Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

I hope you're all enjoying a relaxing Memorial Day today.  I've been in summer mode for a while with finishing the semester and the Miami weather, plus I'm on vacation right now, but I hope you're getting into summer mode as well with the holiday.  Memorial Day has always been associated with food for me (who are we kidding, most holidays are), so I've got a Summer/Memorial Day food round-up for you today. 

My favorite summer foods are avocado, strawberry, shrimp/seafood, ranch dressing, bell peppers and arugula.  I love a lot of summery foods, but those definitely stand out and are the common ingredients we cook with in warm weather.  You'll see mango, lime/key lime, chicken, BBQ sauce, cucumber and squash a lot in our cooking too.  So it's no surprise these items are prominent in some of my favorite summer recipes featured below:

Lime Shrimp & Avocado Salad by Gina's Skinny Taste:

Photo by Gina's Skinny Taste
Key Lime Cupcakes with Blackberry filling & icing by Baked Perfection:
 
 Photo by Baked Perfection

Grilled Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce by Tracey's Culinary Adventures:
Photo by Tracey's Culinary Adventures

Strawberry Mojitos by Koko Cooks:
Photo by Koko Cooks
Cucumber Salad by Martha Stewart:

Photo by Martha Stewart.com

Patriotic Cheesecake in a Jar by My Baking Addiction:

Photo by My Baking Addiction

What are your favorite summer foods?  Is there a particular summer recipe you're excited to make again or try for the first time?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

BlogHer Food

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta.  I had a great time and learned a lot.  I also really enjoyed meeting a lot of other bloggers, from some I've been following for a long time to some I chat with on Twitter to some I've never met.  If you've never been to a blogging conference like BlogHer or Blissdom, I really suggest you attend one at some point!

This was my first ever trip alone.  I was so excited to be able to walk around and see whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  I was able to pick my own food places, see my own preferred sites, anything.  I loved it!

I flew in on Thursday and rode the MARTA from the airport to downtown.  After checking in at the Westin, which is one of Atlanta's tallest buildings (and has great views from their circular windows, especially at the rotating restaurant at the top).  I had some extra time during the day, so I went walking to find this tapas restaurant that was supposed to be only 3 blocks from the hotel.  But I ended up going the wrong direction and found myself a little lost.  Eventually I wandered back toward the CNN center and Centennial Olympic Park, where there was a McCormick & Schmicks right nearby.  So I ended up having a salmon burger with avocado and pico before walking around.

I really enjoyed walking around the Olympic Park though.  It was gorgeous and the weather was pretty too.






I stopped in the World of Coke gift store to buy a shot glass.  I have a growing shot glass collection from various places we visit, and couldn't leave Atlanta without one.  Since Coca Cola is from Atlanta, it seemed appropriate.  I grabbed a Mexican Coke for the walk back to the hotel too.  If you've never had Mexican Coke, you need to try one.  It's like the heritage Pepsi & Dr. Pepper in that it's made with cane sugar rather than artificial sweeteners and it tastes so much better.  They come in fun glass bottles too.

Thursday night some bloggers hosted a pre-conference party at the Hard Rock's private room across from our hotel.  It was packed with food, sponsor giveaways and lots of food bloggers.  My favorite thing was the mashed potato/sweet potato martini bar.  You got a scoop of either mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes then you could put a variety of toppings on it.  I would have taken a photo, but I'm not one of those people who's been graced with the ability to balance a drink and food plate while walking around.

After the party, a group of us went to Flip Burger Boutique, owned by Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais.  Thanks to Katie from Ruffles & Truffles and her mom for picking me up & taking me with them, because it was a great place!  I had tempura fried bread & butter pickles and a Krispy Kreme shake, but before we sat down we had cocktails at the bar.  I ordered a mango martini and we were all surprised to see it come out with liquid nitrogen on top.



