I don't need to bake gluten-free, I choose to. To see why, read my blog post: Baking Gluten-fee Even Though I Don't Have To.

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

I decided against any of her recipes because I was having a hankering for apple cider doughnuts like those up at Apple Hill. I went with a friend on Saturday to get my apple cider and some apples as well as to enjoy the ones sold at Rainbow Orchards.

Unfortunately mine are not as good as theirs. Maybe because I chose to go gluten-free. It could also have been due to old baking powder. I need to buy a fresh can and this recipe does call for two teaspoons of it. My doughnuts tasted fine. They were just really dense and definitely should be eaten fresh from the fryer. Like any good doughnuts, they lose their appeal the longer they sit out. I had toyed with the idea of using a recipe that did require yeast, but since Rainbow's don't have yeast I figured I would give the first attempt a go with just a regular cake recipe. Look in the future for me to try a yeast version - probably with pumpkin.

This was the first time I had made doughnuts and they weren't difficult at all. I guess I've always shied away from them because of the deep frying. I don't have a deep fryer and so just had to use a pot and guess at keeping my temperature correct.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Original recipe altered from Food Network. If you make them normal, follow the black instructions. Gluten-free alterations are in red. 

2 apples
2 1/2 cups apple cider
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (or gluten-free blend + 2 t xanthan gum)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
Vegetable oil, for frying

Core and coarsely chop the apples (do not peel). Combine with 1 1/2 cups cider in a medium saucepan over medium heat; cover and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until the apples are tender and the cider is almost completely reduced, about 5 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Measure the sauce; you should have 1 cup. (Boil to reduce further, if necessary.) Let cool slightly.

Whisk the flour (or GF flour mixture), baking powder, baking soda, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Beat 2/3 cup granulated sugar and the shortening in another bowl with a mixer on medium speed until sandy. Beat in the egg and yolk, then gradually mix in the applesauce, scraping the bowl. Beat in half of the flour mixture, then the buttermilk and vanilla, and then the remaining flour mixture. Mix to make a sticky dough; do not overmix.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper and pat into a 7-by-11-inch rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: Simmer the remaining 1 cup cider in a small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup. Whisk in the confectioners' sugar until smooth and glossy, then set aside. Mix the remaining 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a shallow bowl; set aside for the topping.

Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Cut the chilled dough into 12 rounds, using a floured 2 1/2- or 3-inch biscuit cutter, then cut out the middles with a 1-inch cutter (or use a doughnut cutter). Slip 2 or 3 doughnuts at a time into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed. Transfer to the paper towels to drain.

Dip one side of each doughnut into the cider glaze, letting the excess drip off; dip just the glazed side in the cinnamon-sugar or roll all over in cinnamon-sugar, if desired. Serve warm.

The Press Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

The Press is up on my favorites list. A spontaneous decision took Suzanne Phan and I over to check out the place. We were not disappointed.

We walked in where the old Dragonfly used to be and found that it was brighter, more upbeat in décor. The walls have a new coat of light paint and there seems to be more lighting. We saw the large communal table and decided to go for it. The communal table is tall and long, probably ten feet. The bar stools were nice with backs (I hate stools with no backrest).

We were handed simple sheet menus. The selection included tapas, appetizers, pasta, and entrée. Tapas are $4 each or three for $10. The pasta dishes had small and large price points. We made three selections and I was a bit surprised at how quickly they came out.

Our first was the crispy pork belly with cauliflower gratin. I took my first bite and Suzanne could instantly tell I was in foodie heaven. She laughed at my happy grin as I savored the flavor and the texture. Pork is my favorite meat and pork belly is a decadent cut. But pork belly has to be cooked correctly. I’ve had undercooked versions where it was like eating a giggly piece of pure fat. Yuck. Other times it’s over crisped so that it is almost rock hard. This pork belly was perfectly cooked. It was nice and crispy on the exterior yet tender and buttery on the inside. That, coupled with the creamy gratin, was a perfect mix of textures in each bite. And it didn’t taste bad either! 

I tried the salmon rillette next. For those unfamiliar with the term, rillettes are shredded meats made into a spread. Think of Deviled Ham. This salmon had been poached in a dill mixture, shredded, then mixed with crème fraiche. It was served with some crisp flat bread. It was light and refreshing, but not anything spectacular.

