Being Silent….

I read an interesting blog today, about how being a silent reader constrains the ability to gain traction in the blogosphere. It got me thinking, why am I so silent on here? I post frequent enough, I read enough and always give likes to posts that I enjoy, but very very very rarely do I ever stop and take the time to leave a comment, and thus have put myself into the category of silent reader, but as the writer of this other post asserts, did I unintentionally constrain myself by not becoming talkative on other blogs?

The answer to this is simply, yes, I did. Just maybe not for the same reasons that are pointed out by this other blogger. Working as a social media specialist for several companies (yay freelance work!) I write anywhere from 7-10 blogs a day for companies while at the same time responding to messages and comments and likes on those blogs. At the end of the day, I get to my own blog and find myself not only slightly unmotivated to write, but also completely overwhelmed by the amount of engagement I dealt with throughout the day and instead of engaging my readers as well as my fellow readers of blogs I follow, I casually scroll through reading posts that, though I find interesting, I am out of energy and commitment to blogging to write comments.

This of course does very unintentionally put huge constrains on myself as a blogger (at least, for my personal blog, my clients are set for life on engagement). The blogger of this post also pointed out that he (along with countless others) were very late to the blogging party and have thus found themselves in a sort of limbo, or in his terms, the cool kid tables and the not so cool kid tables have already been established. Where do you and I fit into this then? The people who enjoy reading blogs but decide writing comments is just not for them or do not have the time, or maybe you just don’t have anything to say really on the subject even though you did enjoy the post.

Limbo, that is where it puts us until we unequivocally make a change in our mindset to not allow ourselves to be labeled. I do not see myself as in limbo as to what table I will sit at, I see myself sitting down and starting my own table, of those who just recreationally enjoy writing blogs, reading blogs but not having to pressure ourselves into engaging other bloggers if we do not feel the need to. Of course, this does put us at a huge disadvantage when it comes to gaining followers and likes, because what better what to get noticed then to post comments to attract that blogger to you, and anyone else who reads and enjoys the comments may come along as well.

Do I need to break the mold to be a great blogger? No, not really. Does what I write need to be the most originaly in the world? Not at all. Do I need to comment on every single blog I read to start more of a follow? Possibly. Maybe not every blog I read, but I think it is time that I get up the energy to not only engage readers on my clients blogs, but on my blog as well. To do this, I’ve decided to not put off my own blogging until the end of the day anymore, from now on, my blog will be the first thing I do every morning. Whether this means writing a new post and engaging in comments on the blogs I follow or just the later of the two, I do plan to engage a little more for my own personal blog.

This does not mean that I will be commenting on every blog I read. That is WAY too many comments even for someone who blogs for companies professionally and responds to every comment (even if it is just a generic Thank you for commenting). It does mean that a few comments on blogs that I find really interesting is needed though. No one should feel forced to comment, no one should ever feel forced to do anything really, but if you like the post, leave a quick comment not just a generic like. If you enjoy the post give that person a follow also, I know I always follow back when I gain a new follower and I usually find that their blog extremely enjoyable for me.

Well, time to switch into professional blogger mode, hope you all read this and take the steps needed to stop being the silent reader and make your own voice heard and seen a bit more.

 

~SKG

Follow this link to check out the original post by The opinionated man

Why customer service and your bank account are in the red.

It has been an interesting few weeks for me customer service wise. I had a tiff with Apple over how their update of ios8 caused my fiance’s phone to crash midway through the update, forcing us to restore the phone. Of course, once we go to upload the back up of it, because magically (even though I had never touched the encrypted back up button) it has become encrypted. Luckily, my fiance and I were able to try almost every password we have ever used an found one that worked for it and we got his phone running ios8, and restored all his old information (though we did have to reinstall a few apps that for some reason did not store in the back up). The result of all this was a round-about conversation on Apple support chat (mind you, apple wants to charge people $19 just to talk to a support team online or over the phone. No joke, $19 for customer service), about how Apple created a password encrypted function but provides no way to recover the password if forgotten. Though they were able to point me in several directions to help find the password (none of which worked, and all of which I had explored before starting the chat), it still left me going “I am seriously glad this shit happened when updating so I did not have to pay $19 for some idiot to tell me he couldn’t help.”