On Friday & Saturday I attended sessions to learn more about improving food blogging, as well as cocktail parties, general sessions with speakers and a sponsor demo hall.  I went to 3 sessions - Blog Design 101, Cooking Without Recipes and Professional Recipe Development.  All 3 were great, but my favorite was the recipe development one.  I did learn some great tips on creating my own logo/word mark in the first and then some ideas for improvising recipes in the second one.  But the third was just so interesting.  I learned lots of great tips for testing new recipes, writing recipes and working with magazines or other publishers to get recipes published.

Thai Curry from the Cooking Without Recipes demo

Friday night Tasty Kitchen, Pioneer Woman's recipe community site, hosted a cocktail party at the Ritz after the BlogHer cocktail party.  It was a lot of fun chatting with everyone and enjoying the delicious snacks.  But what was really exciting was meeting Bakerella & PW's sister Betsy!

Bakerella!

Saturday Mr. Puma drove up from Miami to meet me before our trip out to Oklahoma, and he came to the closing party at the historic Atlanta landmark The Tabernacle, an old church turned concert hall.  We had some tasty food (and some less than tasty cocktails - bad vodka + pom juice = not good), but I loved introducing him to all the other bloggers.

I couldn't resist taking him to Flip after the deliciousness I had with the girls the other night, so Mr. Puma and I drove up and had dinner there after the closing party.  We started with the fried okra served with sriracha ranch.  Mr. Puma said it was the best fried okra he'd ever had and that it would forever change the way he looks at okra.  It's sliced in planks, rather than little chunks, fried in a light tempura batter and then topped with just a touch of salt.  Even though I like sriracha, the ranch was a little spicy for me, but I really enjoyed dipping them in Richard Blais' Coca-Cola ketchup. 


Mr. Puma ordered the steak tartare burger, which was really a good looking burger with the 6-minute boiled egg on top.  It's not something I'd eat, but his burger looked great.  I only wish I'd taken a photo after he cracked the egg, the colors were fantastic.


I ordered the turkey burger, with avocado, sprouts and Coca-cola ketchup.  It was really tasty, not dry like a lot of turkey burgers.


Overall my trip was great.  I met so many bloggers I've followed for a while, like Gina from Gina's Skinny Taste.  I also met bloggers I chat with on Twitter, like Katie from Ruffles & Truffles and Jess from Jessica Lynn Writes.  I also met some great new people, like my roommate at the conference Kelly from Sass & Veracity, Jaclyn from Food + Words and Kristina from My Life as a Mrs (just to name a few!).

There were so many things I learned at BlogHer Food I can't write them all here, but I thought I'd share a few interesting snippets:

-Most chicken stocks have sugar in them and are not gluten-free
-Galangel (if I spelled that right) is a thai form of ginger that smells slightly spicier & fruitier
-When you publish photos on your blog, you should always title the photo like lamb_shank with the underscore so that Google can tell the words apart
-The way you measure flour can really change a recipe.  Scooping flour out with the measuring cup will compact the flour and cause it to be heavier than if you spoon in into the cup.
-Twitter is a great resource.  I already use Twitter a lot, so it's not really something I learned, but I thought it was important to share.  You can have such great conversations with people and learn so much on Twitter.  For instance, I won a great Sharffen Berger baking bar through Twitter.

Have you ever been to a blog conference?  What's your favorite unique thing in Atlanta?  Do you like to travel solo?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Frozen Food

The last week has been a little hectic with getting ready for our trips.  Mr. Puma and I leave Miami at different times, so we've been packing all kinds of different bags.  Plus we don't like to leave any dirty dishes when we travel, so we try to keep cooking simple (or we just do take out).

To keep the cooking really simple, this week we've tried 3 different frozen entrees.  Surprisingly, all three were pretty good.  As with just about all frozen meals though, they seemed small and had we not have made sides with them we would have still been hungry.

The first one we had was Bertolli's Oven Bake Tri-Color Four Cheese Ravioli.

Image from Bertolli

This one ranks second for us.  It was good, but the parmesean crumb topping got gummy and it definitely needed more sauce.  But the pasta and filling was tasty and satisfying.  I would buy it again, but I would leave off that crumb topping.  This one seemed to be enough for the two of us with a couple pieces of french bread.

We also tried PF Chang's General Chang's Chicken.

