Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Lately, I find myself both thrilled and appalled by the speed with which the days pass.

If you've been following this blog since I started it back in February, you know that I quit my job of 12 years. Although it was sad to say goodbye to my work family, it was past time for a change of career. And the fact that I was more or less forced into leaving was a good life lesson- a reminder that not all sociopaths kill people. Most are much more subtle.

My experiment in being unemployed didn't last long. I did childcare for about 5 months, and spent the rest of the time filling out resume's online. And let me tell you, there is nothing more soul-crushing than applying for jobs online. Especially when it takes hours and hours and hours, and you never get a phone call.

But, if you've been following this blog since I started it back in February, you know that I believe things happen for a reason. You know that I have been anticipating my days would become Bigger and Brighter. And even while I wasn't "officially" working, actually especially since I wasn't "officially" working, the days have been Bigger and they have been Brighter. I had more energy and was happier as soon as I got over mourning my job, which took about a week. This was one of the busiest periods of my life and one of the most cathartic as well.

I loved watching my 2 and 4-year-old charges. I gained a new appreciation for stay-at-home moms. I got to paint and color and play princess (although I didn't do it right). I got to take naps, pet dogs, kiss boo-boos and watch a lot more Dora the Explorer than I ever wanted or expected to. Although at times I missed the adult world, overall, I got to have a lot of fun.

I am happy to report, however, that I recently got the first job I interviewed for. It's a good job with a great company. A company that I grew up with and have always admired. It's nice to be wanted and I feel like it's going to be a perfect fit. It's a job I have been training for my whole life. It feels like coming home.

Fate made me a promise and the promise was kept. I'm having Bigger Brighter Days!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Making Connections, (Not) Making Friends

Recently, a friend invited me out to dinner with her SAHM group. I'm not a mom, let alone a stay-at-home one, but my social life has been a little lacking lately and since it's always nice to meet new people and my friend's heart was in the right place, I decided to tag along. The fact that the dinner was at The Melting Pot on Ladies Night had something to do with it as well. There's just something about The Melting Pot that I love. Maybe because I'm a snacker and I love the little pieces of food and dipping the little pieces into different flavors... I'm not sure. But the mix of tastes, scrumptious martinis, reduced cost, and the relaxed experience itself makes Ladies Night worthwhile.

Which is how I found myself: childless, near 40 and single, sharing a fondue pot with four (much younger) mom's and one pregnant woman. Which, if you've ever been to The Melting Pot, you know is kind of an intimate experience to have with people you don't know. Eating food essentially out of the same pot- there's something familial and tribal about that. It's something we don't often experience with our families, let alone strangers, in our hurried lives. Smalltalk ensued, something I'm not a great fan of in the first place. The conversation turned to where we had all come from, and how we all ended up in Grand Rapids, or in some cases, back in Grand Rapids. I explained to one of the moms that although I had been in Grand Rapids for 12 years and have a lot of friends, I don't have a lot of people to spend time with. She agreed and said she was in a similar situation. "It can be hard to meet people," I said, "Once you get to-"
"No," she cut in. "It's different when you have kids." 

Oh. I didn't know this was going to be one of those things I "don't understand" because I don't have kids. Someone forgot to let me in on the secret of how to meet people as a single adult with no kids. I'm sure it's not easy being a SAHM without a lot of friends. I don't dispute that. I just don't think it's easy being anyone without at least a few like-minded adults to spend time with on a regular basis. At least if you're married you have a spouse to talk to sometimes. Single people don't talk to their cats because they're crazy. They talk to their cats so they don't go crazy! 

When we're growing up, potential friends are all around us- in our neighborhood, at school, at church, sports, etc... Once we get past high school and college, it can be rough to meet new people, let alone make new friends. And maintaining old friendships isn't always easy, either. Our modern society is transitory. People often don't remain in their hometowns, near family and friends. Technology helps us keep in touch but it sure is nice to sit across from a real live person at the coffee shop sometimes instead of a laptop. To compound matters, I've noticed that many people react with suspicion and even sometimes resentment when a stranger or casual acquaintance reaches out to them. I've been guilty of this myself. We need to remember to leave ourselves open to new friendships because we never know who is out there waiting for us. 

