Joey Tries: barkTHINS

Welcome to my new blog post section Joey Tries! In this section of my blog I will be reviewing various products that I’ve either purchased myself or been asked to try by the manufacturer or organization. I promise to always tell you whether I was sent the sample, or purchased it myself. Many of the food related items may also be gluten-free – and I’ll tell you that as well.

bark thins

This week I will be reviewing barkTHINS. I received a coupon for this product through Influenster as part of their “sunshine box.”

Shorty Hulk took the coupon to our local Harris Teeter, and one 4.7 oz bag cost $3.99. Our coupon covered the cost of the whole thing, and I brought it to the office for my 3 co-workers to try with me.

As you can see from the picture, we tried the Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt. The label clearly tells you that it is a non-GMO food with fair trade certified ingredients. For Allergy interested friends, this snack contains tree nuts and soy – and because it is made in the same machine as other snacks, it could contain traces of peanuts, wheat, milk and eggs. The thing I liked best about the ingredients list is that I could pronounce everything listed except for the Soy Lecithin – so I didn’t feel like I was putting a bunch of extra chemicals in my mouth.

Of course, the picture on the front never looks exactly like the contents inside – in this case, you just need to know that the “bark” is all different sizes – big pieces to little pieces – so if you are counting points or calories, you have to go by ounces and not pieces. One serving is 220 calories, so there are definitely lower calorie snacks out there. But due to the richness of the chocolate, we actually felt like you could have half a serving and get your sweets fix.

The taste is a classic contrast of dark and sweet chocolate with the saltiness of the almonds and sea salt. The texture is smooth and although it is a kind of “brittle” you don’t feel like you are going to break your teeth biting in to it. It has a nice balance between the sweet and salt, and no lingering aftertaste. The package is resealable so you can store it for later, but since the packaging is a bag and not a box, sticking it in a backpack or purse could mean that it would get crushed in to smaller pieces if you took it on a trip.

My co-worker B called it “yummy” and “satisfying” for her. My boss D came back looking for another sample, and A (our health nut) said she would definitely consider it for a treat if she was looking for something fun. The bag was gone by day 2, and I only think it lasted that long because they were polite and also could not find where I hid the bag.

barkTHINS currently comes in 7 different varieties:

  • Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt
  • Dark Chocolate Pretzel with Sea Salt
  • Dark Chocolate Mint
  • Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed with Sea Salt
  • Blueberry Quinoa with Agave
  • Dark Chocolate Toasted Almond with Sea Salt
  • Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel with Sea Salt (seasonal)
  • Joey’s Ruling: Definitely would buy again if I had a coupon or if it was on sale. Very interested in trying the other flavors. Good alternative to a candy bar or bag of cookies for that sweet craving.

    Joey Cooks: Boston Butt

    Welcome to Joey Cooks! In this new segment of my blog, I’ll be writing about some of my cooking (mis)adventures. Shorty Hulk calls me a “scratch cook” – basically, I tend to look through the cupboards, look through my recipes, look through the dark and dusky corners of my scattered mind (which is scary, trust me) and then I wing it.

    I’m not a master chef, nor have I studied at Johnson & Wales. In fact, when I got my first apartment I found myself constantly calling my mom in a panic – and when she wasn’t home, I called her neighbor. (Thank you, Mrs. Westgate!) I’ve also watched way too many hours of the Food Network and other cooking shows over the years. And I’m very thankful to all my friends and family members who let me “experiment” on the strength of their gastric systems and palates.

    Whether the results are great or not so great, I’ll let you know. Mostly, I’m trying to stop all the fast food and take out from being the default dinner ideas in our home. I also try to eat gluten-free due to Celiac’s disease, so I’m always looking for yummy things that will keep me from straying from the GF path.

    So – this week I’m going to start things off with an easy-as-pork recipe that I tried last night.

    Boston Butt (Pork Shoulder) in a Crockpot

    Boston Butt

    I purchased a 7 lb. Boston Butt (aka Pork Shoulder) from Harris Teeter because it was on sale. After a quick google I came across this blog recipe for cooking it in a crock pot. And no, I don’t know why the shoulder of the pig is called the Boston Butt. But since I’m from New England, I like calling it Boston Butt – it feels more like home.

