Thursday, April 1, 2010

Memories of Taste and Smell

This is a compensated review by BlogHer and Werther's.

The taste of rich, butter cream caramel makes me believe for a moment that I am Catherine rushing across the windswept moor searching for Heathcliff.

[Don't ask me what happens when I eat a peppermint patties.]

I think the Wuthering Heights / caramel association must come from spending my senior year of college in England.

I was in Yorkshire at The University of Leeds and kind of miserable.

I missed my family more than I thought I would, I missed my college boyfriend and I was generally too loud and too American to make friends easily.

There is solace in butter cream caramel eaten in the boggy heather fields.


These days, I try not to use food as an antidote for the blues because, in the end, gaining weight only ever made me bluer.

Trying to balance a sweet tooth and a healthy diet isn't easy.

I'm kind of a slave to vanilla yogurts and fudgecicles and am always on the lookout for sweet treats that won't pack on the pounds.

Werther's recently sent me a vast sampling of their sugar-free caramels and, when they arrived, I eagerly ripped the bag open.

There were a variety of flavors other than the original like caramel mint, caramel coffee and caramel cinnamon.

These were interesting, but I found myself longing for caramel in it's purest, simplest form.

The original flavor caramels were good, though let's be real, they weren't AS good as a wad of real sugar and butter cream, but they did put me in mind of the windswept moors of northern England.

At least a little bit.

Which is close enough because my Catherine is older now and no longer runs across the windswept heath.

[I could break a cankle doing that!]

I would like to also note that I conducted my Werther's taste test for after the children went to bed because I didn't want to temp them after they had brushed their teeth.

Unfortunately, after I had eaten eleventy million Werther's sugar free candies, The Mayor called me to his bedside.

"What do you smell like?" he asked me once I was near him.

"Nothing, why?" I said.

[Deny everything!]

He pulled my head towards his face and gave me a good sniffing.

"You smell sweet," he said.

"Really? Sweet?" I said.

"Uh-huh. Like a ham. A sweet, glazed ham."

Say it with me now.

Oh. The. Joys.

What is the funniest thing your child ever said you smelled like and what do you think of Werther's sugar free candies?

Read all the Werther's reviews at Blogher.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Built In Cooler & The Best Movie Ever!

This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Lincoln MKT

“Baby screens!!!” they squealed.

Who knew that built-in, window sun screens would be such an attractive vehicle feature to the four year old set?

They went up, they went down.

[They went up and down again and again and again.]

I worried that all the up and down action would break the sun shades and I’d be the proud owner of a brand new concept car.

A nice man from Charlotte brought the keys to the Lincoln MKT to my office on a Tuesday afternoon.

My colleague and I took it for an immediate spin around a nearby college campus.

It was a pretty nice ride, I must say.

The MKT has six, plush bucket seats and for the week I test drove it, I tried to pay back all the car-pooling good karma I owed around town.

When I picked up my daughter and her school friend they led the exploration of the vehicles finer features.

As it turned out, the built-in sun shades weren’t the penultimate MKT feature.

My daughter and her friend must have touched every inch of the car’s interior and when they lifted up the arm rest between them in the middle seat, they discovered four year old nirvana.

A built-in, refrigerated cooler.

They then spent an hour discussing the finer points of stocking built-in vehicle coolers, (as if they were experts on the subject), offering their opinions on everything from juice boxes to string cheese to yogurt to go.

If I owned a Lincoln MKT, I am certain there would be some heavy-duty back-seat picnicking because these girls had it all figured out.

I drove the car for a week and I really enjoyed it.

It had an amazing array of luxuries built-in –satellite radio, GPS, leather seats, two sun roofs… and something I’d never seen before...

When the car was in reverse, a digital image of the area behind the car showed up on the dashboard.

[My kids thought this was a great movie for some reason. They never tired of it!]

I thought the MKT took a station wagon, an SUV and a mini-van and turned the best features of each into something new, something better than any one of the others on its own.

My kids loved the car and called it, “The FUN Car.”

