Train cake for a second birthday

So I’m 36 weeks pregnant and it’s my son’s second birthday party … of course I need to get all fussy over the dessert and make a train cake from scratch! Honestly, as I made this cake, I questioned why I was going through all the trouble. It probably cost 2-3 times as much as a sheet cake from the grocery store, and it took about 2-3 hours, instead of 2-3 minutes when just picking one out. But knowing exactly what went into this cake (including all the love), getting to be a bit creative, testing my “abilities” and seeing my son’s smile as the result of my work really did make it all worthwhile.
Since I’d be cutting the cake prior to frosting, I needed something “sturdy,” so a pound cake fit the bill. It’s not my favorite cake in terms of texture, but it did perform as required. A 7-minute frosting would have been my first choice, but it was 85 degrees and I needed something I could work with for as long as it took, so a modified cream cheese frosting fit the bill.
I was happy with the outcome, and so was my son, so I’m going to call this one a success.
Chocolate Pound Cake
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 4 sticks softened butter: unsalted plus 1 t salt, OR use salted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 9 eggs, lightly beaten


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees, line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper (leaving paper an inch above pan on all sides), and combine flour and cocoa powder in a bowl
  2. Cream butter (and salt, if using unsalted butter) and sugar with a mixer on high speed, scraping down sides of bowl, until pale and fluffy
  3. Reduce speed to medium and add vanilla extract
  4. Add eggs in 2-3 additions, mixing thoroughly after each and scraping down sides
  5. Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture in 3-4 additions, mixing until just incorporated
  6. Scoop batter into pan and smooth top
  7. Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes
  8. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Pick up by parchment paper to remove from pan, and let cool completely on wire rack. Gently remove paper when cool and transfer to serving platter.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk


  1. Mix together sugar, cream cheese and butter on low speed until well blended, then increase speed to medium and beat until fluffy.
  2. Add vanilla and milk and continue to beat on medium speed. Add more milk or sugar as necessary to achieve desired consistency.
Train Cake Tips
  • This was the first time I used parchment paper for a 9 x 13 pan, and it worked great! No fear of breaking the cake upon “unmolding.” I’m a convert.
  • Use a very sharp knife to cut pound cake, and don’t get too fancy!
  • A “crumb layer” of icing is absolutely essential. I just covered the cut cake with a thin layer of un-colored frosting.
  • Yes, I used standard food colorings for the icing, I admit it.
  • I used chocolate Twizzlers, M & Ms, E.L. Fudge cookies and a German black-liquorice-and-chocolate gummi (yum!) to decorate the “train.”

Garlic mustard

Eat this!

It’s Earth Day again, so let me tell you about some really great mustard! I love this stuff!

Um, what? OK, this really is some great mustard, but the product itself doesn’t have anything to do with the environment. The name, however, is a different story. In addition to being a great taste-combination, garlic mustard is an invasive plant, and it’s probably taking over a nature trail, roadside ditch, patch of forest or backyard near you.

Why should you care? Because garlic mustard takes over areas where it grows, choking out natives flowers and plants — actually killing them with its poisonous roots. So where once there may have been hepatica, spring beauties, May apple, bloodroot and trillium blooming in the early spring, now there is only garlic mustard. It’s a real threat, and it spreads like wildfire.

Pull this!

The good news is, it’s easy to identify and quite easy to pull, especially the day after a good rain. So make yourself a good, hearty sandwich (with plenty of mustard if you like), then head out and do something good for the planet. Once you know what to look for, you will see this noxious weed everywhere. It’s most effective to pull the plant before the flowers turn to seed; in southeast Michigan, today is a perfect day for a Garlic Mustard Pull. Plants are often in flower until about late May. A single plant can produce thousands of seeds, so even pulling a few plants makes a difference!

Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Simply amazing cookies

What more can I say? These cookies are incredible. Amazing. Worth getting fat for. Almost impossible to stop at one. You’ve been warned.