Our last dish was the gnocchi with pesto cream sauce, roasted garlic and cherry tomatoes. I selected this dish because the Sactown Magazine review had said that the chef was known for making incredible, light gnocchi. Based on that review, we were disappointed. The gnocchi were large, hearty, but light? No. They seemed pretty heavy and doughy. But the overall dish still tasted good. The pesto tasted fresh from the garden and the roasted garlic and parmesan shavings added salty and buttery accent.

Speaking of the chef, that was the best part. David English has worked as a chef at Ella and also in Spain and France. Now he’s opened The Press as his first restaurant and is taking pride in it. How does one know? Because he’s not hidden back in the kitchen. English is very visible - walking through the restaurant, talking to patrons, helping to serve. Hey, even cleared our dishes like a busser. He stopped by and asked us how we liked our meal. It’s been a while since a chef has done that while I was eating a regular meal. Biba is one who often visits the tables. Patrick Mulvaney visits does during his Family Meals, not sure about regular dinner service. It’s such a simple thing and yet it makes all the difference for me wanting to go back again. Kudos.

When he stopped by we raved about the pork belly. He said it was the last night for that dish. He’s going to be doing pork cheeks for the next few weeks. I’m glad we got the pork belly before it goes and the idea of the cheeks just makes me want to go back that much sooner.

Definitely stop by and try The Press. You’ll become a subscriber yourself.

While I was at the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle in August I met Diane Eblin. She runs the blog The W.H.O.L.E. Gang, and she came up with a wonderful idea to get bloggers together in honor of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and have our own 30 Day Food Revolution. Last week I was a guest blogger on her site. Today I reprint that post on my own site in case you missed it.

I am lucky enough to not have any food allergies. I can eat what I want. That’s not to say I like everything. I hate olives, mushrooms, eggplant, okra, and raw tomatoes. But really, it boils down to being blessed that I can always find something I want to eat on any menu.

Not so for people who suffer from celiac disease. Those are the gluten-free folks who have to stay away from wheat products because their digestive system is unable to break down the protein, causing them incredible discomfort. There are several other grains and foods that have gluten, but for purposes of the discussion here we are going to think in terms of wheat.

For those who are unfamiliar with the gluten in their world, a short lesson. Gluten is derived from the Latin word for “glue”. It is a form of protein that exists in many grains including wheat, rye, and barley. It’s what gives pizza dough its stretchiness, elasticity to doughs, and chewiness to bagels. Without it many baked goods would simply crumble apart.

As I learned more about gluten-free cooking and baking I began to think.  I was amazed at all the different grains that were used in gluten-free baking to substitute for regular wheat flour. You can’t simply replace wheat flour with rice flour. Gluten-free baking requires a mixture of flours and then xanthan gum, which acts as the glue in place of the gluten. For instance, this is the blend I have been using lately:

1 1/2 c rice flour
1 c sorghum flour
3/4 c tapioca flour
3/4 c potato starch

As I learned more about the different flours out there it occurred to me – Why is America so wheat-centric?

I am really into history and cultures and so I was suddenly thinking about how certain grains have been used for millennia by other cultures and yet we Americans are all about wheat. Think about it. The Inca used quinoa in Peru, rice has been used throughout Asia, and amaranth was used by the Aztecs and throughout ancient India and Africa. Flours can be and have been made out of tapioca, potato, nuts, corn, chickpeas and more. If you go to some of the best patisseries in Europe you’ll find that the best cakes and pastries are made from nut flours and without any wheat flour at all.

Here in the United States almost all of our baked goods are made with wheat. There are a lot of reasons that led us down this wheat-centric path, such as improvements in wheat varieties, farming methods, government subsidies and corporate controls over farms, but I’m not going to go into that. Suffice it to say, wheat is our dominant grain.

I came to a decision. I will bake gluten-free in my own home. After all, I can get my fill of gluten everywhere outside my house. Any restaurant I go to or snack food I grab while at work or traveling will have gluten. Any time I order a pizza, have a sandwich, or a piece of coworker’s birthday cake there will be gluten. So in my home – gluten-free baking.

You know what? It’s not a big deal. Typically you will find no discernible difference taste-wise from regular baked goods. The difference with gluten-free goods is often just in the texture. Without the gluten some gluten-free baked goods will just crumble. But you will find that many things should be crumbly, like shortbread, and other foods compensate through other ingredients, like bananas in banana bread.