It helped that the enormous front grill made the vehicle look like a character from the movie “Cars.”

The kids were sad on the day the car had to go back to the dealer.

We actually had to have a little ritual moment of saying goodbye.

Perhaps the comment best expresses how nice the car was came from my friend’s husband.

He’s never been much of a fan of blogs, bloggers or blog reading, but when he saw the Lincoln MKT, he turned to his wife and said,

“You should start a blog.”

For a chance to win a $500 Visa gift card, leave a comment on this post. (See the official rules here.) The contest is open until March 31st.

Increase your chances to win, by commenting on the other blogger reviews of the the Lincoln MKT. You can find links to them at the Round-up page.

And if you leave a comment at the Round-up page you'll also be entered for a chance to win a "Lincoln Night Out On The Town" giveaway (valued at $1,500).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grandma's Cake

This is a compensated review by BlogHer and Electrolux.

My Grandma K grew up in a large family with limited resources.

She spent her adulthood working in a factory and I know she and my Grandfather struggled a bit financially, but they made do.

One of the earliest memories I have of her is the sound her dentures made going clickety clack when she talked and the image of them sitting in a cup on the edge of her bathroom sink at night.
My Grandma K was, in some ways, a stereotype – almost a caricature.

She loved to remember when bread cost only five cents at the A&P.

[This was among her favorite topics of conversation.]

Near the end of her life, Grandma K liked to crochet while watching soap operas.

She made bedspread after bedspread as the world turned.

She suffered from various aches, pains and ailments.

[And this was her other favorite topic of conversation.]

Her back was especially troubling to her unless she spotted a spare coin on the ground.

She became a human pogo stick at the sight of a spare coin.

I always check myself when I make fun of my Grandma K’s sudden agility at the sight of spare change though.

As her wedding gift, she gave each of her five grandchildren a gift of five hundred dollars -- all of which she collected one penny at a time and saved in a jar on the shelf of her bedroom closet.

She was a broad, heavy-set woman with an impossibly big bosom.

I remember her having a lap that was fabulously soft to sit in.

She would envelope me in her softness and I would be safe there.

If she stayed with us when my parents were out of town, she would wake me by stroking my head and gently calling my name.

[Unlike my father, her son, who would YANK the covers from the bed and cause me great trauma.]

Throughout my childhood and my father’s before me, Grandma K made a wonderful, lemony pound cake.

Growing up we simply called it Grandma’s Cake, so if it ever had a more proper name I don’t know it.

It is a good cake because there is nothing chocolate about it and yet I still recognize it as dessert.

[Which is rare and amazing.]

Though Grandma K has been gone many years now, my father still makes the cake.

I’ve never made it for my family, but my Dad e-mailed me the recipe this week.

I’m going to make it.

“Try this,” I’ll say to my kids. “It’s Grandma’s Cake.”

Grandma’s Cake

Start with a yellow cake mix and follow the directions on the back.

[Make sure you use vegetable oil and milk and that you don’t use any water.]

Mix cake ingredients as directed on the box and then add:

1 cup of chopped walnuts;

1 tablespoon of Vanilla Extract; and

1 package of instant Lemon Pudding.

Bake in a Bundt pan according to the instructions on the cake mix box.

When the cake is cooled, sprinkle it with powdered sugar.

This post was written as part of Kelly Ripa's Cakery for a Cause Campaign, supporting Ovarian Cancer Research.

Visit Kelly’s Cakery at to decorate and send a special virtual cake to a friend, family member or loved one. For every cake sent, Electrolux will donate $1 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

Everyone who sends a virtual cake will be automatically entered for a chance to win a new Induction Range from Electrolux.

Check out all the other stories and cake recipes at the special offers page.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cooking with Kisses

This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Hershey's

When we pulled into the driveway we noticed a package on the front porch steps.

No one was expecting anything.

“What could that be,” K asked.

It was addressed to me and the return address was an unrecognizable one in Pennsylvania.

Puzzled, I took the package to my office and opened it.

Inside, there were six bags of Hershey’s kisses and nothing else -- no note, nothing, just the kisses.