In all seriousness though, when did it become a thing for companies to charge you more money to help with a product that they sold you originally? $19 for help with any apple product or service unless I want to clamor down to the nearest Apple store, (which for some people may not be a close though for me there are probably 4 within 20 minutes of me) with my device only to be told they cannot help me. $19 for some under trained kid to not only provide me with no answers to my problems, but to then just transfer me to another person when I have clearly surpassed his knowledge after the first five minutes of the chat. Customer service is the backbone of any company. Every company has customers of some sort, and every company provides services of some sort, but to really succeed you have to provide good customer service so that your customers keep coming back. Why on earth would I want to keep purchasing products or services from a company that charges me just to help me with those products and services. As a young professional who is looking to upgrade their computer and tablet soon, never in my mind did I think to stray from my beloved Apple products. They are easy, efficient and work for what I need. But why would I stay with Apple when if I have a simple question of how to find someone on my computer, or how to use a product on the my computer, I have to pay $19 on top of the crazy prices I pay for the products themselves. I have spent thousands of dollars at Apple. My Macbook pro was a $1200 purchase alone and now as I look to upgrade it (it is 5 years old at this point and gratefully still works wonderfully but it is time for an upgrade) I am contemplating if it is worth the prices I pay to stay with Apple only to know that if I need help in the future I will be paying even more money.

I think the worst case of customer service I encountered was earlier tonight. My fiance went and looked at his bank account only to discover that it was negative almost $300. Flabbergasted at the amount the account had fallen into the red, I struck out to investigate what pulled the balance down. I have had a bank of america count since I was in high school. I have dealt with their online chat a few times, mostly when I mess up, lose track of my finances and I am crawling to them, begging them to not charge me an over draft fee. They are usually very polite and nice and offer a refund as I have been a very good customer over the years and typically don’t overdraft. Lately though, there seems to be a rise in the number of times I find my account and my fiance’s account ovedrafted. Tonight was the last straw though, after seeing how in the red his account had fallen I began to look through the transactions and discovered a shocking trend. On my account, no matter what I do, if my account does not have enough money in it, no transaction will go through whether it is online, an automatic payment or in store. It will not approve the transactions. Tonight we made the shocking discovery that on my fiance’s account, automatic payments and online transactions will go through even if his account has a negative balance. Apparently, there are settings you must change on your account manually if you do not want these transactions to be permitted.

This was a shocking discovery as I had never heard of this, nor had I thought he or I would need to go and change settings in our accounts so that we would not be hit with more and more over draft fees for things we did not cancel because our accounts were low on funds. In the past, my account has always just declined the transactions from things like Hulu or Netflix if my account did not have the funds to cover the amount, just like it would in store if my account did not have the necessary funds to pay for the items I wanted to purchase. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a national bank would have such an unethical business practice.

What was even worse than this discovery? The actions of the customer service chat representative we dealt with. We dealt with two people, the first one was quick to explain that we had to change settings and then transferred us on, and that is where the fun began. Not only was it a rude, disrespectful and overall repetitive chat, I was accused of using “inappropriate language” and told that would not be tolerated. Now, while I may swear a lot in my day-to-day life, I never once uttered an inappropriate word, used any racial slurs of any kind, demeaned or defamed the person I was speaking with. I merely pointed out a few times that several banks have been hit with other law suits due to similar practices and that bank of america itself has been ordered to pay upward of $114 million dollars because of these types of practices, and that they are still in trouble with the federal government and are facing penalties of over $10 billion dollars because of the way they have conducted business in regards to mortgages and the federal bailout they received.

We requested numerous times the name and employee ID of the person we were speaking with along with his managers name and contact information. First we were told his full name, but that he has no identification number

“you: sir , please provide me your an employee id and the contact information of your immediate supervisor
Dominic: You can use this chat conversation for your reference. My Full name Dominic Pattinson.”
Having also requested the information of his manager, we were met with declarations that he was the last point of contact and that there was no one else. When we went on to press him for information on if he was in charge of the entire chat division of bank of america, we got this:
“Dominic: I am the last point of contact. I would not have a supervisor.
you: i find that a blatant lie
Dominic: You can use this transcript for your reference.
you: no sir
you: i have the right to know the name and contact of your higher up.
you: so you are telling me you are in charge of the entire chat division of bank of america.
Dominic: No, I am not.
Dominic: However, you can contact our Manager Mr. Sri Kumar Bagri.”
So we request this managers contact information, and we are met with:
“you: but you have a manager, which means there are people above you, you are not the last person.
Dominic: I am afraid, my manager would not interact with customers directly, so I am the last point of contact via chat channel.”
But, didn’t you just tell me that I could contact your manager? I then ask how I contact him, he told me to call the call center and ask for a manager, but that I would be connected to an immediately manager and NOT the one he has told us we could contact.

After hours of round about, deplorable customer service where the representative did nothing but copy and paste the same thing he had said before, over and over and over and over again, having been refused direct information for his manager, I was then told that he had made a final decision and that even if I called and talked to someone else I would be declined the refund of these unethical overdraft fees. I was taken aback by this assertion that no matter who I talked to, no one would help me, even worse, before I could even craft a censored response (by this point I just want to yell profanities at him) he then attempted to rush me off the chat by saying he had made the decision and that unless I wanted help with another matter he had done all he could do. I kept him on by saying I was not done discussing this issue, and while I was stalling by asking what had prompted him to make such a large declaration, an easy internet search pulled up the LinkedIn profile of his manager.

