Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don't I Feel Special?

Amy over at gave me the Beautful Blogger Award. I started following her blog a few days ago. Apparently, she visited mine and thought of me when she was asked to pass on this award. As a new blogger, I am honored!

The rules are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award and insert a link to their blog.
2. Pass on the award to about 15 other bloggers who you recently discovered and think are great!

So here are my 15 nominees (in no particular order):

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good Customer Service is NOT DEAD!

Chivalry may be dead, but today I experienced good customer service and it warmed my soul. You hear so many horror stories about bad experiences with businesses (large and small). As a small business owner, I strive to give my customers a pleasant experience each and every time they patronize my business. Large corporations might be able to afford to lose customers in large numbers, but the majority of GumdropSwap members heard about me through a friend or family members. My customers are my marketing team. I depend on repeat business and their referrals so of course I go beyond expectations!

I don't often receive that kind of treatment when I am the customer. So, when the rare occurrence happens, I savor it. Today, I experienced this at one of my favorite eateries. I first became acquainted with Valencia Luncheria ( on the Food Network's show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. They are located in Norwalk, CT which is my husband's home town and about 30 min from where we live. So, when we go to visit his parents, I try to make a way over there. They have rave reviews and they only valid complaint is the small size of the seating area if you are going to eat in. I have only ordered take-out so I can't speak on the dine-in experience. The few times I have had the pleasure of eating here, I have been pleasantly greeted and once even chatted with the owner about his appearance on tv. The counter clerk always takes times to answer my questions about the menu. Although, I didn't modify anything I ordered, my husband will attest that I am a picky eater. I know what I like and will request that ingredients be omitted or added to my order to enhance my meal. Why order food if I know I won't like it? I'm never rude about it. If my modifications cannot be easily met, I simply choose something else from the menu. No big whoop.

Anyway, they call there cuisine "Venezuelan beach food" and no matter what you call it, it is unlike anything else I have tasted. You can taste the fresh ingredients and love put into the preparation of the food. The presentation (it's to-go food so it just needs to make it to the destination without becoming mush right?) is simple. The specialty item is called an arepa which is some meal cakey thing fried on the outside (kind of tamale-ish but crispy on the outside) and they cut it open and fill it will delicious fillings. Combinations of cheese, vegetables, and/or meat. I chose the roasted pulled pork arepa, tostones (flattened deep fried plantains that are lightly salted) and a salad this time. They serve a green cilantro based condiment that I do not know the name of but I used it on the arepa and tostones.

But, this is where I was blown away. My daughter was in the car with me and had just fallen asleep. I didn't want to wake her and take her into the crowded eatery on a Saturday afternoon so I parked in front and called in. I spoke with a young woman and explained that I had driven from Bridgeport for their food but I could not come in because of my sleeping toddler. I asked if I placed an order, could someone bring it out to my car. She said that would not be a problem and it wasn't. In less than ten minutes, I had hot deliciousness in my passenger's seat. They aroma wafting up at me beckoned me to begin eating instead of waiting to eat at my next destination. I don't know how my daughter could have slept through the food and my smacking.

Curbside service may not have been that difficult for this establishment. Maybe you aren't impressed. But I can think of many times I have been denied what I thought was a simple request. The young lady that took my order could have easily sucked her teeth at my request and put me on hold to consult a manager and make me feel like I was really inconveniencing her. But she didn't. And that's why I will be back and continue to send them more business. Oh, and because their food is to die for! Did I mention there prices are extremely affordable?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Easy Cheesy Empanadas

Wikipedia defines: An empanada is a Spanish and Portuguese stuffed bread or pastry, also known as "impanada" in Italy. The name comes from the verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. Empanada is made by folding a dough or bread patty around the stuffing. In Spain, empanadas are usually large and circular in shape and are cut into smaller portions for consumption, whereas in Portugal and South America empanadas are normally small and semi-circular (this type of empanada is commonly known as empanadilla in Spain).

It is important to note, I am NOT USING typical empanada dough which can be found in Spanish grocery stores or supermarkets with a large Spanish population. The dough is similar to that of pot pie crust or what;s used for Jamaican beef patties. But my aunt Carol put me on to the delicious crispy egg roll wraps a few years ago and I much prefer the texture and less doughiness.

The great thing about this recipe is versatility! When I see my fresh veggies about to spoil, I don't want to throw them out, so I saute whatever I have on hand into the skillet along with my ground meat (beef, chicken, or turkey). Are you a vegetarian? No problem! Just skip the meat and add in more vegetables.