A wide grin spread across my face.

I felt as though I had won some sort of secretly wonderful (and slightly evil) lottery.

[Slightly evil because lately I’ve been feeling like Madame Fatty McFatSoMuch.]

I was about to skip gleefully to my husband’s side, present the bounty and suggest we eat chocolate for dinner (Fatty McWho?) when I vaguely remembered Blogher asking me if I would try out a few recipes that called for Hershey’s kisses.

[All I heard was, "Would you... CHOCOLATE?" and I accepted!]

Later that night, the details came by e-mail.

I was to visit the Hershey’s KISSES baking website, pick three recipes and try them.

[I am much better at eating chocolate than I am at baking, but I did agree to try.]

At first I reviewed the recipe choices with my children and husband in mind, wondering what they might like.

After a few moments of this familial altruism, I settled on a few recipes that sounded good to ME.

K is usually the holiday baker in The House of Joy and I'll admit that he makes fabulous apple pie.

The thing is, apple pies are good but they are not chocolate -- and as my late Grandfather often said, "If it ain't chocolate, it ain't dessert!"

I chose to make KISSES HUGS & KISSES Crescents, KISSES Macaroon Cookies and KISSES Candy Twists.

I should warn you in advance that I am one of those cooks who knows better than any recipe.

My cooking motto is:

“I Don’t Have to Follow ALL the Directions if I Don’t Want To.”

[It doesn’t always work in my favor, but it makes me feel IN CHARGE OF THINGS -- and that's what is important.]

As my first feat of KISSES Baking, I made the KISSES Candy Twists because I was thinking of last Christmas when I made an enormous batch of chocolate covered pretzels to give as gifts.

[You know I ate all of those pretzels, right?]

[Did I mention about Madame Fatty McFatSoMuch?]

Back to the Kisses.

Hershey’s sent me three kinds of Kisses chocolate.

There were two bags each of the regular milk chocolate kind; the chocolate meltaways; and the candy cane kind.

I had never seen the meltaway kisses before and I was wary of them because the bag says “velvety smooth chocolate center” and I assumed that meant that the center would be GOOEY which I generally don’t like.

Madame Fatty McFatSoMuch convinced me to try one anyway and... Oh. My. Word.

Meltaway KISSES are not gooey. No, no, no.

The are the bourgeois of the KISSES genotype.

They are the elite KISSES, the Hollywood red carpet walkin' KISSES.

They are the KISSES all the other KISSES want to be.

[And they must be removed from my house at once! Someone come get them now. Help me, please!!!]

The candy cane ones are minty with a white chocolate-ish base and because I am not a fan of white chocolate, I feel it is unfair for me to judge these KISSES.

You will have to try them for yourselves.


I laid the pretzels on a cookie sheet, melted one KISS on the top of each, decorated them and let them cool.

People, what’s not to like?

Pretzels + chocolate = home run.

I made some of these using the Candy Cane KISSES and they were DELICIOUS.

(You should know that the candy cane kisses melt faster than the chocolate ones, so cut the melting time in half if you do this.)

Next I tackled the KISSES Macaroon Cookies.

The recipe called for almond extract, but I didn’t have any so I used vanilla extract instead because... well because the rules of baking do not apply to ME.

[And also it made sense to me because I don't like hazelnut flavored coffee.]

[And if that line of thinking doesn’t make perfect sense to YOU, then you might want to take an Ibuprofen before reading on.]

It was only after I finished the actual baking that the macaroon recipe was supposed to yield four dozen cookies.

I made seventeen.

[No wonder my jeans are getting tight.]

I turned my attention to the KISSES HUGS & KISSES Crescents.

My husband did the grocery shopping and when I pulled out the tube-o-dough I discovered that he bought crescent ROUNDS rather than crescent rolls.

I stared at the coiled "rounds" noodling about how something shaped like a cinnamon bun could be retooled to approximate a French, chocolate-filled croissant.

I unrolled the crescent rounds into long strips and wrapped them around and around the KISSES.

I ended up with a cookie sheet full of what looked like little doughy Volkswagen Beetles.