Very Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 1/3 C butter, softened
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 3 C flour
  • 1 C oats
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 12 oz. chocolate chunks
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate chips
  • 8 oz. white chocolate chips
  1. Combine first five ingredients
  2. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients
  3. Mix dry ingredients with butter mixture
  4. Drop by large spoonfuls (golf ball-size) onto cookie sheet, slightly pressing down each cookie in the center
  5. Bake 8-10 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven, then remove to racks to cool completely

“Brown Velvet” Cheesecake

When life gives you really crappy chocolate cookies, make really fantastic chocolate cheesecake. Well, at least that’s my motto of the week.

Now to begin with, you may wonder, is there really such a thing as a crappy chocolate cookie? Sadly, yes there is, and they were lurking at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in the guise of great-looking cookies. My husband and I bought a stack of them and brought them home with the rest of our treasures, looking forward to breaking them out after dinner. And when we did … they were tough, excessively crumbly, and strangely lacking chocolatey goodness. Boo! We barely made it through one, but never a family to throw out food, we simply closed up the bag and tucked the rest of the large, homemade hockey pucks into the pantry.

Then one night as I tried to rest my weary mind, I was hit with inspiration! Of course, those mediocre cookies would make a exceptional crust. And an exceptional crust deserves an outstanding topper; cheesecake would fit the bill nicely. This time, I decided to expand my cheesecake repertoire with a Red Velvet Cheesecake recipe.

However, upon reading up on Red Velvet recipes, I was floored by instructions calling for 2 ounces of red food coloring. Um, I don’t think so, I’ll live with a not-red, Brown Velvet Cheesecake!


  • 2 cups finely ground cookie crumbs of your choice (chocolate graham cracker would work well)
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1/4 C butter, melted


  • 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1/4 C unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 C sour cream
  • 1/2 C milk + 1/2 T vinegar OR 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 t white vinegar


  1. Mix together cookie crumbs and brown sugar. Add melted butter and mix well.
  2. Press mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes; cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar.
  4. Add beaten eggs, about 1/4 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Add cocoa, sour cream, milk + vinegar or buttermilk, vanilla and vinegar; mix well.
  6. Pour batter into prepared crust and bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cheesecake looks almost set. After cheesecake is cool, cover and chill in the pan, in the refrigerator overnight.

Pursuing females’ fancy: the beer industry’s quest to win over women

Michigan Beer Guide featured this article in their January/February 2012 issue, as part of a series I’m writing on Women & Craft Beer. This is the longer version of the article; you may read the published version at the Beer Guide website. It is reprinted with permission.

As any craft beer enthusiast or MBG reader can tell you, women – classy, intelligent women – do indeed enjoy drinking beer. Couple this fact with the statistic that, depending on who’s compiling the calculations, women make or influence 80 to 90 percent of all purchasing decisions, and it seems you have a no-brainer, all-win situation: market beer directly to women! And yet, beer marketing and advertising has traditionally focused on men, ignoring or objectifying women (or both). However, marketing gurus do, from time to time, get the bright idea to target women in their campaigns, with decidedly different outcomes.

Marketing beer directly to women may be somewhat of an anomaly, but it’s not a new idea. The history of beer and its promotion is long and fascinating, but let’s approach this scene after the end of Prohibition. Even then, a few savvy admen saw women as an untapped market. Exploiting the female trend to strive for slimness, Acme launched a campaign in the 1930s touting their beer as “dietetically non-fattening.” Although the ads featured illustrations of slim, pretty women that would be attractive to men, the message was aimed squarely at women.

During and after World War II, beer-marketing efforts directed at women really took off, with two different and quite opposing dynamics at play. First, as men left to fight during the War, more women were obliged to work outside of the home. Second, after the War, the mythical American family – featuring the hard-working husband, doting home-making wife and charming kids – was conceived and promoted. Both the confident, self-reliant persona attached to the first scenario and the compliant housewives connected with the later were featured in various campaigns.

A Miller High Life ad from 1952 depicts a poised female golfer who clearly makes her own decisions about how she spends her time and what she quaffs. However, ads featuring women as consummate wife and hostess are in far greater abundance. A 1950s series from Schlitz, united by the slogan, “If you like beer you’ll love Schliltz,” features beautiful, smiling ladies cheerfully carrying out their wifely duties, from fetching a tray of Pilsner glasses to hosting the perfect party to offering a cold one to a fly-fishing husband.