I felt verbally chastised by the woman who spoke the above words to me. I'm sure she didn't mean to offend, she seemed like a nice person. There was no malice in her tone. But with her words, a wall went up between us. It was clear that she had, rather quickly and with virtually no real information about me, discarded the idea that I may be of some value to her socially or emotionally. I wasn't enough like her. Some of my closest friends, at first glance, don't seem to be much like me. But sometimes it's the differences between friends that prove their value and provide much needed perspective into situations in our own lives. 

Our friends don't have to be just like us, any more than do the people we do business with. Any good businessperson can expound on the importance of networking. Well, sometimes networking is useful not just in the workplace, but in our emotional lives as well. And that includes all of us. Not just stay at home moms. I'm glad I went to dinner though, even though I didn't meet a new best friend. It was eye-opening, no one at the table meowed in response to any of my comments, and the fondue was great- especially the chocolate! 


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chocolate Pudding Dreams

Sometimes I sit on my couch and think about pudding. Not just any pudding. That pudding. The one in the picture up there. I sit and I think about how long it would take to go and get some of that pudding. Luckily, getting the pudding would require me to get on the highway and drive into town and arrive at a time when the restaurant is open. And since many of my pudding cravings happen after dark, I'm usually safe. This is not a diet pudding. If I ever learned to make it, or moved closer to the source, I fear what would happen. But this is a pudding that distracts from the empty places. It is comfort food at its finest. After eating it, your understanding of chocolate will never be the same. The picture doesn't begin to cover it.

It's like edible velvet- rich and thick and not too sweet. The homemade whipped cream on top is the perfect foil. A partner in crime, if you will, because this pudding is so good it's criminal.

Yeah, it's that good.

If you're lucky enough to live in, or near, Grand Rapids, you can get this pudding any time you want at Marie Catrib's. Marie has a lot of food that I could go on about for hours. Much of it vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and locally-sourced. Marie is amazing and her restaurant and all her food is amazing too. It's a foodie paradise. But as good as it all is, the pudding tops the list.

If you're not close enough to drive to GR to get some, you can now order it online. And no, unfortunately, Marie is not paying me in pudding (or $$) to tell you this. I promise. I just really love this pudding and I wanted to tell you about it. Because everyone deserves to have pudding like this at least once in their lifetime. The other stuff is great too- the granola bars and granola, seasoning salt, etc... You can't go wrong with any of it. But if you place an order for any of it, you have to promise me you'll buy some pudding too. And eat it with some homemade whipped cream made from the very freshest cream you can find.

Go... go on, get out of here. Go order some pudding. You can thank me later.

This post is linked to West Michigan Linkup.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Easy Mexican Dinners

It's a litte late for Cinco De Mayo, I know. But I've made a couple Mexican recipes lately and wanted to share them with you. I'm extremely fortunate to live in an area where there are a lot of great, authentic (and inexpensive) Mexican restaurants so I don't worry about cooking much Mexican at home. But I saw  the first recipe in the new issue of Everyday Food and I had some flank steak languishing in the freezer so I thought I'd give it a try.

Please keep in mind that I am not a food photographer. Well, actually, you won't have any trouble remembering that! ha! But ugly photography notwithstanding, these recipes are worth the minimal time to prepare.

Chile-Spiced Steak and Grilled Onion Tacos with Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from Everyday Food, June 2011

For the tacos:

1 T. olive oil
2 T. chile powder
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
2 T. fresh lime juice (plus wedges)
1 ½ pounds flank steak
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, cut into quarter-inch rounds
12 soft corn tortillas

Mix the olive oil, chile powder, brown sugar, soy sauce, and lime juice together to make a marinade. Place in a Ziploc bag, or a shallow dish covered tightly with plastic wrap and place in fridge to marinate for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, slice the onions and set them aside.