I simply said to “Dominic” that I had found the contact information and suddenly, there is someone else there whom I can speak with. Shocking? I think not. Having found the manager easily, I simply pulled the law card and inquired as if I was speaking to someone who was in the United States or in India (By law, if requested, you must be transferred to someone inside of the United States), also not shocking, none of the three people we had been directed to were in the United States, Samantha, Dominic and Ian (doubtful those are real names at this point) were all in India. Though there is chat support in the United States they were unavailable at the time of my chat. Maybe if Samantha, Dominic and Ian had not kept me occupied for over 3 hours going around in circles I would have been able to chat with someone who was in the same country as I am.

Best part of being transferred to “Ian,” This little bit of lovely information:

“you: and why can I not just speak with him?
Ian: The chat cannot be transferred to our managers, as we are the last point of contact over the chat.
you: Does he not have a phone number?
Ian: I can assist you with the contact number, however our manager is currently not available”
WHOA! I just spent THREE HOURS, yes, you saw that correctly, THREE HOURS(!), trying to get this contact number for the manager, was told I could not have it, was told it was not available, was told I could not contact the manager directly (while being told I could contact him) and it takes asking the third person to be given the information I want. I think my brain just exploded to be honest.

In the end, I am settling for a call back from someone in the United States within the next 24-48 hours as I highly doubt “Dominic’s” decision is the final decision as he tried to declare. Should be a very fun wait.

My fiance and I are considering filing suit against bank of america though due to the unethical practices of bank of america. I am sure this would not just benefit us, but probably others who have experienced the same problems with bank of america. If you have experienced this, then don’t sit there and allow yet another corporation to get away with gauging American citizens of their hard-earned money. Though we are told our economy is recovering, even those of us with full-time, well-paying jobs are struggling with the rising cost of food, housing and gas. The more people who come forward with these problems, the more likely it is that those affected will not only make monetary gains, but could warn not only bank of america, but other financial institutions as well that these unethical overdraft fee practices will not be tolerated by the banking customers any longer. I know that I will no longer sit back and be forced out of money I work extremely hard for.

 

~SKG

Why am I doing this to myself????

No really, why am I doing this to myself? I have thick, curly hair that is (for curly hair) extremely manageable. It is shiny and healthy and I take great care of it. So why, everyday, do I torture myself, take time out of my day to curl it? It is a long process sometimes, it is highly unentertaining to curl hair and I can only imagine what I could spend that twenty to forty minutes a day (not including washing and blow drying) doing! I might even be able to eat something more than a banana and a protein shake for breakfast if I just said screw this and went about my morning with the natural texture of my hair or blow dried straight.

I was curious as to who decided in the history of the world that holding a burning hot piece of metal near their very delicate flesh was a good idea. Come to find out that the art of hair curling is so old that it does not have an exact era it started in. It is filed under “Ancient World.” I can remember reading a book about the Trojan war when I was in middle school and it talked about how the women of Troy would curl their hair before pinning it back from their faces. Troy. Ancient Troy, which means Ancient Greece which means for probably 2,500 years women have been taking their straight hair and transforming it into bouncing, full curls and for what? I feel this all stems from that age old epigram that girls with straight hair want curly hair and girls with curly hair want straight hair (or, if you are cool like me, you have curly hair that you blow dry straight ONLY to recurl it….What is wrong with me?).

I have been contemplating this question for a few weeks now. What drives me (and other women) to spend so much time a day (probably around 10,000 minutes a year) curling my hair?

Is it for the wonderful wind in the hair look?

wind in hair

Who doesn’t want the fabulous hair of Loki????

Is it for the way the curls bounce with every move we make?

bouncy curls

Look at all the lovely bouncing of that red mane!

Is it for luxurious volume curls provide?

volume

If only curling your hair instantly transformed you into Beyonce!

Is it for the insane ability to twirl your curls?

twirling curls

Which not only gives off a sassy attitude, but helps keep your curls looking fresh!

I am assuming each girl has their own reason for why they spend such a crazy amount of time and money (curling irons are NOT cheap, nor is good hair spray!). Whether it is wind in the hair, an adorable bounce, the voluptuous volume or the sassiness of a curl twirl, curling your hair is a dangerous art! Seriously, no matter how many times I have curled my hair (every day for the past four or five years probably?) I always seem to nick myself with that iron someway or another every now and then. If you have never used a curling iron, or have one that does not show you the temperature, they are HOT. Mine goes up to 410 degrees, in comparison, most dishes that are baked are only baked at about 350 degrees.

Shouldn’t women who curl their often be used to the high heat and danger of burns though? Why would heat matter? Easy answer to this, we get bored while curling our hair!!!!