[Nothing can stop this intrepid baker when she brings out the Fahrvergn├╝gen!]

The HUGS & KISSES Volkswagen Beetles came out of the oven as perfectly lovely little brown rolls filled with chocolaty goodness.

Faced with 17 macaroon cookies, eight chocolate filled rolls and a pile of chocolate covered pretzels, I was thankful we had been invited to dinner at a friend's house -- five adults and five children put a mighty respectable dent in that chocolaty stash.

Whether or not these KISSES recipes become a permanent part of our holiday tradition, I can tell you one thing for certain - locating me will be easy this holiday season - just follow the trail of festive foil wrappers leading away from the bag of KISSES.

... And now for a contest...

You are invited to participate in the Hershey's Holiday Traditions contest.

You can win a $100 Visa gift card!

To enter, leave me a comment below about your favorite holiday traditions or holiday recipes.

Make sure to leave me an e-mail address where you can be contacted.

Contest Rules:

  • No duplicate comments.
  • You may receive an additional entry by linking on twitter and leaving a link in the comments. You may receive an additional entry by blogging about this contest and leaving a link in the comments.
  • This giveaway is open to Winners will be selected via random draw, and will notified by e-mail. You have 48 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
Please see the official rules here: Hershey's Holiday website.

You have eight chances to win!

Visit the special offers page and check out / comment on the other reviews.

The contest will be open from December 4th to December 31st.

Finally, I leave you with a bonafide Holiday Tradition Recipe from the House of Joy... my Granny's Chocolate Pie recipe.



Pie crust
(This makes enough for 4 single pie crusts.)

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 teas. salt
  • 1cup of shortening (I use Crisco)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teas. vinegar

    Beat 1 egg and add 1 teas. vinegar.

    Combine with 1/2 cup ICE water.

    Cut shortening into flour until the consistency is like coarse cornmeal.

    Add the rest and mix until the dough holds it's shape.

    Granny usually covered it with a damp cloth and put it in refrigerator overnight, making it much easier to work with.

    Chocolate Pie Filling
    • 3 tablespoons of cocoa
    • 1 cup of sugar
    • 2 eggs (beat before adding)
    • 1/4 cup of flour
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 1/4 cup of melted butter
    • 1 teas. vanilla
    Mix and beat all ingredients except the butter.

    Add that last.

    Bake 10 min. at 400 degrees and then 20 min. at 350 or until pie is almost set.

    Do NOT bake until firm.

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    I Wonder®... What's It Gonna Be?

    This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Wonder®

    Blogher recently asked me if my family would participate in a taste test.

    Which calcium rich product would The Mayor and The Rooster choose to eat if given the choice: canned spinach, canned red beans or calcium fortified Wonder® Bread?

    [Wow, now that's a hard one to predict! Who's to say?! Who can guess?!]

    To ensure that this taste test would be conducted in a fair and unbiased manner, I have been provided with a video recording device (which I understand is mine to keep and for that I am very grateful).

    So let's see what my short and loud people chose to eat, shall we?

    Oh, quelle suprise!

    Apparently two slices of Wonder® Classic White Bread are fortified with as much calcium as an eight ounce glass of milk.

    The Mayor, who is the self-proclaimed "King of the Milk Palace" has little to worry about in the calcium department, but The Rooster, taking after her Grandma Seattle, is less than excited about drinking milk.

    [Good thing she skipped trying the beans or spinach and went right for eating two pieces of the bread!]

    And now a little contest action for you...

    Wonder has decided to give away a $100 Visa gift card and a year’s supply of Wonder bread (that’s 52 coupons for one free loaf of Wonder® Classic White or Wonder® Classic White Sandwich bread).

    Check out other Wonder® taste-test results - you've got 6 chances to win $100.

    One of those chances is right here.

    To enter, leave me a comment below and tell me what your family adds to their Wonder® sandwiches to make them even more nutritious? (Alternatively, you may leave a link to your post on your own blog in the comments below.)

    The contest will begin at 10/5/2009 and will end 11/4/2009.

