebrate in their accomplishment.  I also invariably purchase the books and read them at some point, although with my crazy work schedule, it can sometimes take me awhile.  

Such was the case with Ridgerunner, by Rusty Barnes.  It's not my typical genre of fiction--Rusty's story takes place in the mountains of Appalachia, and is a gritty, fast-paced novel with a fair amount of violence.   And yet, the characters were so nuanced and realistic, they drew me and made me care about them--I had to keep reading to see what happened to them.  The protaganist, Matt Rider, is an imperfect man, but one that you can't help rooting for, and the plot keeps you guessing right up until the final page. 

Overall, an outstanding effort by an excellent writer.  Well done, Rusty!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Beware of String Beans!

Just read a story online about a woman who is suing her local supermarket for damages, after slipping and falling in the produce aisle.   You can read the full story AT THIS LINK

My favorite part of the article: "...suddenly and without warning, she slipped on a string bean and fell violently to the floor."  Riiiight. Because if ONLY there had been a "Caution: Floor Slippery When String Beans Present" sign, she might have been able to prepare herself better.  Perhaps she would have fallen more gently?

What sort of warning is one reasonably entitled to expect when shopping for groceries? 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Food review: Blueberry Pie Oreos

At long last, I got my hands on some Blueberry Pie Limited Edition Flavor Oreos, and after a long, active day visiting colleges with my youngest daughter (over 10,000 steps and counting) a sweet treat was definitely in order.

These were worth the wait.

Once again, the sandwich cookie for these are vanilla-based, which really allow the flavored creme filling to shine through.   The scent wasn't overpoweringly blueberry, but pleasant enough.  The color, on the other hand--yikes. It looks more like a grayish purple--a color I have yet to see occur naturally in ANY food--which was a little off-putting.

Fortunately, after just one bite, you won't care what color the filling is--it's delicious!

The blueberry creme was just sweet enough, without being cloying or overly sugary, and it struck just the right balance with the cookie sandwich.  These are great "as is" or would be equally as good dipped in milk--not always the case with these limited edition flavors.

Yesterday, I reviewed the Candy Corn Oreos, and deemed them "yummy" but these Blueberry Pie Oreos knock those right out of the top spot.  They're my favorite ones so far, and definitely something I would buy again.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Food Review: A Tale of 3 Oreos (Weird, Heinous and Yummy)

Yes, my friends, it's time once again for your intrepid blogger to try out some "Limited Edition" Oreo flavors:  Fruity Crisp Oreos, Swedish Fish Oreos, and Candy Corn Oreos.

I have been searching for the Swedish Fish Oreos for awhile now, but there aren't any Kroger stores near me, and since that's an "exclusive" for their store, I had to give in and order them off of  While I was at it, I searched for other flavors I hadn't tried yet, and that's when I found the Fruity Crisp and Candy Corn varieties. (I also ordered "Blueberry Pie" Oreos, but those won't be arriving until tomorrow.)

So, how did these newest flavors stack up?


My first reaction upon opening the package, "Oooh! These are so pretty!"  They have a vanilla Oreo cookie with a white creme center, dotted with rainbow speckles, and they smell EXACTLY like Fruity Pebbles cereal (think Rice Krispies in garish rainbow colors).  It's uncanny--they definitely nailed it in terms of scent.

I guess I should have read the package more carefully, because I did not realize that the pretty rainbow speckles actually had some "snap, crackle, pop" to them (even though it says right there in red letters "with FUN, Colorful Rice Crisps!") The sensation was similar to ingesting a mouthful of Pop Rocks candy, and I was not prepared for that.  The flavor is also sickeningly sweet--very much like the breakfast cereal, but without the benefit of milk (and a 6-year-old's palate) to offset it.

Overall, it was an odd combo: the crackling rice bits were off-putting, and the flavor of the creme itself was sweet and cloying. Not a pleasant cookie experience, and no, I would not buy these again.

Next up: a flavor that screams "synergy": Swedish Fish Oreos.

I must confess right off the bat: although I was a big fan of Swedish Fish candies when I was younger, I've lost my taste for them as I've gotten older. I really wasn't looking forward to this taste test, and one look at the unnatural-looking, bright red creme filling did nothing to allay my concerns. So, I enlisted my youngest daughter--a huge fan of Swedish Fish candies--to test these out with me.

