Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Hello, I am the only 40-something woman in America who doesn’t think this book is impossible to put down. In fact, I’ve had it on my Kindle for a month and stopped reading at about 80%. “What is Fifty Shades of Grey?” you ask. Mom porn. It hurts me to type those words, as they are two words which really should never be used together, ever. Seriously, sorry.

I realize that people aren’t reading this book for its fine literary merit. And while it’s true I am an avid reader, I am also a regular gal, so I won’t pretend I haven’t read my share of smut over the years. What surprises me is why this particular series of smut has taken off to the degree which it has, and I can only conclude that there are a vast amount of women out there who either never knew such naughtiness existed or never picked up a book past high school. And for some reason, this upsets me. It upsets me that women I like and respect are calling this drivel “good” and turning this ding dong author into a millionaire with movie deal. It’s kind of like witnessing people who’ve never eaten ice cream in their life suddenly discover McDonald’s soft serve and they think it’s the best ice cream in the world and all they keep talking about is, “OMG, have you TRIED this amazing ‘ice cream’ from McDonald’s? It is SO GOOD! I can’t believe how amazing this ice cream tastes!” Painful, right? What can you even say to that?

His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something. — Fifty Shades of Grey

When it comes to saucy books, I lean more towards the classics: Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins being the unholy trinity. Or, if you prefer, check out some of the more respected romance writers. Anne Rice writes under the pen name A.N. Roquelaure for her Beauty trilogy, which I haven’t read myself but hear is quite good. At least you get a legitimately interesting story woven in with your sex. Heck, even picking up a Harlequin Romance at an airport newsstand has to be better than this. So, you see, I am trying to establish some street cred here, homies. I sometimes read trash, too. I don’t think I’m better than you are for reading trash. But let’s be clear: my trash is higher brow than Fifty Shades of Grey, which is so trite, one dimensional, sloppy and cliche-ridden it makes the plot of any Lifetime movie seem like Anna Karenina.

It is the justice-seeking part of my brain which is the most offended. I am not a real writer and don’t pretend to be, but I am a real reader. And I know there are some truly talented authors in this genre who have been toiling away for years, and those people deserve your dollars and appreciation. So to see such sloppy, overwrought Twilight fan fiction making my otherwise smart and sensible friends go gaga? Fifty shades of grey matter from my head exploding.


Review: Zitner’s Butter Krak Eggs

Note: If you came here looking for a recipe, please see the last paragraph for link.

For a couple months a year, it is very, very good to live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. That is when our local gems, Zitner’s chocolate Easter eggs make their brief appearance. Like many Philadelphians, I grew up first seeing these eggs at the checkout counter of a Wawa convenience store, and I was immediately hooked.

There are a number of flavors available, but my favorite one by a mile is Butter Krak. Now I know what you’re thinking: Huh? How can candy with the words, “Zit, Butt, and Crack” — and misspelled, at that — possibly taste any good? Poor, illiterate Philadelphians with no sense of proper marketing language! You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. They are so good. They taste like Easter. They taste like childhood.

In a world of mass produced candy with infinite shelf lives, the centers of these eggs are still placed on wooden trays by hand in limited batches from the same factory in North Philadelphia since 1922. While some automation has occurred over the last 90 years, the recipe has remained the same. I still prefer the earlier versions of Butter Krak eggs which had little pieces of coconut poking through the chocolate (just like someone’s nana would have made in her own kitchen), but the machines they use for coating now provide a thicker layer of chocolate than when done by hand, and those stray pieces of coconut are now covered. Call me crazy, but that little detail makes a difference to me.

I can’t devour the chocolate Easter eggs like I once did, so I try to limit myself to two or three spread throughout the two month season. I love that they’re so little and 140 calories, so while eating one is very satisfying and always feels a wee bit naughty, it’s not doing too much damage. Assuming you stop at one. Which I highly advise.

I love these eggs because they are special to me, but I do wonder if they will hold the same appeal to food-loving folks who didn’t grow up with them. For this reason, I hesitate to yell, “EVERYONE MUST TRY THESE!” Nostalgia is funny that way, and I’m the first to admit it completely robs me of my objectivity. But just in case any of you non-Philadelphians or transplanted Philadelphians are interested, they can be purchased here or through the Zitner’s website.

EDITED: Feb 2013

The following recipe, while not an exact duplicate of Zitner’s Butter Krak eggs, is still quite good, especially if you use higher end chocolate. Give it a try!

Product Review: Traders Point Creamery Whole Milk Yogurt

Any dummy knows you don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, but today I had no choice. I just spent a grueling two hours making butter with second graders for Pilgrim Day at school, and the one saltine cracker spread with germ-infested delicious homemade butter which I ate just wasn’t enough for me. I was starving and wanted to head home to refuel (and maybe nap) but I knew — oh, I knew — that each passing hour from here on out would be crazy with Thanksgiving Madness at the supermarkets. Shopping hungry was the lesser of two evils.

As we’ve established, I’m a sucker for packaging. Also, certain words really get me, too, words like “creamery” and “grass fed.” And a real glass bottle with a pink lid? Powerless. The rational part of my brain didn’t even care it was paying seven bucks for yogurt, because it was made from happy grass fed cows from a real creamery, see? Well played, marketers. You got me again.