I often use zucchini, onions, shredded carrots, mushroom, green pepper and canned corn. But this time, I was pressed for time and thought I would try a bag of frozen mixed veggies that I found in Target. I'm telling you, no matter what you choose you cannot mess this up! If you used any canned items, just remember to drain them first :-)

  • A few cups of Canola oil (or your favorite frying oil) 
  • 1 pack of ground meat (*or make it completely vegetarian!)
  • "Archer Farms" brand Corn & Blackbean Seasoned Blend frozen mix
  • Egg Roll wrap (found in your produce section, usually with the tofu) I used Nasoya.
  • Taco Seasoning (or season with your own spices) I used a packet of Old El Paso Taco Seasoning
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (what I had on hand was Kraft Sharp Cheddar) you can use your favorite shredded cheese blend
  • Optional condiments: sour cream, salsa, guacamole
  • Large skillet with a top, small dish, tongs or utensil to remove empanadas from hot oil, dish lined with paper towel
  1. (Optional) brown your choice of meat and drain most of excess fat
  2. Add in frozen veggie mix or your choice of things from your fridge (cover and saute until thoroughly cooked)
  3. Stir in seasoning and mix well 
  4. Drain
  5. Remove from heat and allow to cool
  6. Add canola or other frying oil in a frying pan (about 1 inch deep) and set to med-high heat
  7. Prepare a plate or cutting board with flour to prevent Egg Wrap dough from sticking and small dish of water for sealing the dough
  8. Place one square of dough on floured surface
  9. Add a small handful of shredded cheese to the middle of the square
  10. Place a large spoonful of your meat/veggie mixture on top of cheese
  11. Fold one corner in towards the center, dab with a dot of water from your dish and then fold in the opposite corner to overlap and stick (If you find that it was hard for your corners to meet and the filling is overflowing out of the sides, this is the time to remove some of your filling)
  12. Use your fingertip to make a line of water along the edge of one of the remaining opens flaps and fold in towards the middle. Make sure to seal that wet edge on top of the 2 opposing corners that have already met in the middle (see photo in slideshow)
  13. Seal the last flap in the same way. ***If the dough rips while you are folding, finish the folding and then wrap in an addition egg roll wrapper for reinforcement.
  14. Place completed empanadas on a plate to rest while you keep making more. You want to fry 2 at a time. These cook quickly and you don't want to be occupied prepping more while they are cooking because they will burn.
  15. Check oil for readiness. Try dropping a drop of water in. If oil is not hot enough, keeping folding more. 
  16. Place 2 empanadas (folded side down) into hot oil. Let cook about 2 min on each side or until golden brown. (Don't walk away, these will burn quickly)
  17. Flip and brown the opposite side.
  18. Try to drain as much oil off of the empanadas into the pan before placing on a dish lined with paper towels for cooling.
  19. Top with your favorite condiments for Spanish food and ENJOY! I suggest serving with a tossed salad.

A Model Citizen

It's weird writing about this. I've tried to keep my "personal life" sort of separate from my business stuff. But as my secret life is becoming more public, I am getting recognized and it's harder to keep under wraps. It's not like I'm ashamed of being a plus-sized model, it's just that I think of these facets of my life as unrelated. On the contrary, I am proud of my contribution to changing the American ideal of beauty. It's so cliché but I must reiterate that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. As a mother of a young girl, I worry about the media's influence on her self-esteem. I don't want her to strive to some unrealistic idea that she has to be rail thin to be considered beautiful. Especially because its not in her genes to look that way.

Lots of people ask how do I find time to do all these things. The truth is, I don't have time. I often say there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. I just try my best to be a good wife, mom, business owner and whatever else. So, a few years ago when I didn't have all these other titles, I pursued a modeling career. Larger framed models were few and the industry was very resistant. With the persistence of curvy actresses and pioneer models (Emme, Queen Latifah to name a two) more and more companies recognize that the average woman in the US is a size 14 and began to market to them. So, in the past few years, clothing for larger women has become more fashionable (less muumuu-like) and I hope this trend will continue. Just when I began getting gigs I got pregnant so I took a hiatus. I let my agent know I wanted to work again in 2009 after getting laid off from my corporate job. But with the recession, marketing budgets were cut and there wasn't much work to be had.

I booked my only modeling gig for 2009 with the weight loss supplement called Alli. They are using my images along with a few other models for their website and web ads. I traveled to a studio in Brooklyn on Dec. 5 to be shot by a talented photographer, Grace Huang. The website was updated by the end of the year. You can see me at but I saved you the trouble of hunting me down.

So far I've had 2 acquaintances ask me "Is that you on Alli website?" so that has been cool. I'm curious, especially if you have daughters, how do counteract society's standard of beauty in your home? Does is matter to you what size models represent the brands you buy? Does that even matter to you?

Monday, February 22, 2010

featured in Natural Awakenings magazine!

Pick up your free issue of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County. GumdropSwap is featured in February's issue on page 23 (Fairfield Green section). The article was written last December so the contact information is not current. We have since acquired that retail boutique we were "considering". Our new address is 1001-5 Main St., Bridgeport, CT 06604 and phone # 800.385.6080. That is the address that should be used for shipping items to swap. Here is a link to a digital version of the magazine article.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Work in Progress

When I started Gumdrop Swap, I expected to work out of a warehouse of sorts. I would fill internet orders and have limited contact with customers. But when I began telling local people about the business, they wanted to come see my inventory and drop of their items instead of sending through the mail. That made sense but I didn't have a presentable set-up. I was blessed that my husband's childhood friend had office space he wasn't using and offered it to me to save some overheard. My husband helped me purchase my initial merchandise from a kids store that went out of business. Once I added in donations from friends and family and the things I saved that my daughter no longer needed, I was ready to take customers.