The number of times I have been like….

bored

hmmm…. What else could I be doing? Did I turn the coffee maker on? Are my bananas still good? Do I still have protein powder? What dress am I going to wear today? Where are my dogs? I hope they are not doing anything stupid? What was that sound? And the list could go on and on and on forever. I think my brain cycles through more questions and thoughts while I am literally tethered to an outlet in my bathroom than it does at any other time during the day! Ever have the feeling you left the oven on? Try dealing with that while holding an iron less than half an inch away from your head and NOT twitching.

That’s not the only thing that causes burns either! Curling my hair last week, I twisted to see what my fiance was doing, the cord for the iron knocked a flower clip for my hair onto the iron itself, without thinking, I reached for the flower and planted my right thumb directly onto the fully heated iron. Pretty sure I am NOT going to have a thumb print for a little while on that finger. Whoever coined the term “beauty is pain” was not joking around.

The other problem with how hot curling irons get? Some women believe they just crank the temperature on the iron up all the way and go at their hair without a thought about the damage to their hair. Heat is bad for your hair (hence the myriad of hair products that every woman should have), it is damaging, it breaks the hair and if you are not using heat protectors you can and will kill your hair. The other problem is how long you should hold the curling iron to your hair. Not knowing the right heat setting or timing can be bad…

….like, this bad

too long and too hot

Yeah, that is her hair still wrapped around the iron as she pulls away. If you have thin or fragile hair, use lower heat settings, if your hair is thicker and coarse than use a higher setting. It really is that simple, don’t just turn it on, crank it up and go at your hair like it doesn’t have feelings (yes, I know hair is dead protein, but it has feelings too!)

The other big thing is to know what your curling iron can do! SIZE DOES MATTER! (get your mind out of the gutter!) There are sizes and styles that do many different things. My favorite is a simple iron that does not have a clamp, this gives me a much more beachy look. I can control the size of the curls or make it a very loose wave and I adore the trend of leaving a bit of a straight tail at the end of the curls, gives it such a relaxed bohemian quality. As much as I love that, I also own a 1inch and 1.5inch traditional irons as well. The 1inch gives me the standard curls or I can go really tight and get ringlets while the 1.5inch will give me some large waves with incredible volume. Pick your iron carefully and don’t settle for just 1 iron, there are no laws against owning every size, shape and style of curling iron in the world. Check out Allure’s article on the 7 curling irons for every type of wave you want for more on what irons do what!

So, here I am, my hair in perfect curls, because the idea of leaving my hair straight literally gives me anxiety (Yeah, my hair is my safety blanket). But, it is also because there is something about curling my hair that just sends my confidence soaring. Having a bad day? It will go away instantly if my hair is perfect. I don’t care about my make up or my clothing, if my hair is in place than my day is on point and I am starting off good.

I just answered this burning question for myself. I do this because I love the confidence and attitude it gives me, which gives me the ability to be all like….

well duh

….Yeahhhhhh I look good and I know it!

 

~SKG

The dark side of this process and a little advice for those thinking of trying…

If it isn’t obvious by previous posts, I have been in the process of looking for an agent for my novel. A couple rejections and some possible interest has been received until today. I understand rejection, I understand the competitiveness of the industry. I understand it all. What I will never understand is the snobbishness and the blatant rudeness that seems to plague the world in every industry.

Today I received the most rude and snobbish rejection I think I have received in any industry I have ever been in. I will not divulge names or agencies as I believe it is in bad practice, a belief I almost destroyed today after reading this email. The basis of the email was a rejection, which is not much to be bothered by, but the condescending tone and word usage nearly sent me over the edge. I am a respect driven individual. I will always show respect to those who deserve and show me the same respect. This agent though obviously does not subscribe to the same practice.

I was told by this agent that my query letter was extemporaneous and I needed to spend time looking at sample queries. For those of you who do not know the word extemporaneous, it means that it was done with little preparation or forethought. First, let’s start at just the word use. I have a very large vocabulary. This is from spending hours looking in thesauruses for different words to use in my novels other than the basics, it is also from the intense studying I did three years ago when I took the GRE to enter graduate school. A consequence of this is I am often told that I sometimes come off as condescending or snobbish as I will use large words that many do not know the meaning of. It is unintentional on my part, it is just the language I am used to using in my everyday life and academic writings. I found myself in my friends shoes today when I read this email. I know what extemporaneous means, but the tone of the email was what made the word sound more like a cruel and humiliating laugh rather than a simple, “this letter needed some more work for me.”

Does this person think I did not spend hours upon hours looking over sample letters, reading blogs and websites and each submission page of agents to make sure that the information contained in the letter was not exactly what was asked for? I followed guidelines, I put the information that the agency asked for and I receive a response saying that I threw together a letter with no thought or preparation. I spend hours on my query letters. Maybe it is a personal thing with me, but I saw this as a huge disrespect to me. Would someone really think I would be so careless with something so important to me that I would send out a letter without thought? That I would slap together some sentences and not care?