Bud also tapped into the ultimate hostess idea in 1956, with two women not necessarily enjoying beer themselves, but enviously gossiping about how their excellent hostess only serves Bud. A different, prolific campaign from Budweiser straddled both realms. The “Where there’s Life … there’s Bud” series prominently featured women; sometimes enjoying beer alongside a man, but also often having a beer poured for her by a man just outside the frame.

Let’s fast-forward through the next few decades, shall we? There’s no need to discuss (or display) here all the big-breasted, scantily-clad, suggestively-posed women who have decorated the ads for fizzy yellow fermented beverages over the years. Our common knowledge of this spectacle is the very thing that makes “marketing beer to women” noteworthy.

Recently, a few companies have seemingly “seen the light” once again, and so have devoted tremendous energy to capturing the female market. However, a glimpse at two specific endeavors may make female beer lovers cringe.

First up we have Animée from Molson Coors, launched in the UK in the fall of 2011 and available in three variants, including crisp rosé and zesty lemon. As the press release explains, this “lightly sparkling and finely filtered beer” aims to “make beer a real choice for women.” The result of input from over 30,000 women and two years of concentrated industry research, Animée beer and its brand plan are designed to be “feminine and sophisticated without being patronizing.” As a woman who enjoys beer and knows scores of others who do the same, this concept baffles me. Is another alco-pop really the answer to wooing women over to beer? I agree with Molson Coors that they, along with all brewers large and small, “need to repair the reputation of beer among women.” But is this the way to do it?

Next we have Chick Beer, “a beer just for women,” brewed and available in and around Maryland but hoping to take female drinkers across the country by storm. Because women certainly don’t want to carry a six-pack that looks like a six-pack, this beer comes in a hot-pink carrier disguised as a clutch, rimmed with faux bling. The font is sassy and full of curlicues, and the labels depict a little black dress, “just to be absolutely certain that no one could mistake it for dude beer,” as their website explains. Because all women hate calories, this beer has less than 100, but still tastes “soft, smooth and full-bodied.”

This type of marketing comes across to me as basic condescension, narrowly defining women as “chicks” who are predominantly concerned with appearances – just as ads with bikini-clad women pigeon-hole men. The notion of including women in the marketing of beer is a splendid one, but recent efforts such as these seem to only reinforce stereotypes and propagate the segregation that already exists.

Of course, these products and promotions aren’t geared toward women who already like beer; they’re trying to capture female attention. If a brew dreamed up exclusively for women serves as a “gateway” to real, craft beer, than I’m all for it. But honestly, I just don’t believe that products and advertising pandering directly to a woman’s “girlie side” will spark a revolution in female beer-drinking. And as Charlie Papazian put it in a HuffPost Denver article on Chick Beer in September 2011, “It seems quite contrary that if you want to attract anyone to beer – you offer them something that tastes less like beer.”

Women by and large may indeed be repelled by beer, due to its image and the way it’s been marketed; there is certainly room for growth in the “female beer drinker” market. The concepts that beer is a masculine drink and that all beer tastes the same are presumptions that it will certainly benefit marketers to dispel. However, flamboyant attempts to attract an isolated segment of the market seem like a backwards way to approach the situation.

The focus should be on integrating women, not singling them out. Exclusionary advertising might create a buzz in the short-term, but perhaps advertising should just be geared toward promoting a superior product to the entire community. Let’s have less sexism and gimmicky advertising, not more. We need campaigns that respect women simply by not objectifying them or ignoring them, and by offering true great taste to everyone.

Five vaguetarian slow cooker meals!

Being a “crunchy” mom can be challenging. Washing diapers every other day; taking multiple unpaid breaks from work for well over a year to pump milk; making a healthy breakfast and lunch every morning to send to daycare, rather than just letting a child eat the free, government-provided meals of chicken nuggets, fish sticks and the like; making a healthy dinner for the family almost every night instead of relying heavily on prepackaged or take-out meals: crunchy moms certainly don’t make the choices we do because they’re easy.