Now I bring my gluten-free items to work and wait for everyone to enjoy them before I announce, “that was gluten-free”. My coworkers are amazed and are learning to not be afraid of gluten-free baked goods.

To try some GF recipes yourself, click on the "gluten-free" tag in the topic cloud on the left.
I’ve waited in eager anticipation as the Broadway Target has undergone renovation to include the new grocery section. I live one block from it and when it comes to grocery shopping, my choices have been Safeway on S Street or Alhambra, venturing to West Sac, or down Freeport to the Land Park Raleys. So being able to go down the block to grab a forgotten but necessary recipe ingredient will be great.

Last week the grocery section had been opened up, but the shelves and cold cases were all empty. Today the grocery is fully stocked and open for business. I went to look around and had just a couple of observations.

First, there are some good deals. A dozen eggs is only $1.09. But as my friends remind me, that's probably from sickly, caged birds. A coworker says she bought those eggs and they were cloudy inside.  Milk prices are better here too. I only buy organic milk myself.

Selection is OK. You can find pretty much everything, you just won’t be overwhelmed by 25 types of peanut butter like other places.

I was liking the attractive spice blends from their Archer Farms label. They are in nice glass bottles and they had pretty much everything you’d need. I don’t know spice prices offhand, so don’t know how comparable they are.

Don’t expect much produce-wise. There was bananas, tomatoes, and grapes. But produce is definitely very limited.

So what’s the Ugly? The meat. I was looking at the nice assortment of meats and was wondering why certain packages of beef looked so glisten-y. The meat was bright and shiny. So I took a close look a the label and this was what I found: beef broth, potassium lactate, sodium phosphate, sodium diacetate, salt, and flavoring. This was from the Sutton & Dodge label of meats they were touting. I don’t think this meat passes the test for October: Unprocessed month! I saw the same sort of additives listed for the Hormel meats. There were some Archer Farms packaged meal meats - as in chicken stuffed with cheese and spinach or beef pinwheels with spinach and garlic butter.  There some packages that were additive free such as Laura’s Beef and their other generic packaging. But the point is, I don’t want additives in my meat!

So although I will be shopping at Target grocery, I think I’ll be buying my meat and produce elsewhere.

When I was at the International Food Bloggers Conference I was a little surprised to see a priest in the crowd - a priest I recognized! It was Father Leo Patalinghug, a Filipino Catholic priest that I had seen on TV. I had seen him on CBS Sunday Morning where he talked about his program called Grace Before Meals. Basically he preaches the benefits of families eating their meals together and sharing while cooking. I introduced myself, we had a brief conversation, and I gave him my card.
Father Leo was born in the Philippines but was raised in Maryland. After he was ordained he had a parish in Maryland and was often invited to people’s homes for dinners. He would pull a switcheroo and started cooking for them. He realized that sharing in the cooking and eating together at the table brought together families and communities and it was a good message to share.

Research shows that having frequent family dinners can reduce the susceptibility of teens to risks like teen pregnancy, smoking, drug use and depression. And these benefits don’t just apply to traditional families or people with kids. Stronger families foster stronger communities, and that’s the goal we’re striving for–one meal at a time. 

He has a book, Grace Before Meals: Recipes & Inspiration for Family Meals & Family Life, and often is invited to talk around the country to cook and share his message. He’s also been on Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

Shortly after the conference I got an email from him. Father Leo was coming to San Francisco and would I meet up with him for some foodie fun? I agreed to take him to Off the Grid to experience the food truck scene. He brought along a couple, Joseph and Dottie Narvaez. I picked them up at his hotel and we were off. Since he was off the church clock, Fr. Leo was not wearing his collar and was in civilian clothes.

It was too early to hit OtG, so I took them first to the Mission District for dessert first – ice cream. I had been wanting to try Humphry Slocombe for some time and took this opportunity.  They are known for making crazy flavored ice creams. On this day there was Pumpkin 5 Spice, Maple Walnut, Prosciutto, Jesus Juice (Coke and red wine), balsamic caramel, olive oil, and more.  Their most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which is bourbon and cereal.

I was happy because I had seen the prosciutto flavor on an episode on the Food Network and wanted to taste that. You could taste the porkiness of it and it didn’t taste bad, it just wasn’t all that great. It could have been better. For one, it could have had some bacon bits. And it didn't have any saltiness to it like we expected. We asked the gals at the counter and they explained that Boccolone brings the prosciutto bone by after they had carved off all of the prosciutto. They then soaked the bone in the cream to leech out the flavor.

