Review: Tastykake Kandy Bar Kakes

Yesterday I received a pretty cool treat in the mail: Influenster’s Spring Fever Voxbox.  It’s the first one I received and came loaded with a wide variety of interesting items to sample (and one missing sample, ahem, Influenster).

One of those items was this:

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It’s a cake designed to taste like a candy bar, this one being modeled after S’mores (which isn’t really a candy bar, but whatever).  I’m not really into packaged sweets like this (nor candy bars, actually), but my hubby and I shared it as a midnight snack and–maybe it was the hour–it wasn’t half bad.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys these types of treats, this would be a home run for you, because it was quite moist and flavorful, unusual for a pre-packaged dessert, in my opinion.

Also, if you’re looking for a treat to throw into your Zombie Apocalypse go bag, I highly recommend this–that way when you’re sitting around a camp fire in the woods cradling your shotgun and you think, “Damn, if only I had some chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers to make some s’mores,” well, you’ve got the next best thing.

It’s also available in Peppermint and Peanut Butter (I wish I’d received the Peanut Butter variety, as that’s way more up my alley).  If you want to see pictures of the other two options and get more info on these treats, check out Tastykake’s website here: http://www.tastykake.com.

(Product received complimentary from Influenster.)

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On pregnancy, birth and motherhood

It’s been an unusually long time since I’ve updated this blog and there’s good reason for it: a sweet little baby boy who arrived in October.  If not for an arduous pregnancy and the insanity of becoming a mother, I’d have written sooner; I’ve certainly had plenty to say in the last several months (it’s election season!).  I’ve had much to relate on pregnancy, birth and motherhood thus far, but I never–gee, imagine that–have the time to sit down and type it all out.

And the further it all dissolves into the past, the less I remember.  So, quickly, before the baby wakes (again), I’m going to offer my thoughts with the asterisk that I may expound (or not) on these in the future when I find some free time in which I’m not hurriedly trying to eat, shower, nap or take in some of the culture I’ve been missing out on for several months (hellooooo mountain of books pleading to be read!).

Pregnancy.  I love not being pregnant.  My pregnancy, however, was unusually trying, particularly toward the end when I developed both preeclampsia and pre-term labor.    So maybe I’d love being pregnant with a different baby, but right now is feels awesome to not be pregnant.  The kicking–feeling my sweet little baby moving around inside me–saved me.  That was the best part.  Would I do it again?  Yes, probably, but I need more (much more) time to enjoy that absolute joy of not being pregnant.  Ha.

Birth.  I went all hippie during my pregnancy and really wanted to have as natural a birth as possible.  Despite having never done it, I fell into the camp that believes that birth shouldn’t be feared; that my body is built to do it and it’s an amazing experience that one shouldn’t mask with drugs.  I was right–it was pretty amazing; I did it without an epidural and truly it was not the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.  It wasn’t a picnic, but it was manageable and so, so worth it.  So, if you’re pregnant and reading this and contemplating skipping the drugs, go for it–you can do it, and you’ll be glad you did.  I used Hypnobirthing and cannot recommend it more highly; it really helped me stay calm and relaxed.  I also had a doula, which I highly recommend, for the extra support and knowledge.

During my pregnancy, because I had chosen a natural path, I was surrounded by a lot of professionals and moms-to-be that advocated for home births.  My husband and I knew we wanted a hospital birth, though we appreciated the view of the homebirthers that childbirth was, for most women, a perfectly natural event that didn’t require medical intervention.  I still respect this view, as my decision to birth in a hospital was respected by them, but I think it’s worth noting that though I expected to have a normal birth (or as normal as possible when preeclampsia is involved) it didn’t end up that way.  I bled…a lot.  I ended up with a transfusion the day after my son was born, to put into context just how much blood I lost.  This was not something my OB could have foreseen happening and it’s a damn good thing I was in the hospital to deliver, because she was able to take immediate action to stop the blood loss–I’m certain my already being in a medical environment kept me from losing more blood than I would have had I birthed at home and traveled to a hospital immediately following delivery.  So, if you’re asking me for my opinion, I highly recommend choosing a doctor who shares and respects your view of childbirth and, if you do that, you can have a great experience in a hospital setting.  And you’ll already be there just in case something goes awry that needs immediate attention.