The disrespect and condescending tone of this email nearly pushed me over the edge. For an hour after receiving it the small, ill tempered and irrational part of me screamed to write a scathing response email. I wanted to rip this agent apart, I wanted to educate her on how to treat someone who wanted for nothing but to chase their own passion. Luckily, I am not the ill tempered and irrational girl I used to be. Five years ago I would have sent a response email with no problem. Now though, I stopped and told myself that I would regret it.

Why would I regret letting out the frustration and anger and disrespect I immediately felt upon reading this email? This questions brings me to the second part of this post. Some advice on what I have learned so far in this process.

1. Don’t write a generic “Dear Agent” query letter and assume you can send it out to every agent. I read blogs and looked at samples and still find myself having to rewrite every time I want to send to a new agent. If it is generic, they will know! They are agents and they read for a living! They know when you are being generic and when you have actually taken the time to write a specific letter to them. Does this mean you have to spend hours each time you want to send a letter? Probably not. It means you need to read the submission guidelines for each agent and make sure that your letter meets their requirements.

2. Don’t send a letter that you are not 100% ready to send. If it doesn’t feel right yet, don’t send it! There isn’t a deadline on this. Don’t send it just to get it out there, if you do this then you knock that agent off the list of people you can submit to later after you are 100% happy with your letter.

3. Read sample query letters. Most agencies will have links to sample query letters they like. These letters will literally tell you what to write in yours. They wouldn’t link you to them, if they didn’t like them or they weren’t successful queries to their own agency.

4. Don’t be ill-tempered and irrational. The world is full of those snobbish, rude and disrespectful people. No matter what industry you are in or deal with, there will be those people. The problem is, you have no idea who that person knows. If I had sent a response today like my temper had wanted me to, I could have ruined any chance I have at finding an agent. Sending that one email to one agent could mean much more than just ripping apart one person verbally, it could have been viewed has me thinking I do not care about the opinions of people in the industry I wish to be part of, or that I think I am better than they are in some way.

Even though I have had this one bad email, all others have been respectful, nice and encouraging. Which I guess is my last piece of advice, don’t be discouraged. If it doesn’t work out, you can self publish and still get your story out there. Keep writing and keep trying.

 

~SKG~

write, write, write…. wait, what I am writing for???

No, seriously, what am I writing for? Sometimes this process is just exhausting. I get told my project is strong and that it could go far, but that it’s not for them. What does that mean??????? I take it to mean, I don’t like it, so leave me alone….

So, rejection sucks, I know this and it hasn’t got me down completely, but come on, how does this work really? I have a book, that I literally conceived when I was just 5 years old. It’s my passion, it has kind of kept me sane in times of insanity in my life and I finally finished it. 80,000 words of pure imagination. I guess I can’t be mad, I knew that the odds of finding an agent and being published were pretty slim. It wasn’t like I wasn’t prepared to be told no. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

I probably didn’t write for a whole four days after the first rejection. I swear it felt like I got hit with a ton of bricks, part of me was like, “Okay, that was fun, time to focus on real life again.” But then the majority of me was like ‘SCREW THIS SHIT! I WORKED FAR TOO HARD TO JUST GIVE UP!” The voice that said screw you won out and I push on with my dream of being a published author. To the point where I started the second book in the series. I have 20,000 more words of pure imagination that have flowed from my mind. It is such an amazing release of energy and creativity for me. I can stay up until 3am just writing and rewriting and rewriting until I think it is perfect.

So, the other day when I got another rejection I thought about this further. What am I writing for? Then it hit me, I’m not writing this for an agent, I’m not writing this for a publisher, I’m not writing for the millions of people who I wish could read this story. I am writing for me. I didn’t write this story twenty years ago for anyone else, I wrote it for me. I wrote it because in my head was this crazy story about a girl who found out her life was some kind of twisted fairy tale. She is powerful, yet weak, loving but guarded. She is pushed further and further and further until she breaks and has to decide between the easy and the difficult paths in life. I guess she is what I feel every girl should be. She is looked at as this super womanesque person because she has the power to free those who are imprisoned, she can save those who are about to perish and she is the one everybody looks to to solve every problem in her kingdom. She fails quite often, but she succeeds occasionally also, she makes wrong decisions most of the time, but she usually gets it right in the end. Overall, Ariana is the perfect girl, not in the sense that she does everything right and does it while looking perfect and always succeeds. But in the sense that when she falls, she gets back up and keeps going, that when she makes a wrong decision she apologizes and makes it right, that when it comes down to the end she would rather save those who have attacked her instead of destroying them. That makes Ariana the perfect girl in my head and that is why I have written her story even if no one will really get to read it.