The lack of mixins was something that we noticed in all the ice creams except the Secret Breakfast, which Father Leo proclaimed had Captain Crunch as the cereal. (Apparently he’s a CC fan.) Why not put chopped walnuts in the maple walnut? Or a caramel ribbon in the balsamic caramel? I guess they are trying to stick with the purity of the ice cream itself. I will admit the quality of the ice cream was good, I just wasn’t impressed with the flavors they had that day. I had had olive oil ice cream in Seattle and this version was too “floraly”, as Fr. Leo said. In the end I steered away from the weird flavors and just got a scoop of dulche de leche. A small scoop was $2.75, so it’s not cheap.

Fr. Leo enjoys some of our haul.

We then headed to Fort Mason for Off the Grid.  Fr. Leo was in heaven - foodie heaven. He says he blessed the trucks silently and he happily went around taking pictures before it kicked off at 5 p.m. He treated us by giving us money to head off and collect the grub. We shared everything and I couldn't believe all the food we gathered. He wanted to taste everything. He agreed with me that the best item was the sisig plate from Hapa SF.  We all loved the Chinese buns that we got from Chairman Bao. El Porteno’s empanadas were a favorite and I brought two home with me like I always do. Other items were OK and a few were disappointing. The paella vendor was there for the first time for me, and we were all disappointed in it. But overall, everyone was thrilled with the variety and atmosphere.

Father Leo had an early flight and I had a drive home. So I dropped them off at the hotel and said, “goodnight”.  He’ll be back again when he has more appearances in California and I look forward to more foodie fun with him.
Crocker Cafe on Urbanspoon

Buccatini Bolognese
1/4/12 Note: Mulvaney's is no longer in charge of the cafe and so this review is no longer valid.

Original post:

This weekend Sacramento celebrated the reopening of the Crocker Art Museum with its fabulous new wing. The addition is incredible, including the new Crocker Cafe.

The Crocker awarded their catering contract to Patrick Mulvaney, owner of Mulvaney's Building and Loan, one of the best restaurants in town. They will be running the Crocker Cafe with an on-site chef and staff as well as catering any special events or galas that take place at the Crocker.

This is good and bad news for me. I work across the street from the Crocker. I am thrilled to have a fine dining establishment so close for lunch, but am afraid I will become a regular and spend a small fortune over there. It will be worth it for the quality of the food though.

The opening was on Sunday and today, Wednesday, I decided to check it out. What will they be serving? How many items?

So far I am impressed and I had a delicious lunch. One shouldn't really base a review on a single item, but we are talking about Mulvaney's here and so I feel confident that the other dishes will be the same quality that we have all come to expect. And when you consider that they have their own famous pasta maker, Pasta Dave, who is revered throughout town, you know any pasta dish will be fab.

It's a small cafe with a counter, drink cases, a bakery case, and not much else. That's because the seating is all out in the large Crocker foyer. The menu is written on a chalk board on the wall behind the cashiers but they also print out a few copies to peruse. I'm sure the Niman Ranch burger is going to be a constant, but how much they will rotate other items we'll have to see. Today there was Pasta Dave's bolognese, which was extremely tempting, and also his butternut squash agnolotti, which I chose. There was a chicken salad with home cured bacon and a couple more items. In the case there were pre-made sandwiches and salads. The bakery case had some cookies, cupcakes, a panna cotta, a butterscotch pudding, and a chocolate mousse. 

Now I am in the middle of my October: Unprocessed month where I am not eating any processed food. But I was confident in my choice for lunch. After all, Mulvaney is a big proponent of eating local and sustainable. His food is all made from scratch. Pasta Dave makes all the pasta and every ingredient in my lunch was from fresh, local produce.

I was given one of those little signs to put on my table so that my dish could be delivered to me. What arrived was the beautiful bowl above. How gorgeous is that? There were about 8-10 of the butternut squash filled agnolotti with a lovely fresh tomato sauce with corn, basil, and parmesan shavings. The flavors were so clean and fresh that you felt like you were eating this on the farmer's patio during a harvest feast. With the sunny, warm 91 degree weather on this October day, I relished my last true taste of summer on my tongue.