Motherhood.  One paragraph on this is not enough, and I’m sure this topic will have many future posts devoted to it.  Everything that everyone told me about having a child is true, but to extremes I could not imagine.  I was told I’d be tired, but I had no idea just how tired.  They told me I’d be madly in love, but I couldn’t comprehend the depth of that love until my baby was in my arms.  His half birthday was yesterday.  I’m still frequently exhausted, unkempt and looking for any morsel of food I can quickly shove into my mouth, but I’ve never been happier.  I went many years thinking I’d never want children, and now I can’t imagine why or how I ever thought that my life would be better that way.

Hope to be posting here more frequently in the days and weeks to come!  Happy Spring, all!

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Only in America

Americans are entitled to a lot of things.  Scratch that.  Americans are entitled to a lot of important things.  I’m talking things that people in other countries across the globe only dream about–we get to pick our religions (or ignore them completely), we can diss the government to our students, look at lewd photos of our Congressmen online.  Heck, we can even cheat on our spouses without the threat of getting stoned to death.  Oh, and if we don’t want to admit we stole a television from that electronics store, no one can force us to.  Our Constitution grants us these liberties.

Perhaps if air travel was around when our Founding Fathers put that document together, they’d have granted us all the right to cheap airfare, as well, but guess what?  They didn’t.

I know it’s shocking to think that in a world where you can get a hamburger for $.89 in under three minutes that somehow airfares might still be unaffordable for some people.  Not even some people.  A lot of people.  But, folks, the reality is that sending a jet into the sky to soar thousands of miles above the population at speeds that make birds drop their beaks is not cheap.  It’s not cheap because it’s infinitely more complicated than slapping some beef onto a grill. 

Yes, yes, we’ve come a long way in transportation.  Most people can afford cars now, to the point that we look down our noses at those who choose to take the bus.  And, oh, yes, you can take a bus ride across your town for probably under $3.  Some wonderful (East Coast) cities even feature trains that connect their cities to other cities, and that is a relatively cheap way to travel, too.  Cars, buses and trains have nothing on the complexity of an airplane.  

Look, I’m in no way qualified to dive into exactly how difficult it is for a jet to take off with hundreds of people (and baggage) aboard and stay aloft long enough to get to a destination and then land again.  But, I’ve been working with people who are qualified to dive into this for the last year now and let me tell you: it’s bloody difficult. 

We’ve come a long way in air transportation, too–of course, you all know that traveling by plane is the safest way to travel.  There are lots of highly skilled people in place at airlines to ensure that this remains true, but their expertise is costly.  The expertise of a well-trained pilot is costly, too.  Airplanes are really costly, and so are all the parts they contain.

The bottom line is that flying from one city to another (mind you, in usually less than half the time it takes to get there by car) is operationally expensive.  And because of this, regardless of what people now expect, flying is still a luxury. 

It’s a luxury because, unlike most buses and trains, airlines are not in the business of public service.  They are not (well, for the most part) subsidized by the government.  Airlines are in the business of making money, though even sometimes they forget that themselves.  Airlines are for-profit businesses–just like those companies that churn out quick and cheap burgers–and when they don’t make money, they close (well, or get a little bailout…but that’s for another time).

People feel entitled to cheap airfare.  I think public transportation helped this mentality or perhaps it’s good ole American entitlement at work again.  But the fact is that airfare has no right to be as cheap as it often is today (anyone remember $2000 fares pre-deregulation back in the ’70s?), and so instead of demanding that businesses drop their fares lower and lower and lower, some people might just have to accept that they can’t afford to fly.  I know, it’s a tough reality to face, but it’s reality nonetheless.  Because, I reiterate, hopping on a plane is NOT as simple as hopping on a bus.  (Disagree?  Please let me know and I will work to arrange for your morning bus driver to pilot your next flight.)  Look, I want to fill my closet with Manolos, friends, but it’s not gonna happen anytime soon, because I can’t afford it.  And, painful as it might be to accept, I do accept it. 

However, airlines recognize that everybody feels entitled to fly!  They realize that trying to explain the complexities of their planes’ engines will fall on deaf ears and instead have focused their collective attention on finding ways to make travel more affordable for more people.   Hooray!  The fact is that they need people to be able to afford to fly…or they go out of business (or get subsidized). 

