Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Munchpak: A Subscription Box Review

Disclosure: I received product from Munchpak for a review. I only review and endorse products that I enjoy and believe that my readers will, too. All opinions and goofy comments are my own. 

MunchPak is a subscription box service that sends snacks from around the world right to your front door (if you live in the US or Canada) on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.  The boxes range from the MunchPak Mini (which I received), to the Original MunchPak, to the FamilyPak.

Right up front: I was a little disappointed with my MunchPak. The selection was wide-ranging both in product and flavor, but I just wasn't a fan of some of those flavors. I have to say though, from American products to Japanese to French, this box definitely ran the gamut. (And remember, all of these snacks came in the smallest box, the MunchPak Mini.)

Still, it wasn't exactly my cup of tea. But that's the nature of subscription boxes. Sometimes you hit gold, sometimes it's just not exactly what you would have picked for yourself.

Let's start with the good stuff first. I enjoyed Entemann's Little Bites, Pocky (which John and I mindlessly devoured while watching TV on a rainy day), and Walker's Chocolate Chip Shortbread. All three of those snacks are ones that I wouldn't go out of my way to buy, but they're ones that I was glad to have in the pantry as a special treat.

I wasn't such a fan of Sour Raynitas, Bon Bons (even though they're a product of France and I'm a francophile), Shrimp Chips, Las Gran Sandias, and Haribo Roulette. The flavors and textures just didn't do it for me this time around. (After looking at the site, I was probably jaded. Some of the products they feature or Nutella and Cadbury. You know what I was crossing my fingers for!)

I will readily admit that it was a ton of fun to unpack the box and see which treats from which countries were there. It was great looking at the packaging and enjoying the differentness of everything!

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Truffle-Infused Sea Salt Kale Chips

If you follow me on any social media-- Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram-- you probably already know that I have fallen totally head-over-heels in love... with our town's farmer's market. Our farmer's market is not only so diverse in businesses and organizations that hawk there, it is only about half-a-mile from our house. 

That's right. Within walking distance. And for this girl, that makes a big difference. That means, when John's at work on the weekend and has our car, I can still do our grocery shopping for the week. 

It is more than reasonable. (Not to brag, but I bought quarts of organic strawberries last week that were $1 less than what a quart of regular strawberries were at our grocery store. I was walking on air for the rest of the day!) 

And one more awesome thing: our farmer's market believes in and practices social activism. People who use food stamps or EBT are not only able to use vouchers there and access the fresh, healthy foods, but their spending is matched so that they are able to buy more produce for their family. Coming from a city where most of my students only had access to corner stores where a banana costs $1 and a bag of chips are cheaper, I am just blown away by how amazing this program is! 

(Look at me fawning over our market like a teen in love. I told you that I'm gaga for it! I wasn't joking!) 

Last weekend, I was at the farmer's market and came across gigantic bunches of kale. I have yet to get on the kale bandwagon, even though Rachel, my middle sister, has been singing its praises for the past month or two. I made the plunge and bought a bunch to try. (Did I mention that I bought it from the cutest 9-year-old boy who called me "Miss" and pitched me on why I should buy kale? I know it was a marketing ploy, but that kid has a future in business!) 

I used the bunch of kale to try making kale chips. After looking at a bunch (haha) of recipes on the internet, by trial and error, I ended up Frankensteining this recipe together. It is very tasty, and the chips end up very crunchy! 

You'll need: 
  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons of an infused sea salt (Ranch mix also works well!)
  • 1 gallon freezer bag
  • 2-3 baking sheets
  • parchment paper