11/2/10 Had the bolognese today (pictured at top). The linguini was very toothy/al dente. There was no skimping on meat in the sauce. Overall a good but basic bolognese.

12/22/10 Don't bother with the burger. For $10 you should get more meat than this. And the bun was dry and crumbly. I've had much better burgers for less money than this.
Added notes: After I posted this my coworkers went over to have lunch. Turns out they knew one of the employees and got a tour of the kitchen and some samples of the baked goods. Anyway, an interesting fact they learned is that the kitchen is all electric. Because of the art work in the museum, they are not allowed to have open flame, so no gas.

I've posted a little bit about my baking gluten-free at home. While I was at the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle in August I met Diane Eblin. She runs the blog The W.H.O.L.E. Gang, and she came up with a wonderful idea to get bloggers together in honor of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and have our own 30 Day Food Revolution. Bloggers have been asked to share their tips for cooking real food and living a healthy lifestyle. Today my guest post appears on her site. I wrote on Baking Gluten-free for Non-Dietary Reasons. Please click on the link and check it out. Thanks
The following is my report on my progress through the NACA mortgage assistance event, including the steps involved and my happy results at the end.

I bought my piece of California five and a half years ago when the market was at the peak just before the fall. I love my bungalow. It's an Arts & Crafts 2 bed/1 bath in downtown Sacramento that had been flipped. I was able to get a house that was in my price limit that was walking distance to stores, banks, and my job, everything I needed so that I would not have to have a lot of car costs. It’s a perfect house to rent out should I ever get married or move.  I bought it with the full knowledge that I was buying an interest only loan, manipulated in a way to get me into the house, with a first and a second. But I figured that the key was to get into the property and then in five years refinance it. Then the market took a dive.

I’ve lost a third of the value of my house and so I am upside down like so many others.  Therefore, I have no equity in my house and can’t refinance. Luckily the interest rates went down so that when my rate on the first adjusted,  my payments actually went down. Great for now, but I wanted to get the rate fixed. After all, I can pay my mortgage now, but would be in trouble when the rates start to climb again. Meanwhile, my second’s interest rate had risen. 

My mortgages had been from Countrywide and ended up being taken over by Bank of America. For a year in advance of my adjustment I had started calling to try to fix my rate. But we all know that the greedy banks have no interest in talking to you, especially if you are actually paying them like a good person. But it is luck of who answers the phone and one day I finally got an agent to say I did seem to qualify for the Making Home Affordable consideration since two thirds of my pay was going to mortgage. Long story shortened, for the last eight months I’ve been on the phones dealing with an inept bureaucracy that has been frustrating and brought me to the verge of tears several times. I’m sure many of you can relate. I was getting nowhere. 

Last week I saw that NACA was in Los Angeles and thousands of homeowners were lined up looking for mortgage help. NACA is the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, a non-profit group that assists homeowners to work with the lenders to come to mortgage agreements so people can keep their homes. Then NACA came to Sacramento starting on Friday. I was wary of going after I had seen the news about L.A. but on Friday night I saw that we were nowhere near as bad as the Los Angeles crowds. The news said that 25% of people get modifications on the spot and 80% of people leaving with some sort of positive result. Add the fact that I would be face to face with decision making bank representatives and I figured this was my best chance to get my modification. You see, I had a goal to get this mod done while my paychecks still reflected the 15% reduction due to our furlough.

Saturday morning I got up at 5 and to Cal Expo by 6. I was immediately disgusted that they were collecting $10 to park when this is supposed to help financially struggling people. Then I entered to see that the lot was filled wit a lot of cars and evidence that people were sleeping in many of them. I made my way to a lengthy line forming outside and was told to go to the first tent for orientation.


At orientation they go over what NACA is and how they hope to help you. About halfway through I left to go get into the counseling line. Bad idea. Turns out they handed out the numbers to you at the end of the orientation. So stay for the whole thing.