To make the salsa, dice 3-4 tomatillos, 1 jalapeno (don't forget to wear gloves) and about 4 T. red onion. I thought it was a little dry so I added a couple squeezes of lime juice. Refrigerate for a while to let the flavors blend.

Heat your grill to about medium high. Brush the rack with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Season the meat with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper just before putting it on the grill. Save the marinade and brush it over the steak and onions as you grill them. I did the meat about 5 minutes a side. Flank steak should be a little rare inside. Grill the onions with the meat and brush with the marinade as they cook. After cooking the meat, I blistered some tortillas on the grill.

Let the meat sit for a few minutes after cooking. Slice against the grain, into thin strips. Place several strips on each tortilla. Top with the tomatillo salsa and onions. I also topped the tacos with crumbled Queso Fresco, diced avocado, tomato, and sliced radishes and served with more lime wedges.

I loved the taste of the meat. It would be just as good good served by itself with some roasted corn and stewed black beans. It could use a little extra spice though, so next time I think I'd add a little hot sauce to the marinade. I wasn't crazy about the salsa. I thought the tacos would have been better served with a pre-made, perhaps fire roasted salsa. I also had to finish my onions in a pan inside. They really need to be quite soft and I couldn't get them that way on the grill. The day I made these, however, the wind was so strong that it actually blew a piece of meat off the plate! So I didn't have a lot of patience for standing in front of the grill. I was afraid that dinner- or me- might blow away!

All in all it's a fairly authentic tasting recipe and the meat gets a great flavor, although I'd like to try it when I have more time and it can marinate longer than an hour.

Easy Chicken Empanadas

A few nights later, I was looking for another quick dinner idea and my mind went to a Paula Deen recipe that a friend had tried recently and told me was good. I hate bell peppers though and some of the reviewers (my friend included) complained that although the finished empanadas had a good flavor, they were a little dry, so I was brainstorming ways of making them creamier. First I thought maybe adding some sour cream would help but what I finally settled on was the new Philly Santa Fe Cooking Creme. It's an easy recipe to being with, and this makes it even easier because the spices are already included! All you need is this:

1 box refrigerated, rolled pie crust with 2 crusts (I used the Meijer brand)
1 can white meat chicken, drained and flaked into chunks (I used Trader Joe's)
1 tub Philly Santa Fe Cooking Creme
1 bag Mexican blend shredded cheese

Mix the flaked chicken and about a cup of cheese with the cooking creme. You could add some salsa or hot sauce if you'd like but I thought it was fine was it was. Preheat your oven to 400.

Roll the pise crusts out even thinner. I thought this would be hard because I'm really bad with dough, but it was actually easy and the dough didn't stick. Cut the dough into 3 inch rounds. I just used a wide mouthed drinking glass. It helps to roll out the individual circles into more of an oval shape. Wet the tip of your finger and run it around the edges of the crust. Fill with a heaping tablespoon of filling. Flip the crust over and secure the edges with a fork.

Before baking, brush the tops of the empanadas with some beaten egg white if you wish. It makes them look a little nicer and gives them a crackly sheen. I was able to make about 20 empanadas with a little filling left over.

I even had enough crust left to make on of my favorite childhood desserts- jam pie! Just make a tiny "crust" with a little pie dough and fill the indentation with some jam from the fridge. The perfect dessert for one, and kids love having their own individual pie!

Bake the empanadas (and your jam pie) in the 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Serve alone for a snack or with a salad for a meal. You could easily sub black beans for the chicken if you'd like a vegetarian version. They came out perfectly- a little spice but not too much and not dry at all! If you make them, and I suggest you do, let me know what you think.


My ugly, but tasty, raspberry jam pie! 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Friendship, Slacking and a Gleek Retreat '11 Recap

Although I freely admit to being a slacker about things like cleaning out my fridge, weeding, and returning library books, I'm usually not a slacker about things I like to do, like writing in my blog. Lately, however, my life has been a whirlwind and I've been keeping up with most of it ok but my bog has suffered terribly in the face of a temporary job, applying and interviewing for permanent jobs, finishing (finally!) my degree, starting a volunteer job, trying to keep up with various yard and house projects, all while still feeding myself and the cats and keeping up with various friends and, of course, my life in social media!

