Arkansas – What I Miss

A little over a year ago, I told you all of the things I thought I would miss about Arkansas. Let’s revisit and talk about the things I actually do miss. Friends and family not included because I am cold and heartless (or maybe just because that is a given).

Here we go:

Food. Food. Oh so, much food. Seriously, that is #1-9 on my list. #10 is cheese dip. Yes, it gets – and deserves – its own number. I’d like to share something deep and profound about the beauty of home, but all I can think about is sitting in front of a smoker watching a big hunk of pig cook for hours. “Oh but Stephanie,” you say, “surely you can have this experience in the great state of California?” No, no I can’t. Apartment complexes kind of frown on you doing such things on your third floor balcony.

I miss pulled pork, biscuits, fried okra, sausage gravy, red beans and rice, bread pudding, and boiled peanuts. I can’t remember the last time I ate a boiled peanut, but I still miss them. I even miss sweet tea, despite the fact that I never drank it – and never knew anyone who drank it regularly – because it was too sweet. I miss the idea of sweet tea.

It’s not that these things don’t exist in the Bay Area; it’s that they aren’t very good. Or, at the least, no longer ubiquitous.

They don’t put paprika on top of deviled eggs here, people. In fact, we had an Easter potluck at work and no one even brought deviled eggs. Not one single egg! I very much dislike deviled eggs, but still. . . That has to be the only real moment of culture shock I’ve experienced. The lack of damn deviled eggs.

I miss local restaurants – David’s Burgers, Capital Grill, Shotgun Dans – and I miss chain restaurants (yes, even silly chain restaurants!) – Sonic, Newks, On the Border, Moes. I miss being able to walk into a grocery store to be greeted by my favorite iced coffee, ice cream, and iced tea (also moon pies – I’ve never purchased one, but would just like them to be around).

Oh yeah, I also miss Wal-Mart. Never saw that one coming. Target doesn’t have enough variety and is slightly more expensive for a necessity shop. I can’t do all of my shopping at any one store in my vicinity anymore.

I do miss a few things that aren’t so calorie-heavy. Namely – courtesy waves, snow, and my laundry room.

Okay, I’m done now. It is all out of my system. Sometimes I forget how stereotypically southern I am.

Review: RawSpiceBar Monthly Spice Box

When RawSpiceBar contacted me and offered up a free month of their spice blend subscription service, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. My husband – the cook in our family – adores fresh spices, interesting spices, and tasty spice blends.

So, what exactly is RawSpiceBar? Short answer is – a monthly subscription box filled with three spice blends. I’ll take the long answer straight from their website: Receive 3 hand-picked, small batch, freshly ground spice blends with each monthly box. Each monthly spice box contains 1-2 ounces of spice blends, creating three dishes for serving 4-6 plus kitchen-tested recipe ideas. RawSpiceBar partners with award winning chefs, bloggers & sources old family recipes to bring you unique spice blends from the highest quality spices around the world, with an unprecedented focus on quality and flavor.
Raw Spice Bar
November’s selection was Ethiopian-themed. Here is what we received:

Berbere – “Arguably the most famous spice blend of Ethiopian cuisine, berbere is smoky, spicy and complex. This spice mix is traditionally used in nearly all Ethiopian dishes but particularly shines in stews and on meats and poultry. Also try as a rub on roast chicken, roast vegetables or stir into oil and vinegar as a dip.”

Mimtita – “This bright orange, crazy hot spice blend is perhaps Ethiopia’s second most famous spice mix. African birds eye chili peppers, cardamom, black peppercorns and other spices add a spicy hot kick to meat stews, lentils or grilled meats. Also great for using in place of hot sauce or Siracha as a powdered dip or condiment.”

Pumpkin Pie Spice – “This fall inspired spice blend is unlike all those other traditional blends- with freshly ground cinnamon, allspice and star anise as the star ingredients. Sprinkle over squash and roast, stir into yogurt or ice cream or brew into your morning coffee or add to cookies, breads, cakes, pies or other baked goods.”

I love that they include recipes for your spices – and not just any recipes, recipes using ingredients you can find in any regular grocery store and cooking equipment you actually have at home. I love all different kinds of cuisine, but sometimes it can be really hard to make those favorite dishes at home without investing an unreasonable of time and/or money.

We didn’t end up using any of the recipes this time around, but added them to our collection for future inspiration. And having the recipes there for reference helped us decide how we wanted to use the spices with ingredients we already had on hand or regularly purchase.