I’ve decided to give you all a taste of this story. This is the opening of the story and just the beginning of Ariana’s journey. I am always open to comments when they are constructive, don’t be mean, don’t be rude but be constructive and up lifting.

 

The Other Side:

I have had the same dream since I was a child. There is barely a night I can remember that I didn’t dream of being carried through the woods by a strange woman. It was an odd dream, I was clearly a baby or small child, cradled in the arms of a woman with kind, dull gray eyes. The woman ran swiftly through the thick trees, though I could not recall a time when I had been in a forest this thick. I stared up at the woman as she ducked behind a tree and hid us in-between two prickly bushes. I could feel her arms shaking with terror as she held me tight to her chest. Her head snapped to the left as the sound of numerous other foot steps echoed off the trees.

After three others ran past where the woman was hidden with me in her arms, she took off at a sprint again, but this time ran perpendicular to our original path, before turning sharply into a thick line of trees that almost completely hid a large clearing from view. The woman paused again, and watched the clearing, counting softly to herself, on the count of one hundred, she took off straight across the clearing to a rock wall. Once at the wall, she felt her way through the vines that covered the rocks until her arm slipped through a small opening.

She held me closer to her and side stepped into the opening, it was cold and she paused only long enough to pull the blankets I was nestled in tighter around me. Soon the small cave opened up and directly in front of us was a jagged opening filled with a bright light. She stood for a moment just staring at the wall before holding me up in front of her. Her smiled made small wrinkles form in the corners of her eyes and the gray eyes glossed over as tears began to form.

“I am sorry I must do this, but I hope you will understand one day that I did not have a choice. You will be safe on the other side.”

The woman planted a gentle kiss on my forehead before stepping forward into the bright light.

I jolted awake from the familiar dream. I was breathing heavily as always and shivering, even though my room was always a little too hot for comfort. The alarm clock next to my bed was buzzing loudly, I rolled over and slammed my hand down on the snooze button and rolled over to my back. I stared at the ceiling, willing my heart beat to slow, until my alarm went off again. I turned it off and crawled off from under the blanket. I hadn’t been sleeping well lately, and my body was growing stiff from the lack of rest. I was only seventeen, but I felt like I was eighty some mornings.

The perfect fall recipe….. in the summer?

If you are like me, you get really frustrated at people who don’t think they can eat certain things because it is “out of season” ummmmm, last time I checked, if the grocery store carried it, I could eat it! The new obsession in my household over the past week has been a roasted squash soup with pork “croutons.” Yes, pork croutons.

So how did I end up making a creamy squash soup in the middle of summer (and mind you, I live in Las Vegas so summer here is HOT)? My fiance and I LOVE roasted squash, we will take an acorn squash, halve it, clean it throw a few tablespoons of butter into the middle of it along with some salt and chili powder throw it in the oven and just let it roast for a while.

The other day, I was going through our kitchen and figuring out what vegetables we had to make soon because they were about to go bad. Sitting on the counter was a large acorn squash. We had just had squash the night before, but I knew that if we waited much longer that we would have to trash the second squash we had bought. One thing I knew my fiance LOVES is soup (let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good soup?). So I figured it would be a good use of the squash and would probably get eaten quickly in our house.

The other upside to making a creamy squash soup, my finace is lactose intolerant, which basically means he can not digest dairy (milk or butter are the main things you have to watch for). Because of his condition he can’t really have creamy soups without having to take pills, powders or drops of some kind. It gets a little annoying and expensive for the medications he needs to be able to eat dairy.

If you look up squash soup recipes, you see a lot of recipes that include a lot of ingredients, including butter and cream, about 10 different herbs and seasonings and it just seemed way over complicated and like it would not highlight the main ingredient, squash. So, being me, I said f*ck the recipes, I am going to make this up as I go! So that is what I did!

First, I said screw using butter or cream! Who needs them? Squash is so creamy on its own if you cook it properly that it seemed ridiculous to add more. So I kept it simple, I sliced up the squash, leaving the skin on put it on a baking sheet with a little olive oil (I didn’t season it at this point) and put it in the oven to roast until it was extremely soft. I then rough chopped some onion and garlic (it is going to be blended so I wasn’t worried about dicing perfect onions and garlic here.) I put those into my soup pot and let them begin to break down and caramelize.

What I like about not using recipes and making my own is that I don’t worry about cooking things exactly like the recipe said, the first time I made the soup I cooked the onions only until translucent, the second time (which happened about 5 seconds before beginning this post!) I cooked them down a lot more for better flavor. I used half an onion, but again being as it is your recipe and your preferences add some more if you like onion more or less if you don’t!

Once my squash, onions and garlic were all cooked to my liking, it was time to blend! If you have a professional grade blender, your life is going to be easy doing this. If you don’t, it’s going to be a stop and go process most likely. I have an okayish blender so I have to stop and go a bit. Depending on how much you are making you may also need to do several batches in the blender and then mix together in a pot. Or you may have a hand blender that would work just as well.