This last weekend I attended the Gleek Retreat '11 with a bunch of amazing women bloggers from the West Michigan and the surrounding areas, and I decided I simply had to write a post about how much I enjoyed meeting everyone and how great all the speakers were! Not only was it great to be able to put faces to the twitter handles, I also learned a lot from all the presenters. Thanks to Katie, from Kitchen Stewardship, I might even try writing an eBook when my schedule calms down a little! Look for a review of her awesome eBook Healthy Snacks To Go coming up in the next week or so since she was nice enough to give me a review copy. I just glanced through it quickly and there are a few recipes I am dying to try!

I also wanted to take a few minutes to thank and talk about the wonderful sponsors of the Gleek Retreat:

Unfortunately I didn't get time to take advantage of a free facial from Therapon Skin Health while at the retreat, but I can't wait to try the samples that were included in our swag bags. Everyone who has tried them has been raving about them on Twitter!

We each received two full-size bottles of carpet and upholstery cleaner and a coupon for a free Big Green Machine rental from Bissell.

Mabel's Labels provided the bags our swag came in, as well as two adorable Bag Tags for each attendee with our blog names.

Island Girl Bags gave us each a purse-sized Kleenex holder or key fob in our bags in fun patterns. I got a Kleenex holder and it has found a happy home in my purse. Being a bag addict, I've been drooling over their website and thinking of hosting a trunk show sometime soon!

Everyone loves candy and Rudy Kazoody's, Specialty Candies and Gift Baskets of Rockford, tucked little goodie packets into our swag bags. Mine had the cutest little package of Haribo gummy bears in it I've ever seen! How cute are their Retro Baskets!

Roger's Jewelers provided a jewelry polishing cloth, something I desperately needed!

So far my favorite item from the swag bag was from Good Life Granola. This is the best granola I've ever had, hands down! It's positively addictive! Luckily it's made in Holland, MI and a lot of places around Grand Rapids carry it so I'll be able to get more with no trouble. It is available online if you don't live within driving distance of one of the retailers. I highly recommend you try it if you like granola- or even if you don't, it's that good!

Other thanks go out to Julie at Dutch Being Me for planning the retreat. I know how much work goes into pulling off an event like this and she did an amazing job! Haworth Inn and Conference Center in downtown Holland gave us a great deal on our rooms and they were lovely! They took great care of us all weekend with good food, a nice space and lots of coffee! We took a dinner cruise out onto Lake Macatawa on the Holland Princess and it was a good time although sadly I missed the on-board karaoke.   And last but certainly not least, I won my ticket to the retreat from Blog Conference Newbie along with a snack pack and keychain from Words to Sweat By and a pack of 100 beautiful business cards from tinyprints that I received tons of compliments on!

Even though it was all fun and educational, by far my favorite part of the weekend was the opportunity to catch up with my friend Stacy from My Life of What Ifs. We were friends in high school and in college and have kept in touch over the years but it has been a decade since we'd seen each other in person to talk and catch up. As with all truly great friendships, the years melted away within minutes and if we didn't get all the way caught up, it sure wasn't for lack of trying! Stacy is the one who inspired me to start blogging again and she has always been one of my favorite people. She is more amazing than she knows and I've always admired her and her perspective on life. Even though we stayed up too late talking, the time I spent with her was a true gift and hopefully another 10 years won't go by before we can do it again. 

Once thing I can tell you for sure is that it won't be another month before you see another new post from me! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Posters on my Wall: A Liberal's Agenda on Facebook

I'm a liberal and I have an agenda.

Ok, I don't really have an "agenda." But I have a lot of opinions on what's right and wrong and I read a lot. When I find an article that I like on the Internet, I like to put it up on my Facebook wall where I can easily find it and where other people who might be interested can see it and read it too. Because to me, one of the values of social networking, is being able to share with my friends and see the things they'd like to share with me. Sometimes I just post stuff because I see it on a site, don't have time to read it, and want to remember to go back later.