We ended up using the Pumpkin Pie Spice on baked sweet potatoes and on roasted butternut squash. The result was mixed on the sweet potatoes – my husband thought it was too sweet, but my daughter loved it – but favorable on the butternut squash.
Pumpkin Pie Spice
Then we used the Berbere to make Doro Wat. This was a totally new experience for me; we don’t have any Ethiopian restaurants in town (that I know of) and I couldn’t think of a time I had ever tried it before. Honestly, all I could have told you about the cuisine was that I think it is pretty spicy. I was very happy to remedy this situation with a classic Ethiopian chicken dish.
Doro Wat
We haven’t tried the Mimtita yet, but plan to break it out once our sore throats are gone and we feel like we can handle the spice.

Frankly, I think this subscription is pretty awesome. It opens up a whole new food world for the very small price of only $6 a month. Personally, I wouldn’t just walk into a store and pick up Berbere because I would assume I wouldn’t be able to do anything with it and that it would just go to waste. Plus, I’d be wary of investing money in a full bottle of a spice I’ve never even tasted.

But with RawSpiceBar, I got to dip my spice toe into the river of Ethopian cuisine without hesitation. [Gee, I really need to work on my metaphors. Spice toe?] This would be a great for anyone who wants to spice up their cooking (ha! get it) without a lot of shopping and hassle. Also a delicious gift for the foodies in your life.

Saturday Review: Pagoda Pork Egg Rolls

I was recently able to try a package of Pagoda snacks for free through BzzAgent in conjunction with Kroger. The tacky husband picked out the Pork Egg Rolls and we enjoyed them earlier this week. While the egg rolls were free, all opinions are my own.

The good: These things were crispy and delicious. If I hadn’t seen the box, I would not think they were from the frozen food section. Very tasty.

This egg roll is ready for its closeup.
This egg roll is ready for its closeup.

The okay: The sauce that came with it was just okay. It kind of overpowered the egg rolls, so we stopped using it after a taste or two. Also, I wish these came in a package larger than 4. Six just seems better; I like having plenty.

The bad: What I’m about to mention may not bother you, but it ventured all the way into the “bad” territory for me and will probably stop be from purchasing Pagoda snacks on any kind of regular basis. Each of the four egg rolls was individually packaged. Great if you are just looking to heat up one for a snack, but a lot of useless trash if you are planning to use them as appetizers or with dinner. And here is the biggie – these things took twenty minutes to cook in the over. Twenty minutes! Who wants to spend twenty minutes on a snack? Can you imagine pulling one of these egg rolls out as a snack and waiting twenty minutes to enjoy it. Hmmm. . . I was just really disappointed in that.

So much trash for four little egg rolls.
So much trash for four little egg rolls.

The verdict: So tasty, but impractical.

Confessions of a Binge-Eater

I’ve been drafting this post for a while now and decided it was time to finish it after feeling the desire to submerge my entire head in a serving bowl of homemade mashed potatoes Sunday morning. [Side note: This was quite an occurrence – I made them! We eat mashed potatoes maybe once a year and I never cook.]

Some of my previous posts have touched on my food issues. You can read An Unashamed Therapy Dropout for some background, but here are the important points:

1) Binge eating did not make me fat.
I’m fat for a variety of reasons, all of which I own up to (overeating mixed with lackluster exercise made me fat; genetics and medications helped me take that to the obese level). I really shouldn’t have to explain that I understand why I’m fat, but since society likes to thinks anyone with a few extra pounds is stupid and in extreme denial, I’ll just get it out of the way anyway. I did not develop this particular food issue until I was already overweight – already obese, actually. Obviously, binge eating does contribute to maintaining my overweight status.

2) Binge eating disorder is not bulimia.
I want to point this out not to argue that binge eating is “better” to experience than bulimia, but because it is really easy to overlook binge eating as an eating disorder since it lacks that purging element. Not throwing up = just a fatty-fat-fat overeating again. And that brings me to my next point. . .

3) Binge eating is different than overeating.
Everyone over-indulges sometimes. Some of us over-indulge too often. That is not binge eating; that is being a normal human being.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as over a 2-hour period
  • Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
  • Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
  • Eating rapidly during binge episodes
  • Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Frequently eating alone or in secret
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

The lack of control and emotional response are key here. For me, eating when I’m full/not hungry is a big part of it too. If I’m binging, I can eat while my brain screams at my arms to put it down. It’s like I’m on autopilot and there is a complete disconnect in my body.