Again, when it comes to the aroma of Swedish Fish, they nailed it--not surprising, since the company that makes the candies (Mondel─ôz International) also owns Nabisco.  The familiar chocolate Oreo cookie outside gave me some hope that this might not be so bad--until I bit into one.

Oh, lord.  The horror.

The Swedish Fish Oreos are, by far, the worst Limited Edition flavor I have ever come across. If I had to describe them in one word, it would be HEINOUS. They have a metallic quality and a medicinal aftertaste that made me want to spit out the bite I took.  Somehow, I got the first one down, but when I tried to give it a second chance, I just couldn't do it--there was no way I could ingest this stuff.  Yes, it was THAT BAD.

Unfortunately, my "no such thing as too sweet" Swedish-fish loving daughter had to agree.  She said the cookie started out okay at first, but there was definitely a strange, chemical aftertaste that had her throwing the rest of the cookie in the trash after the first bite.

Bottomline: the formula for Swedish Fish Oreos should be ripped up, burned, and never, ever used again.

Finally--redemption!  Once again, I must confess, I'm not a big fan of actual candy corn candies: I find them waxy and overly-sweet, but the marshmallow-scent and signature tri-color pattern is one that I always associate with Fall, which is my favorite season, so they do have that going for them.

The Candy Corn Oreo sandwich cookies are vanilla, which pair well with the yellow and orange candy-corn filling. (The traditional chocolate Oreo cookie would have overwhelmed the delicate flavor.) Some cookies had more yellow creme than orange, others had more orange creme than yellow, but the flavor profile was exactly the same: DELICIOUS.  The ratio of creme filling to cookie was perfect, and the flavors blended well together.  This is actually a flavor that I would buy again, and if I do see it in the store, I will be sure to stock up on it--yes, they're THAT good!  

Of the three flavors I tried out this time around, Candy Corn Oreos were the clear winner. Skip the other two and give this one a try!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Presidential Election Blues

My sentiments exactly. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

My 3 Fictional Characters

I was challenged by a friend to post pictures of three fictional characters that describe me.  It was harder than I thought it would be, but here's what I came up with: 

Wonder Woman
Yes, I know, we're not exactly body doubles, but I loved
her resting bitch face in this picture. And, she represents
that part of me that tries to be everywhere at once, saving the world.

Ellen Ripley from Alien
She was smart, self-sufficient, resourceful...and if you 
mess with her kid, she will HURT you.

Rose Castorini from Moonstruck
For better of for worse, she says what people need to hear, 
even when it's not what they want to hear.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ipsy "Glam Bags": Buyer Beware

Is there anything more fun than receiving a gift in the mail--the joy of opening your mailbox and finding a brightly wrapped package filled with surprises, just for you?

No, that's a pretty special feeling. And that's what "Subscription Box" companies are counting on. 

"Product of the Month" clubs are nothing new; they've been around for as long as I can remember.  When I was young, there was the Book of the Month Club, or the Columbia Record and Tape Club (oh, how sad we were when they discontinued 8-tracks!).  Over the years, it expanded to Wine of the Month Club, Cheese of the Month, Dessert of the Month, etc.  

Today, you can sign up for all kinds of goodies, such as gourmets foods, stylish athleticwear, and yes, cosmetics.  All 3 of my daughters currently subscribe to something called "Ipsy", a service that charges a monthly fee to send you a sampling of different beauty products, based on your preferences from a quiz you fill out at the time of purchase. 

My daughters love getting their Ipsy bags each month...the problem is, the shipment can take  FOREVER to arrive, and the customer service is the worst I've ever seen.  There is no phone number you can call if you have a problem. The only way to reach Ipsy Customer Service is through an email form on their website, or via social media (Twitter and Facebook).   

I recently tried contacting "Ipsy Care" because my youngest daughter's shipment appears to be delayed.  She received shipment notification--and was charged--back on September 7th, but here we are 10 days later, and her package still hasn't arrived. Her older sister received shipping notification a few days later, and her packaged arrived not long after.  The tracking info has not changed since September 9th: a label was generated, the package made it to a post office about 20 minutes from here, and that's where the trail goes cold.   