So, post 9/11, airlines came up with a really easy way to drive down fares.  Get ready, here comes the buzz word: unbundling.  A few airlines tried it with a few services at first, and then a couple of new airlines came along that built their entire businesses on unbundling and showed legacy carriers that they could unbundle even more than they originally thought.  (Shhhh, don’t tell anyone they’ve been doing this in Europe long before American airlines caught on!)

Unbundling is when you pay for just your base fare, and then choose to add other services–like checked bags, early boarding, seat assignments, snacks–to the cost of your ticket either when you purchase your travel or at the airport. 

The great thing about unbundling is that if you don’t need to check a bag or if you can’t afford that mini Vodka, you don’t have to pay for it.  Only the people who want those services pay for them, and your fare is lower because the airline is no longer trying to cover all of its costs in all of its fares. 

GASP, you say! But those are fees!  I’m getting nickel and dimed to death!  The airline is passing its cost on to me!  Yes, the airline is passing its cost on to you, because that is what businesses do.  Well, at the least the ones that want to stay in business do.  I repeat: air travel is not a public service.  The shirt on your back was not free because someone made that shirt and passed the production cost on to you (plus some mark up to, you know, pay its employees and maybe make a little profit at the end of the day). 

What airlines have done is innovated a way to make travel cheaper for you while being able to stay in business (or not need a bailout). 

Some airlines, *cough*Southwest*cough, still claim their services are free so unbundling products isn’t necessary, but you aren’t really that naive, right?  We all know the cost of those “free” bags is now loaded back into your fare (oh, you didn’t notice the uptick in average Southwest fares in the last several years?).

Admittedly, these add-ons are not terribly convenient.  No one wants to feel like they’re paying fees ad nauseam, but this is the cost of cheaper airfare for all.  You pay to check your bags so the guy without any doesn’t have to subsidize you.  He’ll then pay for his own sandwich since you brought one from home. 

And let’s face it, everyone complaining about unbundling would still complain if these fees disappeared and airfare went back up–people will always find something to complain about, especially if an airline is involved.  Especially if they feel like air travel shouldn’t cost more than taking the bus.

It’s OK for airlines to make money, too, you know.  I know that’s a hard one to swallow, but you wouldn’t just sit at your desk all day working for free, right?  Of course not, and you shouldn’t be expected to.  And neither should your pilot.     

Oh, I just remembered one other thing the Constitution guarantees: you can choose to drive between San Francisco and New York any time you’d like and never have to set one foot inside an airplane or give one penny to those blood-sucking airlines who could get you there in six hours instead of five days for less than you’d pay for gas.  Here in America, that’s your choice.

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When Writing Doesn’t Feel Right

In 2000, I was taking a modern history class taught by a professor who relished a great debate.  As it was still before the Bush/Gore presidential election, one day he split the class in two and instructed Bush supporters to one side of the room and Gore fans to the other.  We were all geared up to defend our favorite candidate’s positions, and then the prof threw a curve ball: we were going to have to debate for the candidate we opposed; Bush supporters for Gore, Gore for Bush.  The class cried foul–how were we expected to do this? And, why?  Why?

I knew the answer to this question even then, though I didn’t like it.  More than a decade later, I recalled the memory of this debate while sitting at my desk in the office several weeks ago.  It came to mind while I was staring at a blank Word document trying to decide how to begin an employee communication the content of which I found abhorrent.

Here I was, years into my career, back in a classroom trying to defend Al Gore.

That’s one of those things about being the corporate messenger; sometimes you don’t get to deliver the message you want.  Sometimes you get to create messages that make everyone cheer, and other times you have to stomach the decisions that have been made above you and find a way to neatly package them in a way that makes them palatable for everyone else, too.

I’ve had to do this many times throughout the years and it never gets easier.  You have to find a way to resolve your personal beliefs with your professional responsibility and somehow also make it sound good, polished…and natural.  I think all writers have to find their own paths to making these types of assignments work–everyone has a different way of meeting the deadline.

I’m the type of person that loves a challenge and exploiting that in these situations is the only way I get it done: from a writer’s perspective–other than overcoming writer’s block–there really isn’t a greater challenge than penning something that is completely opposed to everything you think is right and good.  But hey, writers need paychecks, too, so we accept these assignments, manipulate words the best we know how and worry about hating ourselves later.  And, with the right bottle of red wine, sometimes later never comes.