A couple of sub-points:
a. Skinny people can struggle with binge-eating just as easily as overweight people.
b. You can ::gasp:: binge on healthy foods too!

I can binge on anything in a bad moment, but prefer items containing cheese and individual sweets. What do I mean by individual sweets? If you put a cake in front of me, I’ll likely just eat my piece and move on. If you put petit fours in front of me, I might eat 100. Parties with hor d’oeuvres are my own personal hell. Mix-in my introvert tendency to hover near the food table for easy conversation and I’m in a very bad place.

Some things I’ve binged on that you might find unusual: lima beans, cold pasta noodles, olives

So, what am I doing to tackle my binge eating? For starters, I don’t bring any individually-wrapped or cute-sized foods (especially sweets!) into my home. If something does make it in for some reason, I try to keep it out of sight until I can take it somewhere to share. Putting items into plastic containers in my refrigerator works too. But this is not a fail-safe solution! One late night after everyone is asleep and I could lose control.

During my short time in therapy, I learned to spot the feelings that tend to lead to my binge eating episodes. Recognizing what is happening means I can take steps to stop it or – at the very least – let my husband know that I feel like binging. Support really helps. I’m far less likely to binge if I’ve acknowledged it.

It is an ongoing process, for sure.

Meet Me in St. Louis, Day 5 (Goodbye!)

This was going-home day, but we did have a couple of more things we wanted to do on the way out of town. I don’t have much to say about this day, but wanted to share some photographs. Overall, it was a great day and a nice trip back. Shorter too!

Stop #1: Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Wow! Gorgeous and probably the prettiest cathedral I’ve seen in the United States.
church 1

church 2

church 3
Stop #2: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. I love frozen – especially a concrete with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. This custard was good and I’m glad we made the stop and respect Ted Drewes for setting a high standard, but it wasn’t any different than what we can get ten minutes from our house at Shake’s Frozen Custard. Just keep that in mind – yummy, but don’t expect a life-changing experience if you are already a enjoy-er of the frozen custard.
Ted Drewes

Meet Me in St. Louis, Day 4


We took advantage of nothing being open in the morning to sleep in. First stop of the day – brunch at Layla, “St. Louis’ only Gourmet Burger & Shawarma Joint.” The regular menu online looked delicious and the brunch menu looked okay, but not as delicious (we forgot about it being Sunday and didn’t look at the brunch menu beforehand). From our seats, we could see the line waiting to get into Sweetie Pie’s. No thank you; there should be no lines at brunch.

I ordered the Havanah Sunrise Stacker (menu description: shaved ham, smoked pulled pork, melted swiss, chartreuse pickles, dijon aioli and two eggs any style on grilled sourdough). The husband ordered the Pork Belly Skillet (menu description: smoked cured diced pork belly, peppers, onions, and sweet potato home fries. topped with two eggs any style and a roasted garlic aioli). The daughter settled on a traditional burger. She was the winner of the day – that burger was spectacular. The husband and I found our meals to be lackluster. I’ll give my stacker the benefit of the doubt because I like my eggs scrambled and therefore deprived it of the drippy goodness that might have tied everything together. The husband’s pork belly was disastrously overcooked.

Next stop: Budweiser!
We had the most fun of the day here and ended up staying for several hours. It was busy – we had to wait an hour and a half for our free tour – but the gift shop was big and the beer was on tap. The tour was approximately forty-five minutes and was wheelchair accessible. A lot of that time spent leading the group from building to building, so I think it was a good length to keep people interested. They had several other tour options too (some free, some not).

At one point our tour guide said my favorite line of the day “After this step you have a beer, but not the king of beers.” I’m not a Bud drinker – or a beer drinker, really – but I thought that was really funny and effective. Adult visitors get a sample of beer in the middle of the tour (just Bud or Bud Light) and then a token for a full-sized free one at the end (anything they have on tap). FYI: Sodas are free at the bar, but it gets very backed up when a tour lets out.

Let’s be honest though, I was just there to see the Clydesdales.
It was late in the day when we left Budweiser and we didn’t have time to go anywhere else before Sunday-night closing time. We ended up driving to St. Charles to see their historic Main Street. The city was founded in 1769, was the site of the first state capitol, and was the starting point for Lewis and Clark. The Main Street is adorable. I may have squealed a bit. We didn’t actually get out and walk around, so I’ll just show you some taken by other people.