Since I'm a liberal, and might I say that I'm probably more liberal than many, a lot of the articles I post have (surprise!) a liberal bent. I believe in unions, collective bargaining, and workers rights. I'm pro-choice and feminist. I’m sex positive and pro-sex education. I don't go to church but if I did I'd be Unitarian, although I only half jokingly refer to myself as pagan. I am a supporter of public schools and teachers and I believe our educational system is failing our kids not because of "bad teachers," but because lawmakers are trying (and failing) to legislate learning. I vote Democrat. I support small farms and local businesses and I recycle. I think gay people should be able to get married and sick people should be able to smoke pot. I feel that health insurance is a right, not a privilege, and addiction is a disease, not a choice. (And by the way, I'm not interested in taking your guns away. I like to shoot and I'm good at it.)

I like to read about all of those subjects, along with art, science, Apple, literature, LOL cats, religion, philosophy, food, dysfunction, crime, and lists from the editors at and product descriptions from the geniuses at Woot! and ThinkGeek, along with a million other semi-relevant topics. I’m diverse that way and a lot of what I find interesting makes it to my facebook wall in the form of a shared link. Sometimes my shares get people talking, and sometimes they just serve as markers of something that caught my attention for a few stay minutes of the day. I like to think that my facebook wall serves as a sort of time capsule of my interests over time.

The problem with my more political postings, however, is that not all of my friends are liberal. Some are pretty middle of the road and some are conservative either in economics, social issues, or both. Most of the time, things stay pretty civil. Friends are friends for a reason, and politics and religion, while they can bind, can also sever relationships, so I try and balance presenting the issues I care about with the feelings of the people I like. I'm not usually offended by conservative friends. The problem is that it seems when I post anything of a political content, people seem to feel the need to argue politics. I don't mind an occasional exchange of ideas as long as things stay civil. I realize other people have opinions that differ from mine and I respect that. Sometimes I'm interested hearing their ideas on things and sometimes I'm not. I'll carry a discussion so far, but if it turns into an argument, I'll just agree to disagree.

Because I don't want to argue politics, some people have implied that I shouldn't post about it either. I'm not sure I follow that logic. The reason I don't like to argue politics is that I won't be changing my mind. I feel the way I do about most issues not because I'm "towing the party line," but because I've thought them through, researched them, and/or experienced them myself. It's not often that I change my mind on a particular topic, although when I have in the past, it's certainly wasn't because I was badgered into doing so. I'm also not posting about politics to bait anyone, or "stir things up." Everyone has had different experiences and, hopefully, formed their own opinions accordingly. I'm always happy to explain why I feel a certain way about something, but I find arguing politics exhausting and pointless. Will I talk politics? Yes, usually I will. I enjoy talking with other liberals, just as history buffs like talking to other history buffs and musicians like talking music. I also enjoy talking with some of my conservative friends because there are issues that we see eye to eye on and it's interesting to find out where people's values and experiences have led them because we all come by these things in different ways.

I look at it this way; Facebook is kind of like a big house that we all live in together. There are common areas and private areas. My profile is my private area, my room. Posts are like posters we put on the walls of our rooms. I can put whatever posters on my wall that I want. I promise not to put my posters on your wall, unless I know you'll like them too. If you're my friend, you're invited into my space but I don't need you to tell me I have bad taste in posters. If you don't want to look at them, you can simply not enter my room by blocking posts by me from reaching your news feed. If you feel really strongly, you can just unfriend me. Or you can be tolerant, as I promise to be of you. If you start posting about how you hate Jews/gays/Mexicans/Muslims/Lolcats, and they should all be lined up and shot, chances are I'm going to unfriend you because I find intolerance and ignorance deeply offensive. I won't unfriend you based on the fact that we vote for different candidates or we don't agree on issues like abortion or economic policy.

I won't unfriend you, but I probably won't take the bait either. I hope you understand.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Chicken, Bacon and Artichoke Pizza

Here's a link to the Examiner article I wrote about Philadelphia Cooking Cremes and the recipe for Chicken, Bacon and Artichoke Pizza.

Article and Recipe