Because, at the end of the day, you are just the messenger.  You don’t have to carry the weight of making the decision, just the weight of making people believe it was a good one.  And the fact is, people can think for themselves–they can read between your lines.  No matter how hard I worked to speak in favor of Mr. Gore, President Bush still won that one.

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My Vegas Favorites

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am frequently asked by my visiting friends and family for recommendations on things to do and places to eat in Las Vegas.

Below is a list of my favorites, which includes some well-known establishments and some of Vegas’ best-kept secrets.  (I will keep this post updated to reflect new discoveries, so bookmark it if you want access to an up-to-date reference.)

Oh, and I should preface this with an important piece of info: I don’t do clubs.  If you are looking for a definitive Vegas club guide, my apologies, but you won’t find it here.  For everything else, read on…

Eat/Drink on the Strip

Joe’s Stone Crab.  My favorite restaurant ever.  It became my fav when I was still in Chicago (so visit the one there if you can’t squeeze it into your Vegas trip), and I couldn’t be happier that I don’t have to live without it now that I’m in Sin City.  Located in the Forum Shops at Caesars, this place is always classy with the best service in town.  Everything on the menu–from the fish to the steaks to the sides–is always perfectly prepared and worth the money.  In fact, whenever I visit a new upscale seafood or steak place, Joe’s is what I compare it to; if I’m dropping the money on an expensive dinner, it has to be better than Joe’s to justify my return…otherwise, I’ll just go to Joe’s!  And you MUST save room for dessert.  Joe’s is known for its Key Lime Pie, but my favorite is the Coconut Cream Pie–it’s the best you’ll ever have.  P.S.–Vosges Haut-Chocolat is right next door, and see my notes on that below.

American Fish. Chef Michael Mina’s new restaurant in CityCenter’s Aria Resort is a place (one of the few) that I would recommend alongside Joe’s. While Joe’s provides a classic experience both in menu and atmosphere, American Fish feels a bit more trendy (though it certainly has classic elements–the cocktail menu, for example, which features authentic pre-Prohibition concoctions).  Things to not miss: lobster corn dogs for an appetizer (oh-my-god), the scallops (because you’ve never had them prepared this well), and the bacon-wrapped sturgeon if you must have meat.  These are my personal favs, but I’ve sampled a good portion of the menu and haven’t been disappointed with any of it.  The desserts are rather amazing (how about cracking a hard candy full of whiskey over your chocolate cake?), so indulge freely.

Olives. Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I have a major thing for chefs, and let’s just say I wouldn’t mind finding one chef in particular cooking in my kitchen: Todd English.  Olives in Bellagio is the only iteration of this restaurant on this side of the Mississippi, so if you’re not planning to be in NY or MA anytime soon, catch it while you’re here.  You’ll add to the oh-so-yummy menu’s Mediterranean flair if you request seating on the patio, which overlooks the Bellagio lake and gives you a spectacular view of the fountains.  (Like the other restaurants I’ve mentioned so far, this place is pricey, but can you really put a price on Todd English?  :D)

Sage. Chef Shawn McClain’s (the man behind Chicago’s Spring and Green Zebra) first Las Vegas restaurant features earthy American cuisine that is to-die-for.  It’s housed in an intimate, beautifully designed space at Aria that is perfect for a romantic outing or if you’re seeking to get away from sensory overload.  It’s pricey, but worth it.

Serendipity III. If you haven’t visited the Big Apple original, you now have a chance to get a Frrrozen Hot Chocolate in Vegas at Caesars Palace, and you definitely should if you’re visiting in July.  The food is on the cheaper side for a restaurant that sits on the Strip (I recommend sitting on the patio for some excellent people watching), and the atmosphere makes this place great for families.

Stripburger. Located on the northern-most end of the Fashion Show Mall (access is from the outside of the mall), this outdoor burger joint is no-frills, but lots of fun.  And pssst, even on a Saturday night, I’ve never had to wait for a table.  The burgers and fries are tasty, but do not miss the shakes (the butterscotch and chocolate versions are my favs here).  And if you’re feeling really adventurous, give the fried pickles a spin; they’re really good!