The response from Ipsy Care?  "Your Glam Bag IS on its way! Please allow 14 business days from the ship date. Thanks for being a loyal Ipster!!!!"   Um, excuse me? 14 business days? That's THREE WEEKS.  What the heck?  And to add insult to injury, they sent us a tracking link that showed the package en route to Alberta Canada....and we live in New Jersey. I followed up again, and they sent a corrected link, and claimed the package was still on its way, despite the lack of USPS updates. 

I've found numerous stories online from other customers of extended shipment delays and a lack of customer service.  Buyer beware!  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Samsung Recall -- A close call?

My mother-in-law heard on TV tonight that a Samsung phone had been recalled due to being a fire hazard.  She wanted to make absolutely sure that the cell phone she's been using is not affected by the recall.

Boy, that was a close one. :)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Freedom of Expression vs. Freedom of Non-Expression

More and more these days, I find myself biting my tongue on social media.  Whether it's about politics or social injustice or gender inequality or some other hot topic du jour, I find that some folks can't handle hearing another side of things, and all they're looking for is an argument.  I once read some advice that really stuck with me: "You don't have to attend every argument you're invited to."  Just because a friend posts about something provocative, and I happen to have an opinion on that topic, I'm realizing that jumping into the fray and stating that opinion just isn't worth it anymore. Not in the current climate of online animosity that invariably results, anyway.

These are the times when it's nice to have this blog, to be able scribble down a few thoughts on some things, without having to brace myself for an onslaught of , "yeah, but..." or "so, you're saying, [insert something I am most definitely NOT saying]..." etc.  It's my little corner of the world where I get to express myself, without any expectation (or desire, really) to launch into a full-on discussion or debate.  The words speak for themselves; take from them what you will--or, take nothing at all. That's fine, too.

So this morning, I was reading about the latest controversy surrounding the French publication Charlie Hebdo. They printed a "satirical" cartoon titled"Earthquakes, Italian-Style" depicting victims of the recent earthquake in Italy as different pasta dishes. There's a bloodied man captioned "Penne with Tomato Sauce," an injured woman covered in scrapes captioned "Penne Gratin", and just to the side, a layered stack of bodies and rubble and blood, dubbed "Lasagna."  

It's clearly a reference to the high death toll in Amatrice, and yes, it's in very poor taste.  What bothers me most is that it is utterly pointless, created solely to provoke, not make any sort of statement. That's not satire, that's just indefensible, purile behavior intended to provoke and inflame. What a total waste of time and resources. 

This reminded me of the time when everyone was supporting Charlie Hebdo, after the terrorist attacks in France on their offices.  The hashtag "je suis Charlie" was everywhere, and people railed against the "Islamic extremists" who were offended by the cartoons printed in the French publication.  Talk about the right to freely express oneself was a hotly-debated topic, as people tried to understand the differences between Free Speech and Hate Speech. 

One of the more interesting reactions at that time came from Pope Francis.  When he was asked about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, he denounced the violence against the publication, but he also warned against provocation. "You cannot provoke," he said. "You cannot insult the faith of others."  He also famously took a playful swing at Dr. Gasparri, a friend who often travels with him, saying that if the man ever said a curse word against the Pope's mother, "he can expect a punch."  I thought the point was brilliant: you have the right to express yourself, but bear in mind, if you're saying something that you know is inflammatory, even a Holy man like the Pope is not immune to fighting back. 

I bring up these two Charlie Hebdo stories because this issue of the delicate balance between Free Speech and the Consequences of Provocation came to mind when I saw another post about the ongoing controversy about football player Colin Kapernick, who has been refusing to stand during the national anthem as a protest against oppression. Despite the intial backlash against him, he doubled down on his protest by not only sitting down again, but also wearing socks that depicted police officers as pigs.  