Image from PF Chang's

This gets our top rating hands down.  The texture was just like what you would expect in any restaurant.  The sauce packed a pretty good kick, and it wasn't watered down like lots of frozen Asian lunch entrees.  It wasn't too spicy for me, but it was spicy enough for Mr. Puma so I think it would appeal to a good range of people.  I tend to like mild buffalo sauce and salsa, but this might borderline the "medium" ranking.

Do note that this does not come with rice or noodles.  I don't know if it would have been filling enough without making some rice.  I also liked how the rice balanced the spice.  There was definitely enough sauce with this entree, and plenty of crisp broccoli.  I would definitely suggest this to others.

The last one we ate was Bertolli's Oven Bake Roasted Chicken Cannelloni.

Image from Bertolli

Mr. Puma was immediately disappointed with this one.  I didn't even see it when he said it wasn't going to be enough food.  I don't know if I agree, but he is a guy.  There were 4 cannelloni, but they were small.   Turns out they didn't taste very good either.  It was stiff pasta with a so-so filling and typical rubbery frozen chicken, but the sauce was what really turned us off.  It tasted like a bad version of cream of chicken soup.  A really bad version.  I would definitely not buy this or suggest it to anyone else. 

What's your favorite hands-off frozen dish to make?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tipping

I'm going to talk about a topic that a lot of people consider a hot topic: tipping.  I've noticed some differences in tipping norms across geographic areas, generations and professions and I'm curious to discuss this.


Mr. Puma and I have both worked as restaurant servers for several years, so we have experience in this area.  But I'm not necessarily up to speed on tipping norms in other fields.  One of those is apparently pizza delivery, which is what spurred this post.  A few weeks ago we ordered a pizza.  When the driver got there about 50 minutes later (I've never heard of a pizza delivery time quote under 45 minutes here), I tipped him about $1.80.  That was just over 10% of the total bill.  The guy said "that's all?" and it really surprised me.  One, no person in service should EVER, EVER question a person's tip.  No matter what.  Second, I though over 10% was a reasonable tip for pizza delivery.  I did some research online and apparently pizza delivery people expect a $3 minimum regardless of the bill, or 15%, whichever is higher.  And they expect 20% if service is great.  That was a big surprise to me.

 Photo from How Stuff Works


There's a website from a pizza delivery guy that discusses this tipping standard and he has some comparison tables between traditional restaurant servers and pizza delivery drivers.  From a server's perspective, it was clear the writer was used to pizza delivery but not server work.  Not that he was wrong on things or necessarily unfair, but he would detail all the minute duties of pizza service while saying "walks 40 feet to the table" for a server.  I did learn some things about what all pizza delivery drivers have to do for their job, so I'll most likely be tipping 15% from now on, but I think it's ridiculous to expect 20%.  A lot of servers don't even see 20%.  And service here is rarely "great" if even good.  The same writer said delivery drivers should ask if the pizza is good and if there's anything else the customer needs.  I've only had 2 delivery drivers be able to speak any English to me here, and not one has ever checked the pizza or asked me anything.  In fact, not one has even pulled the pizza out of their bag, they just open it toward me and have me take it out.

This whole thing made me wonder what people think tipping norms are.  As a server in OK, I always expected & gave a 15% minimum, unless service was subpar.  If service exceeded expectation, 20% was appropriate (as the customer, I never expected 20% as a server).  That was for casual chain dining.  Mr. Puma worked in fine dining and he tended to expect a 20% minimum.  We've learned since moving to Miami that a lot of people here think 10% is the standard, with 15 or 20 being for exceptional service.  I'm not saying that's wrong, but I find it interesting.  That also makes me wonder if we were poor, average or great tippers on trips to other regions.

Then there's the whole other tipping field of hotel employees.  Mr. Puma worked in a hotel restaurant for a while and had to handle quite a bit of room service too.  In most hotels, room service has gratuity.  Some hotels also automatically add gratuity to their bar and restaurant tabs too (that seems to be especially popular here in Miami.).  Valet always confuses me, especially when they have a separate cashier and someone else handles the car.  Who gets the tip, or do you tip both?  To me, you should only be tipping one person there.  I never know if places do tip sharing or not though, which could really make a difference in who that one person you hand the tip to is (similar to places like Sonic, which is a whole different tipping category.  See how many different crazy tipping scenarios there are!?).  
 