But sometimes luck goes my way, because I really love this stuff. It is so fresh and creamy with just the perfect amount of yogurt tang and sweetness. I can’t wait until tomorrow so I can have some more! I bought the wildberry flavor today, and next time I plan on getting the plain because the website recommends sweetening it with…wait for it…maple syrup! My favorite sweetener! It’s like they know me!

Verdict: Pricy but worth every penny. Grass fed, people.

Product Review: Brad’s Raw Kale Chips

One Thursday morning a few weeks ago, I came across a display of Brad’s Raw Kale Chips. Chips, next to pizza, are my biggest dietary weakness. In fact, I rarely keep them in the house because they always lead to remorse. My poor children must suffer for their mother’s lack of self control.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Kale chips ARE NOT REAL CHIPS! Okay, I will give you that one, if we are defining real chips as salty and fat laden nutritionally-void goodness. The best part about kale chips (aside from the lack of self loathing brought on by consuming too many) is that they are made of kale. Have you heard how good kale is? Quite the superfood! You really should be eating kale.

I was intrigued by this product, although it was a bit pricey (just over $7.00) for a smallish bag. However, the idea of a healthy chip replacement was too good to pass up. As luck would have it, I had just passed the junk food aisle and stood there a bit too long contemplating the merits of Doritos versus potato chips. Brad’s Raw Chips seemed to be placed in front of my face at just the right moment, and I’ve never been one to ignore good shopping karma.

I started eating them in the car, proof that even healthy food isn’t immune from my bingey bad habits. The crunch was very satisfying. The flavor was good, although there was a slight aftertaste which diminished as you ate more. I bought the plain ones, and they were still quite flavorful. I look forward to trying the Nasty Hot and Vampire Killer kale chips, as well as some of their other chip varieties: red pepper, beet, sun dried tomato, sweet potato.

I have made my own kale chips before (recipe upon request) and while I really enjoyed them and they were pretty easy to make, they were also messy and time consuming. Thank you, Brad, for giving us a snack option that doesn’t lead to guilt and remorse.


Twenty Years Come and Gone So Fast

Twenty years ago, I went on a first date with a handsome engineer who was working on launching the UARS Satellite for GE Aerospace. I was a sales assistant at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia, working for a blue blooded tyrant while studying for my broker’s license. It was a tough week, and by the closing bell, I was very tired. I distinctly remember telling my coworker that I had a date but I would much rather go home and get in my comfy clothes, read the latest Glamour magazine, and polish my nails. Even back then, I knew how to party. But I would never cancel a first date, so off I went.

Ed picked me up in his black Jeep Wrangler. He was wearing a purple tie. I was wearing a gray printed wrap dress, buff stockings, black suede pumps and pearls. Ask any of my friends, and they will confirm I am terrible with faces. But I am great at remembering clothes! I was glad to be dressed a little on the conservative side, because the restaurant was very fancy and formal…tuxedoed maître d’, candlelight, etc. I ordered a vodka tonic to start.

Our dinner was wonderful and romantic. We ordered wine like proper grownups, and not even white zinfandel like those losers still in college! The food, while very good, wasn’t what I would call innovative or especially remarkable. I probably ordered salmon. Ed said that he liked that I actually ate all my food — a little foreshadowing right there! It was a special dinner because I immediately realized the guy sitting across from me had serious potential. Conversation was easy and comfortable, and we clicked right away. I was glad I didn’t stay home and polish my nails.

Twenty years and three kids later, Ed came home early last night with flowers and told me to put on a dress! He was taking me to the Dilworthtown Inn, the place where we went on our first date. We had been there a few times over the last twenty years, and I was happy to go back. Not deliberately but because it was the only thing in my closet that fit, I put on a gray dress. Not deliberately but because I keep forgetting to pick up our massive dry cleaning order and nothing else was clean, Ed put on a purple checked shirt. He looked even more handsome than on our first date. Damn, men age well.

I ordered a vodka tonic to enjoy while I examined the menu. And what a menu it was! The Dilworthtown Inn has gotten much better with time. Neither stuffy and boring, nor tries-too-hard weird, everything offered was just right. After much deliberation and a little help from our fun and fabulous server, I decided to go with:

Wild Burgundy Escargot
Vanilla Scented and Dark Rum Glazed Roasted Pineapple, Serrano Chili, Sage Brown Butter

Manchego, Baby Spinach, and Arugula Salad
Fried Manchego, Sliced Plums, Serrano Ham, Marcona Almonds, Warm Pancetta Vinaigrette (Ed and I split this, and THANK GOD — it was a meal in itself)

Twin Lobster Tails
Whipped Potatoes, Haricot Vert, Baby Carrots, Drawn Butter

The lobster was delicious, but yes, a little boring. Of course, it was exactly what it claimed to be, and the right choice for someone who likes the classics prepared to perfection. I am always powerless in the presence of lobster and escargot on a menu, because I love them so much and rarely get to have them. Then I get mad at myself for ordering the same thing I always do. What would I get if they were not on the menu? What would you get? Take a look at this wonderful menu and let me know: Dilworthtown Inn Menu

I marvel that the last twenty years went by in the blink of an eye. As Mom Moms everywhere would say, “The days go slowly but the years go quickly.” After twenty years, I am so incredibly blessed to wake up every morning next to someone I love and respect, someone who brings out the best in me and who is always my biggest cheerleader. I can’t wait to see what the next twenty years will bring.