    I don’t have a fancy crock pot – I have an 1980s Rival model (similar to the one pictured here) that was given to me by the mother of an ex-boyfriend.Old-Crock-Pot-e1383428309661 So as you can see, it has 3 settings: Off, Low, and High.

    If you don’t know (I didn’t) – Boston Butt has a big bone in the center of it. You don’t have to remove it for this process, you can just leave it right where it is.

    Also, mine had a big layer of fat along one side. I decided to plunk the whole thing in my crockpot fat side up so all the juices could drip down. The Worcestershire sauce I used was the Harris Teeter brand, and since my cut of meat was bigger than the recipe, I was very liberal with my “dashes”. I then used a jar of roast rub that I had recently bought (I had a coupon!) and covered the fat layer with it, making sure to coat the top very liberally. I then put a few more dashes of Worcestershire on top of that. I also peeled and cut up 2 cloves of garlic and tucked them down either side of the meat for good measure.
    (even though I washed my hands well before and after this process, I had dreams of yummy garlic dishes while I slept that night.)

    I put everything together around midnight (while watching an old black and white movie featuring Dean Jones, Connie Stevens and Cesar Romero – “Guillotine for Two”), set the crock pot on low as instructed and then went to bed (garlic dreams, yada yada).

    When I woke up the next morning – the meat was pretty done and there was a good layer of juice in the crock pot. I kept it on low and headed off to work – I didn’t turn the meat or anything. I didn’t get a chance to check the meat again until about 5:30, so by that time the meat had cooked and then “steamed” for about 18 hours. The entire piece of meat was so tender and moist it literally slid right off the large bone when I lifted it with a fork. I pulled the bone out and threw that away.

    To serve it for dinner, I microwaved a pack of Trader Joe’s Jasmine rice and split it between 2 bowls. I used a fork to grab several hunks of meat and place it on top, then spooned the steamed juices over everything. Shorty Hulk and I both had 2 servings of meat and it was great. I didn’t add any salt or pepper, the rub and Worcestershire was enough for me. Your miles may vary.

    I stored the leftovers with juice in the fridge overnight, and Shorty Hulk used some of it to make pork nachos for lunch the next day.

    Joey’s Ruling: Success, will definitely make again.

    This Magic Moment

    proposalWe met almost a year ago. The first time we met, we wouldn’t stop grinning at each other. We had the worst sushi waiter ever. He did the whole stretch-yawn-arm thing and I impatiently asked him if he was going to kiss me. He then did this voiceover thing that was something like “if I kiss her now, she’s expecting it, but if I don’t kiss her then she’s going to think I don’t want to and then what if she doesn’t go on a second date. It may be too late, maybe the moment has passed, or maybe the moment is just right oh now should I kiss her or wait? Because my voice over may make her expect it now . . . “ that had me laughing so hard I didn’t know if I could breathe.

    In so many ways things moved so fast and yet so slow all at the same time. At times we have asked each other, “Haven’t we always been together?” And yet, it hasn’t been a year. But it almost has.

    So last night, while at a comedy night featuring our favorite comedian and friend, I saw my boyfriend get up on stage and I waited to see what foolishness was about to happen. Then he took the mic, looked at me and asked me to marry him. Our friend cracked, “If you like it then you better put a ring on it,” which made everyone in the crowd go “ooooooh” until my boyfriend pulled out a ring box.

    It was all so surreal. I found myself heading up to the stage, grateful that I had decided to shave my legs and put on a skirt (yes, these are the things that run through my head) and hoping I didn’t trip on my way over there. And then suddenly –he asked me again and there was the ring and it was on my finger and I was trying to step off the stage without falling over.

    We were back in our seats, the show continued on. I looked over at him and smiled. He leaned over and whispered, “Hey, you did say yes, right?”

    I took his wonderful face in my hands, feeling the stubble of his recently trimmed beard under my fingers, and I whispered, “Yes, yes, yes!” and kissed him.

    I laughed at all the jokes, I smiled at our friends at the table, I felt his hand in mind. My brain tried to process everything. We knew we were going to get married – we had talked about it – but I was not expecting to be asked that night. I had teased him that I can always guess these things – but I had no clue.

    The night ended in a flurry of phone calls and texts to friends and family before posting it on Facebook. Somehow, we safely got home. Somehow we got to work this morning.