After a few customers, I quickly realized that I was going to outgrow the borrowed space I was in. It was only a temporary anyway. I couldn't store my inventory at my home so I looked for a new office. I found that for what I would pay for sq footage for office space I could get a smaller retail space for about the same amount per month. This changed everything.

I had to change the business plan to be more retail. But I could now attract new customers by being more visible and accessible. I lived in Read's Artspace in downtown Bridgeport, CT for over 2 years so I was familiar with the area. They have worked to revitalize the once industrial and municipal zone into a thriving residential/retail area. I love historic architecture. After researching the developer, GDC, on, I knew I wanted to be part of the Arcade Mall project. Only a few year prior, I could look out my bedroom window at the Artspace lofts and see the workers restoring the glass atrium ceiling. Now that natural sunlight will illuminate my storefront in a few weeks. It's amazing how things come full circle! They have chosen energy saving building materials and geo-thermal heating which supports my business' eco-friendly mission.

The bamboo flooring has been installed. The lighting is in and walls are waiting to be painted. We are ordering fixtures. Then the merchandise can be displayed. I expect to open in early March and cannot wait to write the next chapter!

This is the view from the back of store towards the front.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yummy Baked Salmon

Everything is better with bacon! Well, these days, I know a lot of people have eliminated pork from their diet. So, if you do not eat bacon, this recipe is just as delicious without it. So skip that ingredient if you want. I love seafood but do not care for the gamey taste of some fish. I think of salmon as the chicken of the ocean. Both salmon and chicken take on the flavors of your seasoning well, and allow you to prepare in so many ways. For my salmon, I used frozen Alaskan Keta Salmon fillets from Target. But fresh salmon is preferred.

  • desired number of salmon fillets
  • Old Bay, Lemon Pepper or your favorite seafood seasoning
  • bacon* (optional) 1 slice per fillet, if you don't use bacon you will need a pat of butter or margarine per fillet
  • aluminum foil
  • Lawry's teriyaki ginger marinade OR Kikkoman LITE teriyaki (yellow orange top) 
  • 1 tsp lemon juice per fillet

  1. Defrost salmon if frozen 
  2. Preheat oven 350º
  3. Tear off a large enough piece of aluminum foil to create a "pocket" for your salmon. You can probably fit 2 fillets per pouch. If you individual pouches, then you can season to the various tastes of your family members/dinner guests. Maybe some want bacon and some don't?
  4. Place fillet(s) in the middle of aluminum foil. Place pouch on cookie sheet before placing in oven.
  5. Pour about a tsp of lemon juice on each fillet. I spread with my hand to penetrate fillet.
  6. Then add about 1 tbsp of teriyaki marinade per fillet. Spread to cover.
  7. Season. I used a little Old Bay (maybe to spicy for kids) and lemon pepper.
  8. * (optional) wrap slice of bacon (Oscar Meyer is what I used) around the fillet
9. Bring the long sides together to meet over the fish. Fold seam over twice. Then fold up ends to create your pocket.
10. Bake for 20-30 min depending on fillet sizes.
11. If you have wrapped in bacon, open the pouch. Be careful, the steam and foil is HOT!
12. Broil (do not walk away, it will burn) for 2-3 min for desired bacon crispiness.


I served my salmon with dirty rice with green peas. I used the liquid that cooked off the salmon and poured over my rice. No reason to let that goodness go to waste. Let me know how it turns out! 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What kind of "sickie-poo" are you?

Nothing like a category 5 illness to jump start a weight-loss plan. This past week my house was hit with a stomach bug that would put Montezuma's Revenge to shame. It would send Montezuma shamefully to a corner, shivering at it's immense power. It tore through our house (read: digestive systems) like a Kansas cyclone and left a devastated wasteland in it's wake. And when you tell someone about it and the response you get is "Yeah, that's going around," you feel cheated of sympathy. You want to scream (but you're too weak), "No, you don't understand! I almost died!"

My daughter will be 2 years old on Monday. We planned to have a party at our house on the Sat before (the day I am writing this) but that had to be canceled. The toll this virus took on us was diabolical. There was no way I could get everything done in time, when I couldn't even keep ginger ale down.

After the worst was over, it took about a day to rest and recover. While I was rehydrating, it dawned on me how different my husband, daughter and I all handled being ill. My daughter was unphased between her bouts of puking. She ran a low-grade fever but continued to play and maintained her appetite even though she couldn't keep anything down. What a trooper! She was sick first and it was hours before I showed symptoms and realized we were dealing with something contagious. I'm pitiful when I'm sick. I drag my feet and groan. I'm very quiet and easily irritated. I just wanted to sleep it off. Now my husband is dramatic to say the least. He's that character from any sitcom that gets crazy with the bell and terrorizes the family. Of course, he did not have a bell, I'm not stupid enough to do that. But incessantly calls my name and whines. I have to leave the room and laugh because he is too much.

I'm curious, what kind of sickie-poo are you when you're under the weather? Any home remedies to share?