August 28, 2010

The Sweetness of Life

My sister has this great old house built about a hundred years ago. It has an octagonal porch with a porch swing. She's also decorated the porch with lots of wicker furniture with brightly-colored cushions, outdoor lanterns, ferns, etc.

It's a wonderful "outdoor room".

This summer an old childhood friend was back in town for a visit. Since he had recently got married, we were anxious to visit with him and meet his new wife.

So we decided to have a little "meet and greet" reception on my sister's porch, with just a small gathering of friends and family, wine, cheese, grapes and Pepperidge Farms Milano strawberry cookies.

The party was a huge success. I can't think of many things better in life than spending a summer evening outdoors on the porch with a gathering of close friends and family. Good company, good wine, good food... It doesn't get much better than that!

Everyone was sorry to see the evening end. One of life's sweetest moments now only lives in our memories and the photos we took.

But now every time I taste a Pepperidge Farms Milano strawberry cookie with dark chocolate, that sweet moment comes rushing back to me and I can relive a bit of that evening, even if time and distance have separated us once again.

Funny how a simple thing like eating a cookie can bring back a rush of memories of a wonderful time. But these are no ordinary cookies. These are Pepperidge Farms Milano strawberry cookies. This fabulous little cookie deliciously pairs luscious strawberry filling with rich, dark chocolate for an irresistible, sweet indulgence that brings a moment of satisfaction to any day. And guess what? They go great with both red and white wine!

Create your own memorable sweet moments! Remember to pick up Pepperidge Farms Milano cookies for your next get-together and watch the sweetness unfold. Then you too can savor the memories as you savor the cookies in the future.

And now you can save $1.00 when you use this coupon to purchase Pepperidge Farms Milano cookies! Be sure to visit the Pepperidge Farms Milano Facebook page for more great discounts and offers.

New England Coffee - it doesn't get any better than this!

I'm a coffee junkie. If I don't have at least two cups of coffee first thing in the morning, I'm cranky and listless the rest of the day. Caffeine really doesn't make me jittery like it does a lot of folks. But still it gives me enough of a jumpstart to my day to make getting going a little bit easier.

You see I'm something of a sluggish bear in the mornings. Yes, it's true. Just ask anyone in my family. :) Recently I read something that kinda made sense to me, because it said that some people experience a very low drop in blood pressure while sleeping so that they are groggy and slow in the morning before the blood gets pumping again. I think that describes me very accurately.

I've always envied those folks who jump out of bed rarin' to go, or awake from a fifteen-minute power nap fully refreshed. Not me. Naps just tick me off and make me mad. Unless I can sleep until my natural circadian rhythm says it's time to wake up, if my sleep is interrupted by an alarm clock (every freakin' workday) then I'm cranky and slow to get started. Can't help it. Just me.

So coffee is not just a luxury, it's a necessity.

Imagine my delight when New England Coffee sent me several packages of their coffee to try! I couldn't believe how generous they were. I received six packages in six different varieties to try. And I started trying them the very next morning.

The New England Breakfast Blend was my favorite. It had a hearty flavor while still being smooth as you would expect from a breakfast blend. I was very impressed that it didn't have a bitter aftertaste like some coffees. New England Coffee's Breakfast Blend is a mix of Central and South American beans, medium-roasted to perfection. Love it!

Second favorite was San Francisco Blend, a bold mix of Kenya and Sumatra Mandheling beans French-roasted for a darker, more robust flavor. Yet still not over-powering or acidic. Perfect for those times you need a real coffee pick-me-up!

I also tried the Blueberry Cobbler flavored coffee, which surprised me because I really didn't expect to like it at all. But New England Coffee Company is masterful at achieving just the right blend of flavors. While this isn't a coffee I will drink often, it would be a nice change of pace now and then, and definitely a nice after-dinner cup.

Hazelnut Creme was delicious! I use hazelnut-flavored coffee creamer a lot as it is one of my favorite coffee flavors, so I expected to love this coffee--and I did! Definitely will be purchasing that in the future.

New England Coffee also sent me a couple of varieties of decaffeinated coffee to try, and to be honest I'm not a big decaf fan but these were also very delicious and would be perfect for late-night or whenever you really don't need the caffeine stimulus but still want a satisfying cup of coffee.

There is not a doubt in my mind that New England Coffee is a cut above all other coffees. They have mastered the art of blending different beans and roasting them to perfection. You will never get a "bad" cup of New England Coffee! And you won't believe the prices--about what you'd pay for garden-variety coffee brands, but with the flavor of specialty coffee. Only $5.49 for a 12-oz. bag! That's definitely the best deal I've found in a long time!

New England Coffee is available in many retail stores and you can also order online. If you are a coffee connoisseur or just a coffee lover like me, I strongly urge you to check out New England Coffee for yourself. I love trying new coffee blends and brands and flavors, but I think I just found my new favorite brand!

Here's a bit about the company taken from their website --

New England Coffee is owned and operated by a third generation of the Kaloyanides and Dostou families and has been providing quality and service for over 90 years. Our beliefs in the highest standards of customer service and product quality have been passed on in the true tradition of family business.