Peppermill. The Peppermill, 2985 Las Vegas Blvd. (a little bit north of Encore), is a must-visit while in Vegas.  This coffee shop has been serving up huge (and yummy) portions for more than 30 years.   It’s a 24-hour joint, which makes it a great place to satisfy midnight munchies, and its vibrant interior takes you back to Vegas’ retro heyday.

Todd English P.U.B.  Yes, here we go with Todd English again.  This casual East Coast-style pub in CityCenter (access from either Aria or Crystals) has a killer raw bar, a huge beer menu and plenty of tasty food for everyone in your group.  Everything I’ve tasted here (including the giant desserts) is excellent, but since discovering the lobster rolls, it’s the only thing I order.  One warning: beware the awkward restroom attendant.

Jean-Philippe Patisserie. JPM was the subject of its own blog post here, so reference back to that if you want more details on this delectable eatery.  JPM has two locations in Vegas, one at Bellagio and one at Aria.  The Bellagio location is small, but features the world’s largest chocolate fountain, and the Aria location is much larger with ample seating.  JPM sells sandwiches, but this is the place to go for a great sugar fix.  I prefer to go for the breakfast pastries, but you can’t go wrong with an after-meal visit for one of the outrageous desserts; the cakes, the tartes…everything is divine.    

Cafe Gelato. Cafe Gelato is the BEST gelato in Las Vegas.  Don’t take it from me, though, take it from an Italian native who recently told me this is the only place in Las Vegas that serves authentic Italian Gelato.  It’s located inside Bellagio right across from the entrance to the pools–just ask for directions to the pool area and you can’t miss it.  Pick your poison here, as every flavor seems to be better than the last.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat. OK, this isn’t a restaurant…well, not really.  Vosges first opened in Chicago while I was still in college there, and there were plenty of days that I spent my lunch money on a duo of Vosges truffles instead of a sandwich.  So, if you’re in the mood to be decadent, you could have a meal here.  However, with the Vegas location right next to Joe’s Stone Crab in the Forum Shops at Caesars, I recommend the chocolate for an appetizer.  Whatever you choose here, add a Mo’s Bacon Bar to your order; trust me, you’ll love it!

Parasol Down at Wynn. Also not a restaurant, but it’s a great place for a cocktail.  Grab a table on the patio and enjoy the strange but amusing show on the small lake in front of you.  It’s usually not crowded, but if there is a wait for a table it’s usually a short one.

Eat/drink off the Strip

Vintner Grill. Located in an unassuming office building in Summerlin, this chic American Bistro feels like it belongs in a much more cosmopolitan location than suburban Sin City.  Located at 10100 W. Charleston Blvd., Vintner Grill is a locals’ favorite that works as well for a date as it does a business dinner.  It’s not required, but most dress to impress.

Nora’s Cuisine. Nora’s was one of the first off-Strip gems I found after moving to Vegas, but it’s no secret to locals or tourists alike: this place is always packed!  Despite its casual atmosphere, do not venture here without a reservation or you could be in for a long wait.  Located at 6020 W. Flamingo–in a strip mall, no less!–this Italian joint is a short cab ride from the Strip and perfect for a low-key but incredible meal.  The pesto and alfredo sauces are killer, but if you can stray from the standards try the Alla Nora (spaghetti topped with eggplant, ground beef, tomato sauce, pesto and cheese), as it’s a truly special dish.

Osaka. Japanese at its finest, a former co-worker recently told me that Osaka was serving (great) sushi in Las Vegas long before it was mainstream popular.  Also a short cab ride from the Strip at 4205 W. Sahara, its teppan grill is as good as its tempura.  Super casual with a friendly staff, Osaka is most fun for groups looking throw back some sake and have a great time.

Hachi. Looking to do Japanese in a more intimate setting?  Venture to Red Rock Casino Resort in Summerlin and you’ll find this chic yet affordable Japanese restaurant.  Hachi hint: skip the entrees and order several plates of appetizers and sushi for a delicious, filling and cheaper meal.  Hachi’s chicken fried rice is always a crowd-pleaser, so be sure to order it for your table.  For dessert, don’t miss the green tea beignets.  Cocktails are a must here–the ever-changing menu always serves up something special.