Now starts the longest wait of the whole process. Even though the counselors work 24/7, the line takes HOURS to wait in and when the shift changes at around 4, there are a lot less night operators on and so the line goes even slower. You can easily expect to wait 12-18 hours for this stage alone.  As you get close to the counseling you will have your documents scanned into the system. You need to have your paycheck, mortgage statement, property tax  and homeowner’s insurance forms. If you have other considerations like bankruptcy, foreclosure notices, etc., you’ll need those too. After your items are scanned you just wait to be called to an open counselor phone. I was lucky. I got my counselor on my line within five minutes. Others sat on hold for half an hour or more. The counselor looks at all your stuff, asks you questions, and rearranges your budget in a way that will hopefully work to your best advantage for the lender to help you out. This was where I knew I was on the borderline. I can pay my mortgage and live OK, but I barely have any extra funds and any little extra has to go on the credit card (like my dental crown this summer). As I said, I was just trying to fix my rate so that in the future, as rates increased, I wouldn’t get into real trouble.  At the end of the counseling you get a printout of your budget and are cleared to talk to your bank.


It’s another wait for the bank line. Unlike the counselors, the banks are only working from about 8 to 8 each day. NACA actually calls this step Servicing because it is with your loan servicer, usually a bank. All of the big banks had representatives there. Bank of America had a large group, thank goodness. Everyone gets sent to wait in their bank's servicing area. It is there that we were told that our loans are serviced by Bank of America (or your bank) but that the loan actually belongs to someone else – be it FannyMae, FreddieMac, FHA, or even a group of private investors who bought loan packages. As has become clear over the years, these loans can be considered gambling/speculation. They are taking the loans as investments. Either they make money off of your interest or they hope that you default and they get the house to sell again and make more money off of. Each owner organization has their own rules about how much they are willing to change and modify your loan. Some are nicer than others. 

In my case it turns out that both of my loans fell under private ownership. I sat down with Vickie for almost three hours as she quietly played with my numbers on both loans to get me the best deal that she could. We made pleasant chit chat when the computers were slow. She lives in North Carolina and was ending a two-week stint between the L.A. and Sacramento events. They put in long, 18-hour days to help all the thousands who attend. I was a bit nervous. I had plenty of income. Would they still work with me? There were constant testimonials of people who had their interest reduced to 2% or they were going to save $1200 a month. Would I get anything at all?


Yes! It took almost 24 total hours, but I got exactly what I wanted. My first went up a slight bit from 3.25 to 3.75% - but it was fixed! Then my second went down from 8.25% adjustable to 4% fixed. My total monthly payments are only about $150 lower a month, but they're fixed! I can relax in knowing it will never change! And one more bonus – I don’t have a November payment! So I can take my November pay and use it to pay off my credit card!

Volunteering – the well worth it secret

OK, so after reading this you decide that you are willing to put in to put in the long hours to get your loan modified. Volunteer! This only works if you see that the crowd is huge in front of you. If you are going to be waiting for at least 12 hours, isn’t better to be doing something instead of getting a sore ass on folding chairs? If you volunteer you will then get priority for scanning and the counselor phones.

My volunteering did make a difference. First of all, I got number 52796 and on Saturday they closed the doors to everyone over 52000 and told them to come back on Sunday.  I volunteered and had my 8 hour shift from 8 to 4. I ended up doing data entry. There’s also ushering, translating, scanning, and more. I was lucky because I got to sit and had a lot of down time as well. I took a nap during my 45 minute lunch. It wasn’t that bad. After our shift ended we got taken to wait for scanning. Problem is, the day shift was done and the night shift has less than half the number of counselors. Now the lines move at a crawl. I had hoped to be out in a couple of hours but ended my night, finally, at 10:00. My phone time with the counselor was an hour. I was lucky. Some people were on the phone for two hours. 

As I left I asked someone who was now at the front of the normal line (waiting to be scanned) what time they had gotten there. They had gotten there at around 6:30, so about the same time as I had. But here I was done, with a number that wasn’t even allowed in until Sunday, and they were still waiting to scan.

You don’t have to go directly to banking. You can come back later to get in the bank line. So I went home and slept and took Sunday off. I figured that maybe the bank line and overall attendance would be less on Monday. I woke up this morning at 4 and headed off to get in line. They made me pay another damn $10 in parking. I got in a decent spot in line even though I knew about half of the group was also BOA. I finally got called up, pretty quickly after the bankers started, to see Vickie at about 9:30 and was finally checked out at 1:00. 

So the lesson is: Yes, NACA helps people and yes, volunteering can be worth your while.  PART 2, months later.

My only thoughts: Why couldn’t phone agents at the banks be as helpful and efficient as this event was? Why would I have had to deal with a year or more worth of frustration trying to get my loan modified (and probably denied) when I was able to get it done over a weekend? Why must so many millions of people be put through this bullshit that the banks, Wall Street, and speculators created? Why?