Now, media outlets are reporting that the policeman's union in Santa Clara, where Kapernick plays for the San Francisco 40ers, have said they may refuse to provide protection for him and the other players at the games, in protest of what they see as his anti-police protest. I've seen a variety of reactions to this latest development, ranging from "Good, it serves him right" to "It's wrong, he deserves protection, regardless of the socks he wears."  To be honest, I'm not sure who I agree with. Both? Neither? I believe that "two wrongs don't make a right": I don't think Kaperinick should be making his protests while acting in his professional capacity during a football game, and I don't think the police officers who have sworn an oath to protect and serve the public should be threatening to go back on that pledge, even if the person they have to protect is unlikable.  

I do not disagree with Kapernick's reason for protesting, but do disagree with how he chose to go about it.  

I absolutely believe in freedom of speech, and an American's right to protest and express anger at our government, but I don't agree that disrespecting the national anthem or, say, burning the U.S. flag, are the way to go about it. 

The symbols that represent this country are some of the only things that we can all universally stand behind, and these unifying symbols deserve a foundation of respect and loyalty, regardless of one's discontent with the current administration or the way certain issues are being handled. Exercising one's freedom to sit during the anthem or refuse to salute the flag isn't brave, and it isn't "what being an American is about"'s petty and divisive, and only serves to inflame and provoke. Just because we live in a country where you can't get arrested for doing something disrespectful towards our government doesn't mean that's a good way to draw attention to your cause. 

Kapernick does have a right to speak out and protest, but in exercising that right to express himself, he needs to understand--as Pope Francis pointed out to Charlie Hebdo--that an act of provocation may elicit an undesirable response from those you are provoking. Violence is never the answer, but don't act surprised when you get a negative response to your protest, even if your point is valid. Kapernick exercised his right to express himself, and his former fans are exercising their right to boo him whenever he takes the field. 

Which brings me back to my struggles with when to weigh in on things, and when to step away.  When I share my opinion on something, whether here on the blog or on social media, it is not my intention to provoke, but merely to express my thoughts on a particular topic.  And I'm always open to hearing the opinions of others--in fact, I actively seek out other viewpoints by reading posts from a varied cross-section of media outlets: left-wing, right-wing, independent, and even international sites and messages boards.  But it comes to social media sites like Facebook, I think it's best to start exercising my Freedom of Non-Expression.

UPDATE ADDED, SEPTEMBER 5th, 9:20am : CNN just tweeted this statement from President Obama on Kapernick, and he echoed my sentiments about the weight carried specifically by the anthem and the U.S. flag.  I wish more of my liberal-leaning friends could understand this concept, that you can support the man's right to protest but still disagree with his choice to disrespect the national anthem--and that doesn't make you a racist, as others have been suggesting.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Nutella Oreos? Not So Fast!

By now, my friends all know that I love testing out "Limited Edition" flavors, especially Oreos and Lay's Potato Chips. It's gotten to the point where the minute a new or unusual flavor is announced (Swedish Fish Oreos, anyone?)  the notifications start pouring in on my social media account, with multiple friends tagging me in a photo of the new product.

So, when I saw a friend post a photo today of "Nutella Oreos" I knew it was only a matter of time before the image ended up on my own wall.  But several things immediately looked off to me about the photo.  For one, the Nutella product placement was very prominent--almost eclipsing the Nabisco logo. Secondly, I could not find ANY mention of the new flavor being announced through legitimate news sources, just the one Facebook post from the same source.  And finally, there was a website watermarked onto the photo in several places--so large it was obnoxious. I figured it was likely that this was merely a case of an enterprising blogger looking to get hits on his website.

But of course, the notifications DID start rolling in, so I ended up calling the Customer Service hotline for Mondolez International, the parent company that distributes Nabisco (and Swedish Fish, fyi) and they had absolutely no information on any new collaborations between Nabisco and Ferrero Food, the makers of Nutella.

Sorry folks, I'm calling this one BUSTED.  Here's a copy of the graphic that appeared, but with the watermark removed (and replaced with my own--because, this IS the internet, after all).

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 4th: And now I'm getting messages from friends who've seen a similar graphic depicting "Cannoli Oreos"...also with the same watermark from the same website that put out the Nutella one.   THESE AREN'T REAL!  I already contacted, in the hope that they'll get something up on their website. Until then, just assume these "new limited edition flavors" are a fake unless you see it posted directly from Nabisco.