Top: "Historic Saint Charles Main Street 3". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.  Bottom: "St Charles MO Stone Row" and "1st Capitol St Charles MO" by Smallbones. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Top: “Historic Saint Charles Main Street 3”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Bottom: “St Charles MO Stone Row” and “1st Capitol St Charles MO” by Smallbones. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday Review: Japan Crate, May 2015


Umashi Oasi Cheetos
Japan Crate description: Not as intense as your typical Cheetos, these Umashi Cheetos have a mellow, sweet and salty corn taste. The more you eat them, the more you’ll love them!

Playfullytacky opinion: These are strangely sweet, but it works.

Yaokin Maple Hot Cakes
Japan Crate description: A complete pancake experience without the mess. Thick, delicious maple filling sandwiched between two perfectly moist pancakes.

Playfullytacky opinion: Oh my gosh, I want to eat these every day. The little cookies tasted like the last couple of bits of a plate of diner pancakes – you know, the bits that have been soaking in syrup. So delicious.

Ginbisu Chocolate Bar Z
Japan Crate description: A light wafer stick that has been soaked in rich, chocolatey goodness. A unique texture between smooth and chocolatey and crunchy. It’s a whole new experience!

Playfullytacky opinion: Kind of like a churro mixed with a melted chocolate bar. Difficult to explain, but the Tacky husband loved it.

Chocolate in Disguise
Japan Crate description: Chocolate is a lot like us – when it gets bored, it puts on a costume. . . well at least these chocolates! Each character has unique fortunes for each color.

Playfullytacky opinion: These kind of tasted like harder Sixlets and were fine. They were less like candy I would want to buy for a treat and more like something I would add to goody bags.

Special Saturday Tacky Husband Review: Sara Lee Pound Cake Slices

My wife brought home a box of Sara Lee Pound Cake Slices. I’ve never met a Sara Lee pound cake that I didn’t like. It’s a good blank canvas for frozen fruit, whipped cream, chocolate, ice cream, etc. I’ve been eating Sara Lee pound cake for as long as I can remember. My parents always had it around the house along with frozen strawberries and Cool-Whip (I would appreciate this more as an adult than I did as a 10 year-old). This is the first time I’ve had it pre-sliced however. There was no noticeable difference in flavor from the typical loaf, though eating it with Cool-Whip and Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, it’s difficult to tell one way or another.

Pre-sliced cake seems like an unnecessary product. I get the point that the slices of cake are measured by weight and constitute a single serving. This is great if you are in the mood for a small slice of cake. I am not, however, the type of person to eat a small slice of cake. Don’t judge; It’s just how I am. So unwrapping two slices, I was made aware of the amount of cake I was about to consume. More so than if I had just lopped off a hunk from the usual loaf.
Lastly, each piece is individually wrapped. Each small piece in its own clear plastic pouch. While plastic can be recycled, it seems like this would generate more unnecessary waste that would, in most cases, end up in a landfill.

I would eat this again, but I’d probably just buy a normal loaf and do the slicing myself. I like to pretend I’m not that lazy…

Disclaimer: I received this product free through BzzAgent for review purposes. Opinions are my own. . . or my husband’s own.]

Saturday Review: Alton Brown Live

This is the second time the husband and I have happily purchased tickets to see some kind of unknown, mystery show by a celebrity chef. Clearly, we like to live life dangerously.

The official show description:
“With his upcoming tour, Alton Brown brings his brand of quirky humor and culinary-science antics to the stage. The two-hour show is a unique blend of stand-up comedy, food experimentation, talk show antics, multimedia lecture, and, for the first time…live music. Audience interaction is strictly enforced throughout the evening, though if you’re called upon as a culinary assistant you’ll definitely want to take the lab coat Brown offers, as things tend to get messy. Brown has worked his weird magic on live audiences across the nation for over a decade but this is the first time he’s actually hit the road with a live tour. The entire family will have a blast, especially as you sing along with Brown’s soon to be hits “Airport Shrimp Blues” and “TV Cookin Ain’t Like No Other Cookin”.”

To set the scene: Hipster beards everywhere (including on my husband. . .) and at least two pork-themed t-shirts. Alton started the show by rapping a song he wrote called “TV Chef.” Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this post.


I’ve been describing this show as “Good Eats without the cooking.” It had the humor, the stories, the lame-but-hilarious jokes, the cheap-but-also-hilarious laughs, the science, and the props – including farting/burping yeast puppets. The audience was cracking up – cheap laughs and all. This is a really good show to start at 7:30 after a lot of your viewers have indulged in a pre-show beverage. Am I implying that you need to be drunk to enjoy it? No, of course not. But clearly many people in the theater were.