    The day has been a chaotic euphoria of posts and texts and phone calls still. And work and lunch and getting gas. Normal life and surreality combined and intertwined itself like it always does.

    But mostly I just smile and count the minutes until I go home and ask him to tell me all again.

    The Tragedy of Happiness

    “I miss your posts.” a friend told me recently. “You just don’t seem to post so much.”

    It’s true. I think as a rule it was easier to think of things to say and lessons learned when life was full of awkward online dating stories, sorrowful recalling of past relationship wrongs, and hopeful beginnings.

    I’m happy to report that SH and I are now at our 9 month mark with no end in sight. Our life together includes more good things than I dreamed possible – and any challenges tend to be outside of the relationship, things that we handle together.

    It’s wonderfully tragic to be too happy to write. Of course, it then means I need to rethink this blog and what I do with it.

    Of course, discussing real life challenges as they happen presents problems. You don’t always want to show your hand before things are more solidified – you never know who is reading and how things can be misconstrued. And I for one don’t like to jinx anything.

    I’ll still be answering some of the questions I get from others – you will probably see a lot more of those than before.

    And I’ll also talk about some other lessons Ive learned – recipes I’ve tried – new goals I’m making. My life is about to take some very positive changes, and I hope you will tag along for the ride. In the meantime, thanks for your support to get to where we are now. I wouldn’t be who I am without you.

    Today I sent out Christmas cards.

    This may not seem like a big thing to you, but to me it is monumental. There was a time in my life where I was the Queen of Christmas – where I had my Christmas letter written, printed, folded and sent by the day after Thanksgiving. My house used to be decorated from top to bottom – from Christmas bedspread and shower curtain, to everyday Christmas dishes and wall hangings and a light up Christmas village on the top of the piano. Every room in my house reflected holiday goodwill – and even though I was in an unhappy marriage – I found happiness in the lights and music of the season.

    2 years ago, when I broke up with my long term boyfriend, I couldn’t even fathom decorating for Christmas. But a dear friend promised to help, and with a tank full of gas and some fresh deposited debit cards, we went on a shopping spree to deck the halls. She and her husband hung lights on the front of the house, she superglued and pasted and primped and prodded until my house reflected the good cheer my heart wasn’t quite ready to embrace yet.

    Last year, I thought I was ready to reclaim Christmas for myself. I went so far as to write the Christmas letter and ask my friends and relatives for their updated addresses, but then it all fell apart. The lovely decorations my friend had bought the year before stayed in their carefully packed crates. I tried to get motivated, but I wasn’t there yet. I did get out there – my friends invited me to participate in their festivities and I gladly went along and enjoyed the good cheer with them. I even bought a small Christmas tree finally and presents for friends.

    This year has been different. You won’t find a Christmas bedspread or shower curtain in my house, but the Christmas spirit started in my heart earlier. SH and I are celebrating our first Christmas together, and it has been fun. We’ve gone for fun drives to see Christmas lights throughout the neighborhoods. SH pulled out the boxes of crates, and I discovered a box from my Queen of Christmas days with enough lights to triple our power bill. At first, I was overwhelmed by the stuff I saw. However, it was easy to let go of most of it and just keep the few things that were happy memories and incorporate them with stuff my friend helped me buy 2 years ago, and new stuff SH and I bought together.

    I think that has been the difference. The togetherness. As I look around my house now – it doesn’t look like Martha Stewart or HGTV. There are little touches of Christmas here and there – but more than that – everything is stuff we did together – from the hanging of the ornaments on our little Christmas tree – to the wooden and metal ornaments we hung on the big tree in the front yard – to the silly solar snowmen that blink on the front walk – and the rubber Santa duck in the bathroom – it’s not just Christmas – it’s memories of us together working on it.

    The Christmas letter I wrote this year was mostly my story – next year, it will be ours. We sat in front of the TV last night, watching holiday cooking shows and folding and addressing and stamping and licking, and together we got them done. When I dropped them in to the big blue mailbox at work and saw them slide inside and heard the lid clang closed, I felt triumphant. This year the Christmas cheer I feel is not something outside seeping in – it is something inside bubbling out.

    YAY!