UPDATED JANUARY 12, 2018: Well guess what?!  Chocolate Hazelnut Oreos are now a real thing! Check out my review HERE

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Feels Like Rain

Signs that one's dependence on technology has gone too far: looking out the window and seeing increasing cloud cover, winds picking up, yet wondering aloud if it's "supposed to rain."  Obsessively check three different weather radar apps for confirmation--nothing.  The sky keeps getting darker and more ominous, yet I'm still sitting here saying, "But the radar looks clear and Dark Sky says there's 'no rain anywhere in the area.' "  Good lord, when did looking out the window and drawing one's own conclusions become passe'?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blatant Media Bias and the Absence of Accountability

I've been reading about the record-breaking floods that have devastated Louisiana, and seeing the horrific video images of what the people there are going through, and my heart goes out to the residents there who have been suffering for the past several days.

And yet, our President has yet to say a single word about it, because....he's on vacation.

As someone who has spend more than half her life studying the Media and making a living as a writer/journalist, I'm also absolutely stunned by the almost total lack of coverage on President Obama's decision to remain on the golf course, rather than return to the U.S. to oversee the situation that continues to unfold in Lousiana.  He's being given a free pass by the news media, and it is so blatant and obvious, it can't be denied this time.  As this news report from ABC News points out, then-President George W. Bush was raked over the coals for choosing to do a "fly over" during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, rather than an on-site visit, but President Obama completely ignores even worse flooding in 2016, and is not held accountable in any way.  40,000 homes have been damaged. More than a dozen people dead. Where is the outrage??

This has nothing to do with the upcoming Presidential campaign---I'm honestly not passionate about either of the choices coming up in November. And when disaster strikes, politics should be the last thing on anyone's agenda. But this lack of response by our President, and the media's complete failure to hold him accountable for it, is absolutely disgusting--partisanship at its worst. THIS is why people hate the Media, and don't trust anything they say.

What would it take for the President to put out a simply-worded statement, declaring his support for those afflicted by this flooding, pledging his support for the cleanup and rebuilding efforts, and offering words of condolence, hope and empathy to those who have lost loved ones?

And why is the media letting him get away with it?  All of the news shows I watched this morning were obsessed with Trump's latest campaign staff changes and the alleged lies put forth by Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte.  The lack of integrity in journalism in 2016 is truly frightening.
The media spends countless hours trying to dissect how someone like Donald Trump can rise to such a position of power.  Here's a tip for all of the "news" organizations out there: maybe you ought to take a good, long look in the mirror.

No, I don't expect President Obama to roll up his sleeves and put on some hip waders and get in there on the ground to help pack sandbags and pass out fresh water and rescue stranded kittens from trees.  What I do expect is LEADERSHIP.

Whether he likes it or not, and whether it comes at an inconvenient time or not, the President of the United States is one of the most watched people in the world. The Red Cross and other disaster relief agencies are desperately seeking donations in order to be able to provide sufficient aid to those affected by this tragic event, but with no one giving this disaster much airplay, the contributions are only trickling in. But if the President of the United States of America were to cut his vacation short in order to travel to the flood zone, and then make a public statement about the need for help, the donations would pick up considerably. That's the power of the platform that he has, and even though he'll be abdicating that platform in less than 5 months, he has a responsibility to use it for good for as long as he can.

President Obama totally dropped the ball on this one, and for what? A few extra rounds of golf in Martha's Vineyard?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: Lay's Potato Chip"Passport to Flavor" Contest 2016

Ah yes, it's that time of year again...time for the Lay's Potato Chip flavor contest, where they release new "limited edition" flavors. In the past, flavor ideas were submitted by the general public, narrowed down to four entries, and then consumers were asked to try each one and vote for their favorite. It was dubbed the "Do Us A Flavor" contest.

This year's contest is a bit different, and has clearly been revamped to increase sales in a big way. 

This time around, the contest is being billed as the "Passport to Flavor," and each of the 4 entries is based up on a different type of international cuisine.   This year's contenders: Indian Tikka Masala, Brazilian Picanha, Greek Tzatziki, and Chinese Szechuan Chicken.  The bags feature the flag of each country on the front, along with iconic symbols that relate to the culture of that country (a soccer ball for Brazil, the Parthenon for Greece, etc.).  Nice touch.