It was a lot of fun; I highly suggest it if you are an Alton Brown fan.

Was there any actual food? Yes. Alton [see, he is my good friend now so I can call him Alton] – with the help of audience assistants – made carbonated chocolate ice cream with a CO2 fire extinguisher and pizza in a massive easy-bake oven Frankenstein monster called the Mega Bake.

The most important thing I learned from the evening? Glad you asked. Alton Brown is a kindred spirit – he doesn’t like ranch dressing either.

The Official Pumpkin Taste Test

Number 3 on my FALL challenge, “eat something that really shouldn’t be pumpkin flavored,” has taken on a life of its own and grown into a pumpkin taste test. I sacrificed my afternoon yesterday, gathered up a few participants, and tasted all sorts of products trying to capitalize on America’s love of fall and the ubiquitous pumpkin spice.

Things you should know:
I don’t like pumpkin all that much. Take that into account when trusting my opinions.
My daughter is allergic to tree nuts, so any product containing that other fall favorite – pecans – was immediately excluded. [Although one product with almonds did sneak past my radar. Obviously, she didn’t eat that one.]
My local grocery store didn’t have some of the weirdest pumpkin-flavored products on my list. Where is a Trader Joe’s when you need one!?

Let’s get started.

Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies, New Pumpkin Spice Flavored
Does it actually contain pumpkin? No
Pretty good. You taste more of the spices than any actual pumpkin (which makes sense since its pumpkin spice flavored). The tasters were torn on whether or not these were as good as classic Milano cookies.

Pepperidge Farm Swirl Bread, Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Yes, 2% or less.
Very good. The pumpkin taste is mild – it is spread throughout the bread in little bits. This would be great toasted with cinnamon and sugar or as French toast. The crust is a little dry and the cinnamon lines throughout the bread feel a little hard.

Kashi PopTart
Kashi Pumpkin Spice Flax Crunchy Granola Bars
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Yes, pumpkin seeds.
Good granola, but you don’t really get a lot of pumpkin. I wouldn’t really count this as a fall product. It just tastes natural.

Pop-Tarts Limited Edition Frosted Pumpkin Pie
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Yes, 2% of less.
Lots of pumpkin taste, very pumpkin-spicy. Overall, this one just tastes like a poptart.

Jell-o Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Snack
Does it actually contain pumpkin? No
The cheesecake taste was very strong, so much so that any pumpkin flavor was overshadowed. Three of the five tasters put their spoons down without finishing a small bite.

Faces Chips
Little Debbie Pumpkin Delights
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Yes
These cookies look like Sackboy from Little Big Planet. Good. The cookies were consumed in their entirety. I even thought they tasted pretty good.

Garden of Eatin’ Pumpkin Chips
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Yes
It looks like a pumpkin spice Dorito. Tasted like a regular tortilla chip severely lacking in salt, although the tasters agreed you tasted more pumpkin as you ate more. The general opinion was they would be good in a salsa.
One brave taster dipped his chip into the cheesecake pudding snack. His only comment, “Well, it has flavor.”

Ice Cream Bakery
Turkey Hill Limited Edition Pumpkin Pie
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Yes
Overall, we thought this was really good. There was less agreement over whether or not we would eat a whole bowl or go to the store to get it specifically. The little bits of graham crackers really upped the flavor.

Palmer’s Candies Pumpkin Pie Pretzels
Does it actually contain pumpkin? No
These smell very strong and are very spiced. This actually works with the salt on the pretzels – this was actually the taste we expected from the chips.

Two-Bite Pumpkin Tarts
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Yes
This is sweet crust with a little bit of icing on top. The filling has very little flavor, even when trying to isolate and eat just it. This is the least pumpkiny thing we tasted today.

Welch’s Limited Edition Sparkling Pumpkin Spice Flavored Juice Cocktail
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Yes, pumpkin juice.
This smells very strong of pumpkin, but doesn’t have the taste to pack it up. Opinions were mixed between the tasters ranging from a great big no to a yum.

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat
Does it actually contain pumpkin? Sort-of, brewed with ripe pumpkins
Tastes like beer with spicy aftertaste. It’s fine.

Kroger Pumpkin Egg Nog
Does it actually contain pumpkin? No
Only slightly spiced. Good egg nog. Very cinnamony, but doesn’t make you think pumpkin.

Ice Chips
Ice Chips Candy, Pumpkin Spice
Does it actually contain pumpkin? No
Weird. No. Not good.