    The Verger

    “Imagine what you could be, if only . . . “

    When I was in junior high, we were assigned to read the short story THE VERGER by W. Somerset Maugham. You can read the full version here: http://www.sinden.org/verger.html

    The shorter version:

    Albert Edward Foreman was the verger (lay person) of St. Peter’s in Neville Square and had been a faithful servant for sixteen years. So imagine his surprise when he was let go by the new vicar, who didn’t like the fact that Albert couldn’t read nor write.

    He went walking to clear his head, craved a cigarette, but couldn’t find a shop that sold any. So he opened his own. It did so well, he opened another. And then another. And then ten more. Until one day the banker talked to him about switching from a bank deposit to a more lucrative form of investment. When he revealed he couldn’t read, the banker exclaimed – “. . . what would you be now if you had been able to?”

    To which Albert Edward Foreman replied, “I’d be verger of St. Peter’s, Neville Square.”

    I’ve been thinking about this story a lot lately. If things went smoothly all the time, if we were never forced to seek a change for ourselves and our lives, think of all the opportunities we would have missed. So many disappointments in my life have ultimately led me to a place of greater happiness.

    Of course, Albert didn’t wait around for his next opportunity to find him. In fact, he went out, cleared his head, found a need, and filled it. He made things happen for himself. He found a way to survive, and ultimately, to overcome.

    Sometimes, when I tell parts of my life story, people say, “Oh, my goodness. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”

    I appreciate the kind words, but I look at where I am now, how crazy the past 4 months have been, and how they might not have happened if some of the bumps in my path had not been there. And I’m eager to say, “No – it’s okay. It’s great even. Because look where I am now. Look at the good I have now. I wouldn’t have had it if these things hadn’t happened. I wouldn’t even know how good it all could be if the yuck hadn’t been there.”

    I could have been the Verger. I’m so glad I’m not.

    The Bureau of Happiness

    It was just a drawer.

    But he offered it to me with such openness and excitement that I got overwhelmed. Never before had I been offered space in someone else’s haven. I had asked for it several times – and been first offered a corner here or there to stash some stuff, and eventually been incorporated in to someone’s life.

    Now, I was being offered a drawer – a top drawer – where I could leave things behind so that when I came back again, there it would be – ready and waiting for me.

    We stopped by the store on the way back from dinner – and I picked up a few things like toothpaste and deodorant and we came back and I put them in my drawer. I’ll admit I was so giddy that I accidentally bought conditioner instead of shampoo, but all in all – it was a quiet little moment of special.

    This is just such an amazing relationship, “I told a friend. “It is just so effortless.”

    I recognize that not everything will always be like this. But to have an opportunity to move together at a similar pace, not having one partner or the other in the relationship be at different stages and waiting and wondering if the other will catch up – that’s something so profoundly cosmic, and somehow so rare.

    “I opened up the top drawer and saw your things in there and it just made me happy,” he told me the next morning.

    It makes me happy too.

    Rearranging Poetry

    20140528-132618.jpg
    I’d walked by it for months and left it untouched. But finally I turned around and knelt down and started moving the pieces back up to eye view.

    It was magnetic word poetry, given to me by friends. When I first put it on my fridge, I’d ask my friends to make a phrase or poem before they left. But last year, while I was dating a guy with kids, they got rearranged. The children couldn’t read, the words meant nothing to them. Instead, they focused on making random lines and bringing things down to their level.

    It’s not uncommon for us to destroy what we can not appreciate. Or to disregard the impact of one existence over another.

    The old poetry was gone. But as i moved the words back up within reach, new poetry started being formed. I found myself smiling at the new combinations I could make, the new phrases I could combine.

    Maya Angelou passed away today. I remember the thrill of going to see her in person a few years ago and hearing her talk. I remember the inspiration her words held and still hold for me. I wondered what new words would inspire us now.

    Maybe now is the time for us to look back at the language we use, the language that has been brought down to a lower level, and bend down and bring it back up to a higher view.

    I wonder what poetry we could make if we only tried.

    Tasting the Cake

    I lied about my first kiss.

    Not the one from the boy named Billy who defended my honor back in kindergarten. But the one in high school that I told my classmates about, rather than admitting that no boy had tried yet.

    It happens. But it’s a shame when it does. Because when I finally did kiss a boy, when it finally happened, I couldn’t tell anyone. I remember leaning in, my lips pressed to his, and thinking “this is my first kiss!” But after boasting that I had kissed already, I felt I had to play it cool rather than reveal my secret.