It wasn't until college that I knew it was normal to tip your hair stylist.  I still don't know how much is the norm for tipping the stylist.  I remember a discussion about tipping hair stylists on Weddingbee.  A lot of the members felt that stylists who set their own prices shouldn't need a tip because they control their profits, whereas those who work for an amount set by their boss should get tips.  I'm not really sure that's fair, but I can see where the logic is coming from.

 Image from Bella Sugar

Wedding planning also opened my eyes to new tipping things.  Apparently you can (and should?) tip just about any and every service provider.  I feel like that's starting to push it, but then again I don't really know the norms.  Brides tip their planners, florists, photographers, caterers (in addition to the waitstaff), musicians, officiants, videographers and more.  Is that normal?  And how much is normal for these things?

I feel like if we're tipping all these different service providers, why not tip your dentist, mail carrier or the employee at Victoria's Secret that measures you and runs around getting different sizes?  I always though the point of tipping was for a service, and that the tipped employees were paid less than minimum wage so tipping was their primary income.  Servers and bartenders traditionally make $2.15-$4.25 an hour plus tips, while a hair stylist or florist makes a set amount of income that is at least minimum wage.  I saw on the pizza site that drivers make a certain amount while in the store working, then a lower amount while driving plus tips.  That seems like a poor system on the business' end, but in that case tipping makes sense.  I don't know how much valets are paid, but other service people are paid set above minimum wage amounts, therefore it doesn't seem logical to tip them in my opinion.
 
When I think of tipping I always think of Dwight from The Office now, where he says he won't tip for services he could do himself, but he tips his urologist because he can't do that.  It's a twisted idea, but it always makes me chuckle.  It just seems like there are so many different types and norms for tipping.  You have restaurants, valets, hotels (and several types in hotels), gratuity situations, car hops, hair stylists, grocery baggers, wedding professionals, pizza delivery drivers, real estate agents, cab drivers, movers, travel agents and more.  Tipping seems to change based on area and it also seems to be increasing with upcoming generations.   

Photo from Wikipedia

What professions do you think it's appropriate to tip and what are your tipping standards?  Is is a number for some (hair stylists or valets, for example) or always a percentage?  I'm also curious to hear if it's a generational or geographic thing, so if you don't mind sharing your general age range and location, that would be great.  Do you add to gratuity or go with whatever that amount is?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fashion Help

I have a few fashion related things I need some help with and I know you all are great at that.  There's a couple things I'm trying to find, and then a couple things I own but need advice on.  So please take a look and help me out!

And PS - I still don't know what's going on with the Asian Turkey Sliders post from last week.  When Blogger went down they removed some posts from May 11 on and said they restored nearly all of them.  I guess they forgot about me.  Hopefully it'll be back soon!

First, I love these casual button down short sleeve shirts.  But I've only been able to find them in two places.  This one is from J.Crew, and while I love J.Crew I can't afford to pay $54 for just this shirt.  I'll definitely be stalking it until it goes on sale/clearance though.  The other place I recently found the shirt was Old Navy.  I actually went to Old Navy with the sole purpose of finding this very shirt, because it seemed like something they would have.  And while they did have it (and in some great colors), it was in this cheap linen fabric that was super thin and see-through.  I could even see through the navy blue one.  I'm not a fan of layering, I find it uncomfortable.  So wearing a cami just to be able to wear this shirt seems dumb to me.  So my challenge lately has been to find a similar short sleeve oxford style shirt for a reasonable price (definitely under $50, but it would be fantastic to be under $20).  I've checked Gap, Banana Republic, Forever 21, Charlotte Russe and Target thus far.  Ideas?