    Make sure that the e-mail address you leave is correct.


    No duplicate comments.

    You may receive an additional entry by linking on twitter and leaving a link in the comments.

    You may receive an additional entry by blogging about this contest and leaving a link in the comments.

    This giveaway is open to US-residents, aged 18 and over.

    Winners will be selected via random draw, and will notified by e-mail.

    You have 48 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

    Please see the official rules here: Official Rules

    For more information, please visit: Official Wonder® website.

    Friday, November 21, 2008

    Holiday Shopping Spree

    Recently, I received an invitation from Blogher to do a little holiday shopping at J.C. Penney with a $300.00 gift certificate and, in return, I was asked to write a review post about my shopping experience.

    Given our nation's current economic woes, I couldn't help feeling extremely grateful for the offer and I humbly accepted.

    Like most people, I have many holiday gifts to buy.

    Because I am freakishly organized, the first thing I did was visit J.C. Penney's website in order to scope out a list of potential gifts so that I would be an efficient holiday shopper when I visited the store.

    I made a list of things that looked interesting and then, last Sunday, when J.C. Penney issued a coupon for an additional 30-70% off, I headed out into the shopping fray.

    I started out looking for toys and clothes for The Mayor and The Rooster.

    The first thing I found was the Talking Robot Companion.

    [Yes, but can he play cards?]

    Pretty cool... though I worried that MY children would run down the batteries in 4.3 seconds.

    I was totally drawn in by the marshmallow blasters, but realized I'd have to buy four of them - one for every member of our household.

    I envisioned a massive marshmallow attack scenario in The House of Joy... 

    ...but then my practical side fast-forwarded to the part where I would ultimately have to clean up small, round, dots of confectioners sugar from various household surfaces.

    [Maybe I could stash four of them away for our next camping trip!]

    I decided to look for something enriching... something that might teach science... and found myself considering what it might mean to purposefully breed a colony of ants in my home. 

    In the end, I decided against it. As I SERIOUSLY do not like bugs.

    When I discovered the Hulk Smash Hands I considered purchasing a set for each of my kids, roping off the living room and letting them settle their disputes the Mohamed Ali way.

    [A mom can dream!]

    The Mayor asked for a Hot Wheels Track for Christmas but unfortunately I couldn't find this track in my local store.

    I did find a number of things that were interesting gift options for my kids, like...

    The Remarkable Art Mat
    Remote Controlled Dinosaur (RAWR!)
    ATM Savings Bank (Oh, the Responsible!)
    Strawberry Shortcake Laptop (Who IS Strawberry Shortcake?)
    Princess and Fairy Dress Up Clothes
    Superhero Clothes (The Mayor is obsessed with Spiderman.)
    Remote Controlled Robot Car
    Struxx Robotix (these look cool, but may be a little advanced for The Mayor.)
    Einstein Telescope (Also for much older kids, but oh, to look at the moon...)
    V.Smile Cyber Pocket Learning System

    After shopping for the kids, I decided to switch gears and look at possible gifts for my husband.

    The dreaded Gifts For Men category!

    [Roll Friday the 13th music.]

    Why are men so hard to shop for?!

    Clearly I need some help in this category because I ended up wallowing in the sweater section.

    [He ASKED for sweaters this year but... Zzzzzzzzzzzz.]

    With loaded down arms, I finally headed to the cash register only to discover that my two ENORMOUS bags of loot only added up to $230.

    Hallelujah! I had to keep shopping!

    Of course I can't tell you exactly what I chose or The Family Joy wouldn't be surprised on Christmas morning, but I will say that I was impressed with the low prices and I was able to find things that my children will really love.

    I'd like to thank Blogher and J.C. Penney for the opportunity - particularly this year - in this economic climate.

    Additionally, I'd especially like to thank J.C. Penney for investing in the experience and story telling of regular moms.

    Give J.C. Penney a try and enjoy your holiday shopping!

    By the way, BlogHer and JCPenney are giving away a $300 gift card each week for the next five weeks. You can register to win here.