  1. Wash kale and strip the leaf from the stalk. (The stalk won't crisp well and will turn into a mouthful of grossness.) Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and let dry completely. This will take 2-3 hours. 
  2. Once your kale is dry, preheat your oven to 300. Line your baking sheets with parchment. (Parchment is imperative so that the kale doesn't get stuck or burnt onto the sheet.) 
  3. Fill your plastic bag with kale and drizzle a little bit of olive oil into the bag. Close the bag and shake vigorously so that the kale is coated. (The kale should be damp enough with oil that salt will stick to it. The kale shouldn't be soaked in oil.) Add the salt to taste and shake again.
  4. Spread kale onto the baking sheets. Try to make sure that the leaves do not overlap each other. When they overlap, they won't get as crispy.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes at 300 degrees. If you find that the leaves still aren't crispy chips, place the baking sheet on the lowest rack and let it bake for 2-3 more minutes, or until crispy.
  6. Remove and let cool on sheet. Pick up the parchment paper and slide chips into an airtight container. 
(My tip: I baked one sheet at a time. I found that having two baking sheets-- even when I changed them half-way-- messed with the crispiness of the chips. I ended up with one sheet that was over-done, and one that was under-done. With one sheet in the oven, the chips turned out perfectly every time.) 

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

It's Okay to Be Angry at the Military

I have a confession to make. At the beginning of this month, I lost it. I mean, lost it. Ungracefully. With a lot of ugly crying. A lot of stewing. 

Let me set the stage: my youngest sister, Becky, was graduating from Penn State at the beginning of May. Penn State is our family school-- on both of our sides. Basically our entire families have attended Penn State, and if they haven't, they're rabid Penn Staters. My parents met each other there; John and I met there. We met our best and closest friends there, too. Honestly, the campus is a second home to both of us-- it's a special place. Becky is the last sibling from either of our sides graduating from Penn State. My sisters and I are always there for each other, no matter what-- so graduation was an important non-negotiable. My entire family was assembling to see Becky walk across the stage and to celebrate her accomplishment.  I was going no matter what.

That same weekend, John had to work 12-hour night shifts. Ugh.  He couldn't take leave. Double ugh. 

When we realized that John couldn't go, the last three years, full of little moments of being flexible because the military needed me to be hit me all at once. Deployment. Late nights. Early mornings. This weird loss of self I've been thinking about and dealing with for the last year. My massive loss of earning power. Missing my friends from my old job. The frustration of wanting to be planted and grow roots... and just not being able to. I just wanted John to be able to go to Becky's commencement and enjoy the weekend with me. I didn't want to go alone. I just wanted him to be there with the rest of us. So, really, Navy? I can't even just have this small thing? This has to be tough, too? It just wasn't fair. 

I know-- it sounds bratty. It probably sounds like a negligible problem-- certainly not something to get upset about. But it was a big deal to me. Still, I'm a little embarrassed that it really upset me that much. I could claim temporary insanity. Or-- hah!-- "lady problems". Unfortunately, I can't really blame anything on my mini-breakdown. I had just, temporarily, at that moment, hit my limit. I reached my breaking point and I found it, unceremoniously. Messily.

Even as I was really upset about John's schedule and it's inflexibility, I was internally debating myself. I told myself to suck it up. I felt really, really guilty-- I knew there were a million things that could be worse. I knew there were thousands of military significant others who wish that their other was even on the same coast-- or the same continent. I knew because I was one of those people last year. In my head, I could hear the people who have said to me, "You knew what you were getting into when you married him," or, "You signed up for this." I knew that it was even a massive blessing that I would be able to go to Becky's graduation-- I know of some military spouses who haven't seen their mom for four or five years. Just being within driving distance should have been good enough for me.  I know that I am insanely blessed for so many reasons.

Still, sometimes you just don't want to suck it up. Sometimes you can't. Sometimes-- especially those times where you legitimately have no control over anything-- you just want to find a tub of icing, grab a spoon, watch crappy reality TV and cry. (Oh wait, that's just me? Then I'll just keep this icing to myself...) And sometimes, you just can't think about all of the other reasons why you shouldn't be upset. Being a military spouse doesn't preclude you from feeling those things or wanting things to be different. Being upset doesn't make you weaker; it makes you human. Sometimes, you just need to be angry at the Navy (or the Marines, or the Air Force, or...), at that big, immovable force that controls so much of your life so that you can get over it and move on.

photo credit: VĂ©locia via photopin cc
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