Image from Polyvore

The second thing I'm trying to find is a pair of sandals.  A couple years ago now I got these plain brown sandals from Academy Sports.  The brand is Autumn Run, but they stopped making this style after that season.  So I've been on the hunt for an identical pair since.  I want them in brown and matte finish (NOT patent leather).  I've found them at Target in various other colors and patent leather, and I've gotten to the point I may cave and buy the black ones.  But maybe you can help me find these in brown?




I haven't bought a purse in a long time.  I won a Coach purse at an event, then I've been gifted 2 other Coach bags from my inlaws.  The last time I actually purchased a purse was my freshman year of college several years ago.  The white purse I bought back then is pretty old and in dire need of replacing.  So I found this cream colored one at TJ Maxx the other day.  It's a great size for holding things and I love the way they've separated the compartments.  But I'm not sold on it.  The straps are a little long for me (I'm only 5'0) and the purse is a little big overall.  But I've been looking for a while and haven't found a reasonably priced alternative that I like more (this one was $35).  Keep or keep looking?


Since I'm packing, I'm also trying to figure out what to wear for my brother's graduation.  Mr. Puma likes one thing, I'm thinking another.  So here's the contenders.  Which one should it be (or do I need to try something different)?







Ok, lets hear your advice & help!  Thanks!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Right Now

Right now I feel so tired after watching the OKC Thunder go into 3 overtime periods with the Memphis Grizzlies.  At least they pulled out the win in the end.

Right now I'm also remembering that I started to post the Asian Turkey Sliders recipe on here, but I don't have the photos uploaded from my camera.  And the cord is just so far away from the couch.

Right now also marks exactly 9 days from my arrival in Atlanta for BlogHer Food, which means I'm almost in the single digit countdown to our OKLAHOMA trip!  Yes, I will continue to put it in all caps.  Also exciting news on the OK front, we've got a return trip set for this fall!  On the less than exciting travel news, I'm trying to squeeze everything in a carry on bag for BlogHer Food.  Now, you may say it's only 2 1/2 days, but I'm the kind of person that needs options.  I can't take just one shirt for each day and be satisfied.  Plus I'm taking my laptop, so I have to squish my purse into either the carry on or my laptop bag.
 
So right now I'm going to blog about my favorite Pinterest pins instead of the recipe, the still unfinished post about our now-less-than-new car, etc.  If you're not on Pinterest, you should be.  You can leave me your email address and I'll send you an invite if you need.  It's just the perfect procrastinator and inspiration source all wrapped into one pretty little (free!) package.

A gorgeous wedding gown by Watters.  If I were to do a Kate Middleton/Grace Kelly knock-off, this is how I'd do it.  Interestingly though, this gown was featured in a fashion show, magazine and the blog it's pinned from in early March, well before the royal wedding.


 



Escalante by Watters, Photo pinned from iloveswmag

This Cole Haan Jitney Collection tote is so perfect for spring/summer.  If only it weren't $200.
Originally pinned from Dillards

This isn't something I would actually put in my home, unless I had a beach house or something, but it's pretty stunning.
Originally pinned from Decor Pad

I created a Future Baby Puma board just for this adorable onesie.  They should make me a shirt out of the print.  Ooh, or pillows.  Or sheets.  And no, don't get any ideas about the baby board.  I just love this print.  And the ruffly turquoise baby shoes I pinned.  

Organic Onesie from Winter Water Factory, originally pinned from Refinery 29

I have a whole board dedicated to cakes, then another board dedicated to sweets and I'm pretty sure they're my fullest boards.  It's near impossible not to just post every delicious and gorgeous cupcake on here.  So I'll stick with this Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cupcake (I'm saving the snickerdoodle one for later since it's my next baking project!).

Originally pinned from My Baking Addiction

There's nothing blue in our home, but I'm head over heels for these sheets.  Z Gallerie and I were made for each other.  And Mr. Puma loves the store too.  He fell in love with a sectional sofa when we were in there last month.

Mimosa Reversible Bedding in Aquamarine, Originally pinned from Z Gallerie

I'll leave you with one of the cakes that leaves me breathless.  This has such elegance and just beautiful detail work.  Sadly the baker is uncredited in all the posts I can find on it.