The blending is easy (kind of), I put my squash and onions in first and then I put in a little bit of broth (you can use veggie or chicken but I would avoid beef for this). I start the blend process and slowly add the broth until it is as thin or thick as you want, then just let it blend for a while to really get it creamy (plus no one likes lumpy soup!). Once you have the consistency that you like you can add the herbs or seasoning you like. I like to keep it really simple and just do some salt and pepper and since my fiance LOVES heat in his food, I also do some chili powder or cayenne so that he gets the heat he likes.

Without the addition of butter and cream, a soup that is normally kind of heavy and becomes lighter and the squash is a lot more prevalent without the addition of cream. I like to let mine simmer on the stove

soup pic

Now, squash is kind of sweet and if you are like me, you like balanced flavors. So I like to add a salty element to the meal when I have soup. I like pork croutons! Now, this may sound weird to some of you who have never heard of a pork crouton, but all it is is pork belly that has been cut into about half inch pieces that is rendered and crisped up. You could go the simple route and use bacon, but I prefer the pork belly route because, it’s pork belly, it’s yummy.

Really easy to make, cube up your pork belly to the size you like it. I like to keep it bite size when I pair it with a soup (who wants to use a knife when they are eating soup?). Once you have them cubed, cook it just like you would bacon, add a little salt, a little pepper and then you put it in a skillet in a single layer and let it brown and let the fat render. I think the main thing people do is play with the food they want to sear off, so LEAVE IT ALONE!!!! No, really don’t even touch the pan for about 3-5 minutes.

pork before

 

After 3-5 minutes, check one of the cubes to see if it is browned

pork during

Then just like before, leave it alone and let the other side brown. After another few minutes you can toss the pork belly around a bit so you get the sides browned as well. Once it is fully cooked, put the pork on a paper towel lined plate to drain the excess fat.

pork after

put your soup into a bowl and place your pork croutons in the middle of the soup and Enjoy!!!!

soup done 2

 

Easy Squash Soup and Pork Croutons

Soup:

butternut or acorn squash (these are my favorites, but really you can use almost any squash for this)

chicken or veggie broth (the amount will depend on if you want a thicker or thinner soup)

salt

pepper

cayenne pepper

onion (as much as you like or don’t like)

garlic (again, as much as you like)

 

Cook your veggies down, typically I roast my squash for better flavor, but you can also cut it up small and cook it on the stove top. caramelize your onions and garlic. Put squash, onions, garlic in blender with a little bit of broth and start the blender, slowly add broth until blended smooth and you reach the consistency that you like. Let blender run as you add seasonings you like so they combine nicely. Pour this from blender back into a soup pot and let it simmer for a while to develop the flavors.

Pork Croutons:

Pork belly (as much as you want!)

salt

pepper

 

Cube the pork belly into bite size pieces (about 1/2 inch) salt and pepper pork belly and place in skillet on stove top. Let brown for 3-5 minutes DO NOT TOUCH IT. Let it brown and then flip it over and let the other side brown as well. Remove from skillet and place on paper towel lined plate to drain excess fat off of it.

plate up your soup and put the pork croutons in the middle for a nice presentation and enjoy 🙂

 

I hope the freedom this recipe provides anyone who tries it shows you how silly it is to follow recipes exactly sometimes. This is an easy, simple and delicious recipe that if I had followed from a website would have included about 10 more ingredients. Food isn’t complicated or difficult if you stop worrying about following the recipe. This is so basic you could make it even more tailored to your specific tastes. You could add roasted red peppers to this, you could add carrots but you will never know if you don’t try it.

Happy cooking!

~SKG

How NOT to make a tres leches cake….

For those of you who do not know me, I am a superb baker and cook. This week, I decided to try and make one of my fiance and my favorite desserts when we go out to eat. Tres leches cake. Sounds easy, simple cake with a milk mixture poured over top right? uhhhh, yeahhhh not so much apparently. Here I was, separating 7 eggs, creaming together sugar, butter and egg yolks, my fiance was furiously whipping the egg whites into stiff peaks and then I was combining dry and wet ingredients into a bowl. Fold in some egg whites straight into the pan and then bake for 25 minutes.

I thought it had gone well until 25 minutes came and went and the center of my cake was still RAW. I mean serious, still pure batter raw. It took probably another 20 minutes to get the center of the cake cooked, and by then the edges of the cake were much more browned than I like. I figured, this is not so bad, the edges were slightly harder, but the middle was soft and seemed very moist. I went to pour the milk over the center of the cake collapsed. Completely sank in below the edges. Never in my life have I ever had a cake do this to me. I cooled the cake as the recipe called for and when I cut into it, it was the most dense cake I had ever seen in my life. It was about the texture of cookie dough.

original cake

Yeah, It looks bad, but honestly still tasted very good, could have used a touch more vanilla, but otherwise tasted delicious.