LBS. Also at Red Rock Casino Resort, LBS is the perfect place to grab a burger with friends.  Order the potato twisters (a hybrid of fries and potato chips) for an appetizer and enjoy the vibe as you wait for your delectable burgers to arrive.  LBS mixes up some great cocktails with Vitamin Water and serves an excellent milkshake.

Bob Taylor’s Ranch House. Far up in Northwest Las Vegas you’ll find a great steak/seafood dinner in one of the city’s few, true classics.  This eatery, tucked away at 6250 Rio Vista St., is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and bordered by one of  Vegas’ busy freeways, but when it opened in 1955 and served meals to celebs like Frank Sinatra, it was quite literally in the middle of nowhere.  Vegas is known for tearing down its history, but the Ranch House prevails.  Don’t miss this little bit of Vegas history; it’s worth the 20-minute drive from the Strip to experience its charming Western ambience and finely prepared steaks.

Hash House A Go Go. Featured on television shows ranging from Man vs. Food to Martha Stewart, you can’t miss this “twisted farm food” while in Vegas.  Located at 6800 W. Sahara, it’s not too far from the Strip, and serves the best breakfast in town.  (Lunch and dinner are also served, but you can’t beat the breakfast.)  Known for its crazy combos (sage fried chicken with bacon waffles, for example) and epic portions (the pancakes are the size of tires), Hash House is always busy, but worth the wait.  Two other Vegas locations recently opened if you can’t get to the original: one inside Imperial Palace on the Strip and one in the M Resort.

Entertainment

Red Rock Lanes. If you find yourself at Red Rock Casino Resort, make time for a fun-filled bowling excursion.  Best on a Saturday night for cosmic bowling, these are my favorite lanes in town.  Want to do it up VIP-style?  Rent one of the alley’s private lanes, and they’ll let you pick your own playlist of music videos for your further entertainment.

Penn & Teller. A most entertaining show, Penn & Teller just celebrated their 10-year anniversary at Rio.  A comedy and magic combination, you’ll delight in Penn’s wit and Teller’s impressive sleight of hand.  Fair warning: Penn’s religious (or lack thereof) and political opinions work their way into the act, so the easily offended may prefer to steer clear.  Though, I like to think that even those that don’t agree can find enjoyment in this impressive act–I’ve seen it twice and would happily go back for round three.

The Atomic Testing Museum. A museum?  In Vegas?  It’s true!  The Atomic Testing Museum, 755 E. Flamingo, is a short  cab ride from the Strip and details Nevada’s important role in the U.S.’s atomic history–hundreds of nuclear tests took place at the Nevada Test Site from 1951 to 1992.  The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and features as many great artifacts of the atomic age as you’d expect to see in any of the Smithsonian’s D.C. museums.

Bellagio Fountains. If you’ve been to Vegas, you’ve probably already seen them a dozen times, but they never get old.  If you haven’t been the Vegas, the famous fountains are the best free show in town.  

Recreation

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Located on the far western side of Las Vegas, Red Rock is a locals’ favorite for hiking, climbing, repelling, biking and picnicking.  Want to see this beautiful park, but not the outdoorsy type?  Drive the 13-mile scenic loop and take in the sights of the enormous red cliffs and natural desert landscape; there are plenty of pull-offs for photo ops along the way.

Mt. Charleston. Located about 35 minutes Northwest of the Strip, Mt. Charleston offers a great escape in both summer and winter.  While Vegas bakes in July, Mt. Charleston offers temperatures that are usually about 20 degrees cooler than the lower parts of the Valley.  Come here to hike, picnic or have lunch at the scenic Mt. Charleston Lodge.  In the winter, visit the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort for some snow-filled recreation.

Hoover Dam. Don’t miss this incredible feat of engineering or its historical ties to the Las Vegas Valley and nearby Boulder City.  A new overpass bridge was recently opened here and is itself a modern engineering marvel, so make the 30 minute drive to catch this landmark in all its glory.

Want feedback on a place not on this list?  Leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to respond!

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New fav treats: Popcorn and Caramel

I could not have asked for a more perfect Christmas this year!  With plenty of help from my dear mom, I pulled together a delish meal (starring beef tenderloin) for a crowd of family on Christmas Eve.  Following dinner, I unwrapped a huge haul from Crate & Barrel and a new Kindle (complete with a fabulous DVF cover!), and got to see my family’s smiling faces as they unwrapped their gifts.  Christmas Day brought more festivities: more family, more food, more presents!  And Sunday, perhaps best of all, I got to sleep in.  Ah, life’s little luxuries.