Smashburger on Urbanspoon
Spicy Baja Smashburger with Sweet Potato Smashfries

Original post from July 2010 with Oct. 2010 updates in green.

I had been invited as Cakegrrl's guest to the VIP opening of the new Folsom Smashburger. I took the picture above, but have procrastinated blogging about them. I'm glad I did because now I have more to say.

Then I got a free Twitter coupon for a side item (gotta love Twitter). So did Poor Girl Kimberly. We decided that since we got a special deal and Kimberly would otherwise never get to a Smashburger, we would stop by to use the coupons on our way to Lake Natoma for the day.

You can select from a selection of hamburger combos or you can build your own burger. Some of the different selections they include are different weights of patties (1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 pound), brie cheese, guacamole, chipotle bun.

I opted for one of their signature burgers. I chose the Spicy Baja which included pepper jack cheese, guacamole, jalapenos, and was on a chipotle bun. Even the bun is spiced! Kimberly went for the Nor Cal burger with applewood smoked bacon, grilled onions, and brie cheese. We both agreed that we liked that the burgers were juicy and flavorful and that the meat to bun ratio was good. Kimberly thought there would have been a better spread on hers (mayonnaise) but couldn't decide what would work without taking away from the brie. Oct. Kimberly ordered the same burger again and says she knows what was missing. This time she had a balsamic soaked tomato and she says it made all the difference. Not sure why it was missing or not the same in the July burger.

We each had our coupons for free sides. I had had the sweet potato fries last time and so I chose the haystack onions. These were wonderfully thin and crispy with no grease. They were served with a side of spicy style ranch sauce. Kimberly chose the fries which are tossed with rosemary, garlic, and olive oil. We loved them! I could easily stop by just to pick up an order of those fries! Now when I had the sweet potato fries before, they had also been tossed with this mixture. But the sweet potato flavor overpowered the rosemary garlic. But on straight french fries, that rosemary garlic is the bomb!

Our October visit was another special tasting of their new chicken additions, sandwiches and salads.
I had the Spicy Baja sandwich which is like the burger, but with chicken. For all chicken dishes you get a choice of grilled or breaded. We tried to be good by choosing grilled but the manager insisted we try the breaded because it is panko breaded. He brought out a sample piece for us to try alone. We were pleasantly surprised. The panko stays nice and crunchy and doesn't sog out like breading does. The chicken was nice and moist inside. Definitely nice. The grilled was nice too, although a little on the thin side. I would have liked it to be cut a bit thicker. But it is real, whole chicken breast and nicely grilled. Kimberly had ordered a salad with dressing on the side and liked it enough not to add the dressing at all.

I had also ordered the Oreo shake. How can you get that wrong? They blend it in a true shake machine and bring you the extra still in the canister. Yum. I also ordered the chili to take home for lunch the next day.

So am I glad that Smashburger has arrived in the Sacramento area? Sure. When I want more of a fast food style burger I only go to In n Out or Suzy's. Smashburger has won me over and I will definitely be seeing them more often as they continue opening there three more stores over the next few months.

Repost for Unprocessed month. Why not make your own power bar instead of buying Cliff and Luna's which have additives?

On my quest to find healthy but quick breakfast options, I got the below recipe for Power Bars from good ol allrecipes.com. I would recommend you DOUBLE the recipe because it either spreads really thin, or will only fill half your pan. I ate a square an hour before my spin class and I think it really helped. It was a 70 minute class and I needed every bit of energy.

Jo-Ann's Power Bars

Cook Time: 30 Minutes Ready In: 40 Minutes
Yields: 12 servings
"These power bars are delicious and much more nutritious than most granola bars. They are very filling, too. Instead of using dried mixed fruit, feel free to substitute any of your favorite dried fruits. Same goes for the nuts."

1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat and barley nugget cereal
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 (7 ounce) bag chopped dried mixed fruit

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Line a 9 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, flour, cereal, and cinnamon. Add the egg, applesauce, honey, brown sugar, and oil. Mix well. Stir in the sunflower seeds, walnuts, and dried fruit. Spread mixture evenly in the prepared pan.
3. Bake 30 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned around the edges. Let cool. Use the foil to lift from the pan. Cut into bars or squares, and store in the refrigerator.