What went wrong though? I made sure my eggs were perfectly separated, I creamed my butter, sugar and egg yolks to exact specifications. Upon doing some research, it seems that it could have been a huge number of things, but the main culprits seems to the be that I put too much batter in my pan, I had too much fat in the cake and my egg whites deflated when I folded them into the batter. Not one to be very discouraged, I set out to revamp this recipe and make an even better cake (Plus, I added chocolate, which makes everything better). 

I cut the butter out of the recipe altogether. That was the only fat beyond the egg yolks and I decided that there was more than enough eggs to make up for the butter to be gone. I cut down on the number of eggs, cut down on the amount of flour and added powdered baking cocoa. I again creamed the egg yolks and part of the sugar together then adding some whole milk and vanilla, sifted together the dry ingredients and my fiance and I worked to whip the egg whites into stiff peaks (we really should buy a mixer with how often I bake) streamed in some sugar to help stiffen up the peaks and then had to fold the egg whites and dry ingredients into the egg yolk and sugar mixture alternating 1/3 at a time. 

This time, I separated the batter into 2 smaller pans, but a 9×13 would have worked for the amount of batter. Without fail, it took 25 minutes to bake, I cooked the milk mixture this time also so that it was hot and would absorb into the cake easier. If you have never worked with condensed milk, it is very thick, but if you mix it with other milks and heat it up, it thins out and will absorb much better! 

I cooled the cakes and then poured the milk over the top, the result?

perfect cake

A fluffy and light tres leches cake that was perfectly moist!

 

Easy and relatively quick to make, this one is definitely going to be a favorite for years and years in my house!

The cake:

2/3 cup flour

1/3 cup powdered baking cocoa

1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 large eggs (at room temperature works best) separated 

1 cup granulated sugar (separate this into 1/4c. and 3/4c.)

1/3 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. You will want the rack in the middle of the oven as well. Figure out what pan you are using. This recipe will work for a 9×13 or you can use a round pans or smaller square pans, just make sure you do not use too much batter in any one pan. Using either softened butter or veggie oil VERY lightly grease the sides and bottom of the pan, then use parchment paper to line the pan, using the oil or butter to keep the paper in place. 

Start by separating your eggs, making sure that you do not get any egg yolk in the egg white bowl, if you do the whites will not stiffen up how you need them too. Set your egg whites aside as you will beat them right before you fold them into the batter.

Add the 3/4cup of sugar into your egg yolks and whisk this together until it is a pale yellow color and is creamy, add your milk in and carefully whisk them together. Add vanilla next and combine. Set this bowl aside for now.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set this aside.

Now starts the fun, if you have a mixer you will beat the egg whites on high until they are in stiff peaks, once in stiff peaks stream in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until peaks are very stiff, but have not dried. Should only take approx. 3-4 minutes for this whole process using a mixer. If you don’t have a mixer, using a wire whisk quickly whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, this will take much longer than with a mixer. Once stiff, stream in sugar and beat until sugar is combined and egg whites are stiff.

To combine everything, start by adding 1/3 of flour mixture into the egg yolk and milk mixture, whisk this in until combined. Next, gently (and I mean GENTLY) fold in 1/3 of your egg whites. Once incorporated, add the next 1/3 of the flour mixture and fold this is. DO NOT whisk anymore, you will deflate the egg whites and your cake will not be fluffy and light. After that add the next 1/3 of your egg whites, and continue this until everything is folded in together. 

Pour your batter into the pan or pans and put on the middle rack of oven. Bake for 25 minutes and then remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. After cake has cooled for 10 minutes flip cake out of pan onto a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature. After cake is cool, put back into the pan you baked it in MINUS the parchment paper. 

Using a toothpick, poke holes approx. 1/2inch apart over the surface of the cake. 

The Tres Leches part:

1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup of heavy cream

1 12oz can of evaporated milk

Combine the milks into a sauce pan and cook over a medium-low heat stirring constantly (to prevent the milk from scalding) until the edges start to bubble (do NOT let it boil). 

Once the milk has reached this point, remove from heat and begin to pour over the cake(s). Pause now and then to allow the mixture to absorb into the cake. It should absorb VERY quickly though. 

After you have poured all the milk over the cake, wrap in plastic wrap (or use a lid if your pan has one) and place in fridge to cool. Let cool for a minimum of 2 hours, but overnight is even better. 

 

I do not typically use frosting on tres leches cakes. I prefer just some fresh cut berries to add a bit of tartness to the sweetness and richness of the cake, but you can always add an easy whipped topping or buttercream if that is your preference. 

I hope you all enjoy!

My next baking adventure is going to be red velvet brownies! Can’t wait to tell you all about that!

~SKG~