In the early years, we were located in a building at the corner of Milk and Broad Streets in Boston, where hand-roasted coffee was delivered by horse and wagon. Our first truck was purchased in 1918 and other family members started to join the business. In 1966, after outgrowing several homes in succession, we finally settled into our present location at 100 Charles Street in Malden, Massachusetts.

Today we occupy five buildings and have hugely expanded our manufacturing and packaging capabilities. While we've grown to become New England's largest independent coffee roaster, our philosophy and goal are still the same - to buy and sell premium coffee and provide the best service possible.

Our methods are not cutting edge. In fact, they're antiquated by most people's standards. And we wouldn't change a thing. It's the only way we know how to make sure that you'll always enjoy a consistently great cup of coffee.

As fine coffee becomes more and more integral to the American way of life, we will continue to indulge you with our consistent tradition of good taste.

Believe it. And try New England Coffee for yourself. I know you'll love it like I do!

Disclaimer: I was provided samples of New England Coffee gratis in exchange for providing an unbiased review of the product. (Thanks Kathleen!) No other monetary consideration was involved, and my review was not influenced in any way.

August 15, 2010

Making pasta at home is a breeze with ATG! {giveaway}


When I see those cooking shows on tv that show someone making their own pasta, kneading the dough, then rolling it out thin and yet thinner still in one of those pasta machines that also cuts the pasta into recognizable noodles, I'm always envious.

Making my own pasta at home has always been something I've wanted to do. So when ATG Stores offered me the chance to review a product and host a giveaway for my readers (more on that later) I knew exactly what I wanted to review.

A pasta maker.

ATG Stores very generously sent me the Prago Traditional Pasta Machine. Since this would be my first time ever to make pasta, I enlisted the help of my mother. Four hands are better than two, and hey, she's got a much nicer kitchen than my crappy little apartment kitchen!

I chose the plain pasta recipe, which is simply 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 cup of warm water, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix this into a dough, let it set for about 15 minutes, then the pasta making can begin!

Setting up the machine was easy. Even though this was our first time for both my mother and myself, we went by the simple directions that came with the pasta maker and had no trouble setting it up or figuring out how it works. It's really really simple. We were both a little intimidated at first, but the ease and simplicity of the machine quickly alleviates all doubts you may have.

There's a handy C-clamp included so you can clamp the machine to a table or counter top. I highly advise you to do this so that the machine isn't moving around all over the place. Then just attach the cutter mechanism to the main unit (it simply slides into place), stick in the handle, and you're ready to make pasta.

The basic recipe makes quite a bit of dough, and as you roll it out and keep making it thinner, you will see that it makes a lot of pasta. We split it up into 4 sections and worked with each section at a time so that our workspace wasn't overly crowded.

There are 7 settings on the rollers that press the dough thin. The instructions advise you to start with 7, run the dough through a few times, then gradually move the numbers down, running the dough through again and again. The lower the number, the thinner the pasta. At the 2nd and 1st settings, the dough is so thin you can almost read through it. This would be good for very fine angel hair pasta or even pastry dishes where you want a very very thin crust.

For spaghetti, use from 3 to 5 to get the thickness of the noodle that you prefer. We were so fascinated by how easily the machine thins the dough that on our first batch we went all the way to 1 and the pasta almost fell apart before we could cook it, that's how "dainty" it is! So it may take a bit of experimentation to get just the right thickness that you and your family prefer.

When you've got your dough all flattened out nicely, it's time to run it through the cutter. That part is easy too. Simply move the handle from the rollers to the cutter mechanism and do the same thing, running the dough through. It automatically cuts the dough into thin strips.

The length of the dough piece you put in will determine the length of your noodles. Since this was our first time, there was a lot of trial and error, and we found that it really makes things a lot neater if you trim your dough into nice straight edges first. A simple kitchen paring knife does that job easily.

The instructions suggest that you hang the pasta noodles to dry before cooking. They will dry pretty fast. We didn't really have anything appropriate to hang them on, so we cooked them fresh as is.

Fresh homemade pasta takes only a fraction of the time to cook that store-bought pasta takes. Make sure you use plenty of water and get it to a full rolling boil before adding the pasta. Depending on the thickness you chose for your noodles, it will cook very quickly. We were a bit skeptical of this at first, so our first batch came out overcooked and a bit mushy. The next time, we let the noodles cook for no longer than 3 minutes and they came out perfect. So again, experimentation is key, because it really depends on your personal preference.

Just for the sake of variety, we served the noodles with alfredo sauce and regular spaghetti sauce. Don't they look good enough to eat? :)

Overall we were both impressed with how easy it is to make your own pasta with this pasta maker. It takes a little longer, sure, but isn't that what makes it special? And no preservatives! A great family activity that even the kids can participate in. Spend a Saturday making up several batches, let them dry completely, then store for later use.

And wouldn't that make a great gift! A bag of homemade pasta noodles and a jar of sauce in a nice little basket would be a fabulous and much appreciated gift.