    Other times, I’ve lied to myself. “This is love,” I told myself with my first husband. At 23, I somehow convinced myself I was getting too old and may never get married. Then he and I met and rather than be alone I pushed and I prodded and I rushed our relationship from dating to living together to being engaged to getting married. One month after our wedding, I found myself lying face down on my bed, sobbing uncontrollably, feeling trapped in a situation that would continue until “death do us part.” It took me seven years and my dad’s death before I had the courage to admit failure and move forward.

    Why do we rush love?

    It’s kind of like power-leveling through a video game. We slash and hack and hurry through the starting zone, barely reading the quest descriptions or paying attention to the story line. We push to reach all the fabulous end-game content we’ve read about and then suddenly – we are at a standstill.

    I don’t want to do that this time.

    It’s like trying to frost a cake that hasn’t even baked yet. The process of mixing the ingredients, prepping the pans, preheating the oven, and the house filling with the wonderful smells: all this should be savored not microwaved. Anticipation gives heightened ecstasy.

    Sometimes I wonder if we try to skip steps in the process because we don’t want to take the time and then see the flaws. We figure if we hurry past the red flags, maybe they won’t really apply to us. Sometimes we mistake the adrenalin of the hunt for the tingles of attraction.

    I’m afraid to say that this time is different for me. That sounds so cliché and starry-eyed. But I’m not so anxious this time: I’m not looking to hit milestones and make declarations. I’m okay with taking things slow. I’m not seeking validation or assurances about what is happening. And for something truly shocking, I’m not trying to control the outcome.

    “Who is this and what have you done with my Joey?” one of my close friends recently demanded.

    She stopped to taste a bite of cake. And the cake is not a lie.

    Dating at Fortysomething

    I used to not have a problem putting myself out there,” my friend Randi said. “I’d go out, date guys, no problem. But then I got in to the more geeky side of things and when I’d flirt with guys they’d get this deer in the headlights look and I’d get self-conscious and now it’s been a while since I’ve been out on a date. I guess I’ve just forgotten how to flirt.

    I’ve had conversations like this with many of my friends in their forties and fifties. They used to date, they want to date, but somehow they just stopped dating. And they aren’t sure why or if they are really ready to do something about it.

    “Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?” I recently asked my friend Dave. “Do you picture yourself with someone? Or do you see yourself alone? What would make you happy?”

    It depends,” he confessed. “Some days I see it one way, other times I see it the other.

    I’ve never pictured myself alone. I’m not afraid to be alone; I would just prefer not to be. Yet the older we get, the more often I see my friends operating on a solo flight through life. Some choose that path; others just accept it as their fate. Like many things, I think the opportunities to find that someone change as we get older. In high school or college you had parties and activities and a seemingly endless pool of candidates. As an adult, you have smaller pools with more complicated consequences – you don’t want to date where you work, make things awkward amongst your friends, run in to them at your favorite hangouts, or be the creepy person in the grocery store trolling the produce aisle for melons and a phone number.

    Plus, there is the rejection. There is always someone prettier, younger, richer, more successful, thinner. We feel broken compared to them. And then there is the fear: why does this person like me? What’s wrong with them? Why are they still single? They must be broken, too.

    We are all broken,” Rocker points out to me a lot. “When you get to be our age, you are going to have a few nicks and dings and cracks. What you have to see is if both your broken bits work together or just make each of you worse.”

    I kind of like that. In my head, I picture a wheel of four hands, each one holding together the broken bits of the other person’s spoke. I’ll have strength to cover you here, you have strength to cover me there. Together, holding hands, we’ll get through this journey.

    I fail a lot. I look back at the past year and the men I’ve dated and the reasons why things didn’t work out. I’ve been lied to, cheated on, stolen from, and sugar momma’ed (is that a word?). I’ve flirted with men who patted me on the head and walked away. I’ve had others not even respond. But I’ve also made some great friends, had some fond memories, and told some funny stories. I’m not a natural at this dating thing – I’m sometimes worse than a noob. But I keep trying.

    It’s worth it, y’know. Putting yourself out there. I know I’m in a good place right now, so it’s easier for me to say that. But this blog proves I’ve been in bad places too. You have to keep trying – working at it – failing at it – and trying again. May we all find someone else to hold hands with.