Originally pinned from Something Old, Something New

Monday, May 9, 2011

Graduation Gift Guide

My little brother is graduating high school later this month and we've been racking our brains trying to figure out what to get him.  I don't want to give him a mug with Class of 2011 printed on it, or a Best Buy gift card or anything usual.  While those are great gifts (and in all honesty I will almost certainly get him something with Class of 2011 printed on it because I love stuff like that), I want to do something really unique/cool.  What's unique or cool though?

I still don't know what it is we're going to get him, but here's my gift guide for grads.  Since I've been a grad twice now and am graduating again next year.

State necklace - For the grad going to college or moving to another state to always remember their home.

 Photo & necklace from IntegrativeCreations

Green On the Go Drink Set - A Nalgene bottle & a travel coffee mug in the grad's school or favorite colors, paired with water flavor packets like Mio or some Starbucks Via instant coffee will be great for busy grads.  It'll also encourage healthy water habits and be green by reusing!

Photo from Amazon

Magazine Subscription - For high school grads going to college, magazines can be the perfect thing to mindlessly flip through when they're tired of reading textbooks.  Try things like People, Entertainment Weekly or even Fitness.  It can also be great for college grads - get them a subscription to something in their field, like Psychology Today, or cooking/home magazines for ideas to help them start a home.

Photo from Amazon

A Spa Day - Perfect for the grad who has had a lot of stress and things to do over the last few weeks of the school year.  You can give them a gift certificate for a mani/pedi, a massage, a facial or just a general gift certificate.  Even if you don't know what spa they may like or if they're living away from you, send them a Spa Finder gift card.  It seems much more unique than a Target or Visa card (although I'd love one of those any day too!) and pushes them to spend it on themselves rather than on groceries and gas.


A diploma frame - A classic graduation gift, but every grad should have one.  I like the small plain frames with the tassel spot for high school diplomas and the ones with the college name/logo that look more professional for college grads.  You can find the school ones in the school's bookstore, and the simple ones are available at most craft stores, especially Michael's.

Photo & Frame from Church Hill Classics

Collection of Office Supplies - A great starter set for a college grad getting an office or a high school grad who will be sticking post-its all over their textbooks.  Put post-its, pens, highlighters, fun colored paper clips, a mini stapler, dry erase markers, white out tape, etc inside a desk organizer box or small trash bin.


Photo book - I think this would be great from a friend for a grad.  Create a custom photo book through online companies like Shutterfly or My Publisher with photos of your time with the grad.  You can customize the book with text to remember the events and good times you spent together.



Service Subscriptions - All grads will encounter the pricey subscriptions after graduation, whether it will be a cable service, a gym membership, a cell phone plan, Weight Watchers membership, stores (Costco/Sam's) or Netlflix subscriptions.  Giving a grad a 3, 6 or 12 month subscription can help them get on their feet as they deal with a number of changes.  You can even just give them add-ons, like the DVR plan, group fitness classes or cell phone data plans to enhance their daily lives.

 

Tool Set - Start a grad off with a small basic tool set for hanging photos, putting together new furniture or installing a new light fixture.  You could also do a car tool kit or bike repair kit to help them avoid pricey repairs or road side assistance.  Tool sets often come in fun colors and handy storage bags too.

Photo from Amazon

Electronics - Another classic idea, but always a great one.  Gift grads with a digital or video camera to capture memories, a tv to watch that cable on, a BluRay player to keep up with the times, an Xbox Kinect to play with their new friends, a laptop to take notes, a Kindle for lunch breaks or an external hard drive to protect files and allow more space for papers and research.

 
The Huffington Post had a really fantastic list of ideas as well that you should check out, even though most of them apply to college grads rather than high school grads.  My favorites from their list were moving expenses, a gift card for getting business cards printed and a new mattress.

I'm not going to blog about or tell you what we settle on for my brother's gift, because I'm pretty sure if he heard I blogged it, he'd high tail it over here to find out.  I know I would.  So it's a secret for now (not that we've decided as of now anyway).

What was your favorite graduation gift?  What's the best grad gift you've ever given (or the idea you're going to give at some point)?