Hmm... I think I just figured out what to give those people on my gift list who are so hard to buy for...

ATG Stores is giving one lucky Shady Lady reader a $50 gift certificate! Lucky you!! This giveaway is open to US and Canada only please.

Entering is easy. Please do the mandatory first step before doing the extra entries. Winner will be determined by using Entries will be verified before winner is contacted, so please make sure you use the same username, name, and/or email address for each entry, or tell me how to identify you. And PLEASE leave an email address in your comment if it is not publicly visible on your blog! Thank you for adhering to these giveaway rules.

Visit and tell me what you would purchase if you win this gift certificate. Please leave a link to the item, along with your email address. You must leave a link to an item you found on the website. (Getting the link is easy: once you find the item you want, click in the address bar at the top of your browser and copy the URL. That is the direct link to the item you chose. Then just paste that into your comment. Let me know if you need help doing this.)

Extra entries - please leave separate comments for each:

Since many of you are not bloggers or tweeters, I want to offer you some extra entries as well.

For an extra entry, tell me if you've ever made homemade pasta and what your experience was like. Got any tips for me?

For another entry, email this giveaway to a friend and carbon copy me (cc: tnshadylady(at) You'll get an extra entry for each person you email about this.

Bonus entry if anyone you sent an email to enters the giveaway and states in their comment that you sent them. One entry for each referral.

FIVE ENTRIES if you follow the ATGStores Blog

FIVE ENTRIES if you follow my blog with Google Friend Connect. (see left sidebar) Be sure to make five separate comments to get all the entries.

THREE ENTRIES if you become a fan of ATGStores on Facebook

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THREE ENTRIES if you follow @ATGStores on Twitter

THREE ENTRIES if you follow me on Twitter @tnshadylady Leave your Twitter id.

DAILY ENTRY - Tweet this giveaway and leave a link to your tweet. Feel free to copy and paste:

#Giveaway #Win $50 GC to @ATGStores! Over 500 stores! Shopping online has never been easier! @tnshadylady ends 9/15

FIVE ENTRIES if you follow me with Networked Blogs. (see right sidebar) Be sure to leave five separate comments.

THREE ENTRIES each if you subscribe to my email updates and/or rss feed. (see left sidebar) Tell me what email address and/or reader you use. Three entries for each one, so leave three separate comments, or six comments if you do both.

THREE ENTRIES if you subscribe to ATGStores Email List

TEN ENTRIES - Post this giveaway on your own blog with a link back to this giveaway and also a link to Leave me a link so I can verify.

Giveaway closes midnight CST Wednesday September 15, 2010. Giveaway open to US and Canada only. No PO boxes please. Winner will be chosen by and notified by email. Winner will have 48 hours to respond, or another winner will be chosen.

per sponsor: Anyone who is currently hosting an ATG Stores product review or giveaway is not eligible to enter.

Remember to leave separate comments for each method of entry! For instance, if you follow me on Twitter, leave THREE comments with your Twitter ID. This is the only way to be sure that you get all your entries.

Disclaimer: I was provided a sample product from gratis in exchange for providing an unbiased review of the product. No other monetary consideration was involved, and my review was not influenced in any way.

August 14, 2010

CSN review: Jewelry Jumble No More!

I love jewelry. But I rarely wear it.

Why? Because I can never find just the right piece in my jewelry collection.

Don't get me wrong - I've got tons of jewelry. When I say I can't find the right piece, it's not because it isn't there. It's because I can't find it.

Take a look at the top of my bureau where I keep my jewelry:
A mess, right?
How do I ever find anything??

I don't. Earrings get separated. Sterling silver gets tarnished. Necklaces get tangled.

It's a mess.

CSN Stores very graciously offered me the chance to review a product from their wide variety of over 200 online stores so it was a no-brainer that I chose to review a jewelry box.

I love this jewelry box!! It has so many compartments and places for all but the largest pieces of my jewelry. But it isn't the large pieces I'm concerned with - it's the small ones. The earrings, rings, bracelets, etc. Look at all those neatly laid out spaces!

I couldn't believe how much clutter I reduced simply by adding this box to my bureau top. See for yourself -

The jewelry clutter is gone!

Take a look at the before and after -

I still have some rather large jewelry pieces that need a place they can be stored handily, but I'll save that for a future CSN review, because I've got my eye on this wall hanging jewelry organizer that would be perfect for those long necklaces and items I want to keep from being tangled.

CSN Stores is now my go-to online shopping site whenever I am even thinking about purchasing something for myself or my apartment. Whatever you need, they've got it. And the prices can't be beat. I've checked the same items at CSN, Amazon,, Target, etc. and CSN consistently has the best prices - and usually free shipping on most of their items. You can't beat that deal!

So remember to shop CSN first. I guarantee you'll love CSN!

Disclaimer: I was provided a sample product from CSN Stores gratis in exchange for providing an unbiased review of the product. No other monetary consideration was involved, and my review was not influenced in any way.