The big twist this year is that instead of voting for which one you like best, you're encouraged to enter prize drawings and contests to win trips to each of the four countries featured.  You enter in the last 5 digits of the UPC code on the back of the bag, and then the "bag code" found on the front, just below the "Sell By" date, and you are awarded points that you can trade in for contest entries, and passport stamps for the trips to China, India, Brazil and Greece. I received 100 points for each 2 3/4 ounce bag...I'm assuming larger sized bags will yield more points.

So, after entering in the codes for the 4 bags I purchased in order to review the flavors, I received 400 points total, and 6 passport stamps (some bags awarded more than one stamp).   I currently have 1 on my China passport, 2 for Greece, 1 for India, and 3 for Brazil.

The points themselves can be accumulated and traded in to enter the Grand Prize Drawing--a trip around the world for two, which will set you back 1600 points for one entry.  Or, you can try for some smaller prizes, like noise-cancelling headphones (100 points) or 2 plane tickets to Los Angeles (200 points) or a Trip for 2 to Charleston, SC (400 points).  Additonal prize drawings will be opened up in the weeks ahead, while others expire soon.

Overall, a very smart way to get people to buy more than just 4 bags. Kudos to the Marketing Team at Frito-Lay for coming up with that one.

Enough about the contest--on to the flavors!

Indian Tikka Masala  -- I tried this one first because it was the one I was most looking forward to tasting. I love Indian food, and chicken tikka masala is one of my favorites.   I was disappointed from the start because these chips are the Kettle Cooked variety, which means they're smaller and more crunchy than traditional chips, and tend to be more greasy.  In terms of flavor, I liked this one very much, even though the texture was a bit of a letdown.  There is no discernible meat flavor of any kind, even though the front of the bag depicts Chicken Tikka Masala--and that's a GOOD thing.  All that comes through is the tumeric, a touch of tomato,  and other Indian spices.  A solid contender.

Brazilian Picanha  -- I wasn't sure what picanha was, but the description on the back says it is "Brazilian steak, skewer-grilled with coarse salt" and featuring a "chimmicurri sauce."   While I was happy to see that these chips are the traditional thin chip variety, my hope of having a good flavor experience immediately ended the moment I opened the bag, and the...unique....smell of these chips wafted out.  Ooooh boy.  I tried to think of a way to describe the pungent aroma, and the one word that came to mind immediately was "gamey."   The taste of the chip itself confirmed that "the nose knows."  Yeah, you guys, these were not good.  While they certainly score points for being imaginative, it was just too weird and, for me, downright unpleasant.  I will not be buying these again.

Greek Tzatziki -- Ahhh, redemption.  These were fantastic, and as soon as I opened the bag, I knew they would be. I feel like the folks at Lay's really stacked the deck for this one, because they're  produced in the "Wavy Lay's" style, so the chips are larger, thicker, and have ridges to hold more flavor.  They nailed both the aroma and flavor of tzatziki, with discernible notes of garlic, dill, lemon, and greek yogurt.  SO good--I would definitely buy these in a larger sized bag.

Chinese Szechuan Chicken -- I was a little afraid to try this one, but was relieved to find that there is no discernible chicken flavor whatsoever, despite the name.  What you do taste is SPICY--after 3 or 4 chips my tongue was burning and I was ready to stop, even though these are the thin-chip variety.   They're delicious, and before my taste buds lost their will to live, I also detected a hint of bell pepper flavoring.  I don't think I could eat more than a few of these at one time, but my husband absolutely loved them.  These were his favorite, so there's a good chance I'll be picking up a larger bag of these, as well.

The clear standout winner for me personally was Greek Tzatziki, with the Tikka Masala a distant second (if only they weren't kettle-cooked, they might have had a better shot).  Szechuan Chicken came in at #3 for me (but was #1 for my husband), and at the bottom, dead last: the downright unpleasant Brazilan Picanha.

Greek Tzatziki
Chinese Szechuan Chicken

Brazilian Picanha
Indian Tikka Masala