Speaking of little luxuries, this holiday season introduced me to two new indulgences that I think make absolutely perfect gifts.  These all-natural, edible treats are great for holiday gifts (as I received them), but I think they’re also perfect for the hostess with the mostest, your neighbor who picked up mail while you vacationed, your favorite client or child’s teacher, or…well, yourself, because believe me, one bite and you’ll be hooked.

Popcorn from Popcornopolis. 
One of my BFFs sent me a collection of Popcornopolis’ popcorn as a Christmas gift this year, and I admit I’d never heard of the company until the perfectly wrapped packaged arrived on my doorstep.  O-M-G.  I repeat, O-M-G.  Seriously, people, this is the best popcorn you’ll ever eat.  My gift included tubes of Caramel, Kettle, Cheddar Cheese, Cinnamon Toast and Zebra.  I am hard-pressed to tell which was my favorite, because they were all so incredibly delicious, but the Cheddar and Zebra probably topped my taste buds.  (One kernel of Cheddar and one kernel of Zebra eaten together creates the perfect savory-sweet combo, by the way.)  My mom and I chowed down on all of these at a pace I’m embarrassed to admit and even my hubby, who really dislikes popcorn, took the tube of caramel for himself and made it disappear at a rate that would make even David Copperfield blink twice.

An assortment of popcorn from Popcornopolis. (Credit: Popcornopolis)

 Aside from my husband, who doesn’t like popcorn?  And who doesn’t like popcorn so delectable that even a person who dislikes popcorn would fall in love with it?  Bottom line: this is such a wonderfully simple and pleasing gift, that I’m ashamed I wasn’t the first to discover it!  Also, it’s way better (and way better for you–no chemicals!) than the stuff served at movie theatres, so if you’re buying a gift be sure to order some for yourself to have on hand for your next trip to the cinema (OK, or for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight snack). 

Buy online at http://www.popcornopolis.com/.

Caramels from Good Karmal.
A box of these transcendently tasty caramels came to my office from a vendor this holiday season, and I couldn’t believe such flavor could be packed into such a small treat! 

Good Karmal’s preservative-free caramels are soft, buttery and literally melt in your mouth.  You can choose from vanilla, sea salt, chocolate sea salt, pomegranate, espresso, green apple and chipotle, or get an assortment of all flavors.  Sea salt was my favorite, with pomegranate and green apple close behind.  Don’t discount the chipotle, which offers a unique bite without overwhelming the palate. 

Carmel assortment by Good Karmal. (Credit: Good Karmal)

I consumed too many of these for my own good, but once I started, I couldn’t stop eating them!  They are packaged so artfully, that even a non-sweet eater would enjoy having these out on a table for guests.  Each of the caramels’ wrappers features a very cool treat of its own: a unique inspirational quote, adding to the personality of the gift.  They’re good quotes, too–I have two wrappers saved on my desk to keep the wise advice close by while I work. 

Available online at http://www.goodkarmal.com/.

I hope you enjoy these treats as much as I did, and I hope you find much happiness in gifting them (to others and yourself!) in 2011.  Happy (early) New Year!

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Wikileaks: I want the real story

I understand why Julian Assange and Wikileaks have been leading the news for the last several weeks.  But in all of these news stories, I’ve seen one rather glaring omission:  where is all the coverage on why and how these leaks happened in the first place?

There would be no Wikileaks without the leaks, after all. 

Make no mistake, I do not condone the posting of this classified information; I’ve worked in many positions, including for the government, that required the utmost discretion in handling certain information.   Perhaps it is because of my experience that I am far more concerned with plugging the leaks on the government’s end than shutting down Assange. 

What is being done to stop the leaks?  Are government employees getting remedial training in the importance of keeping classified information classified?  Is this a failure of employment screening processes/investigations?  How can a source hemorrhage so much information before it knows it’s bleeding and take some action to stop it? 

I’m not saying the government isn’t on top of all of these things.  I’m not saying that these leaks are the results of gross institutional failures.  What I am saying, however, is where is all the reporting on it?

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