While making healthy and earth-friendly choices is important to me, but it can also be time-consuming. And time is something that is at a premium in my life, as this summer, I will be the working mom of two little ones, and I will continue to be our household’s #1 cooker, baker, cleaner-upper of everything, dish-washer, laundry-washer, etc. So, making dinner every single night will likely not be in the cards.

As a result, I’m presenting 10 recipes for slow-cooker freezer meals: dinners to prepare, freeze, and then toss in the slow-cooker several hours before dinnertime. Because I am not a die-hard vegetarian, there are meat-based recipes in the mix — these feature vension, which can easily be swapped out for any other meat you prefer, or omitted entirely. I have not made these recipes yet, I am simply providing them as a reference for you, and for myself! I’ve seen ideas like this on other blogs before, but usually with only 2 or 3 recipes, or broken links to recipes, neither of which are very helpful to me. Original sources for the recipes are provided, although I have tweaked most of the recipes featured below. Any feedback is most welcome!

Generally, for the recipes below, dump everything into gallon freezer bags, shake them up, seal, label and put in the freezer. To cook, take bags out of freezer and set on the counter for about 30 minutes, then dump contents of bag into your slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours. See each recipe for specifics, as some have ingredients that are added at the end of the cooking time.

1. Stephanie’s Goulash

  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 2.5 cups coarsely chopped bell peppers
  • 2 cups of carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 pounds venison meat, cut into one inch cubes
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 4 teaspoons Hungarian paprika or regular paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 cups hot cooked noodles
  • 1/2 dairy sour cream

Omit last two ingredients from freezer bags. Cook the noodles separately, the day of cooking, and garnish with sour cream.

2. Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

  • 1 (19 ounce) can black bean soup
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can or jar chopped tomatoes in puree
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (16 ounce) can vegetarian baked beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained or 2 cups frozen corn

Combine all but last four ingredients in freezer bags. When the cook time is almost complete, add the last four ingredients to your slow cooker.

3. Chunky Corn Chowder

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 medium red potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup chopped baby carrots
  • 2 (15.25 ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained or 4 cups frozen corn
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (or soy milk or other milk substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup milk (or soy milk or other milk substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley

Combine all but last three ingredients in freezer bags. When cook time is almost complete, whisk together the flour and remaining 1/2 cup milk in a bowl. Stir the mixture into the soup, and continue to simmer until the soup has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley before serving.

4. Slow Cooker Pepper Steak

  • 2 pounds venison, cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 large bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can or jar stewed tomatoes, with liquid
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cube beef bouillon or 3 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Put all but last three ingredients into freezer bags. When putting the frozen ingredients into the slow cooker, mix the bouillon cube or alternative with hot water until dissolved, then mix in cornstarch until dissolved. Pour into the slow cooker with other ingredients.

5. Moroccan Stew

  • 2 pounds venison, cut into chunks
  • 2 large onions chopped
  • 1 can/1 cup chopped tomato
  • 2 cups carrots
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 2 cups vegetable broth

Combine everything except broth; add that the day you cook it. Serve with couscous.


Sisterhood of the Suds

This was featured in the November/December 2011 issue of the Michigan Beer Guide, as part of a series I’m writing on Women & Craft Beer. This is the longer version of the article; you may read the published version at the Beer Guide website. It is reprinted with permission.

Stitch-n-bitch circles, scrapbooking sessions, the Red Hat Society, all-female book clubs, mommy-and-me groups, and the list goes on: clearly, women thrive on sharing experiences and maintaining close circles of like-minded companions. For any interest, hobby or passion, there is likely an all-female group devoted to enjoying it together. And with craft beer stealthily making its way onto the collective female radar, it makes sense that groups of women who gather to appreciate and learn about microbrews are popping up everywhere.

Across the board, women’s beer groups emphasize inclusion and shun snobbery. These clubs exist to promote beer enjoyment among experts and the uninitiated alike, and hinge on creating a friendly, encouraging environment.

On the national level, there are several all-woman, beer-centric groups, each with its own unique focus. Perhaps the most well known is the Pink Boots Society, whose mission is to “inspire, encourage and empower women to advance their careers in the Beer Industry through networking and education.” Members of this Society include any female who earns any portion of her income through the beer industry, whether she’s a brewery owner, bartender, or anything in between. There are about a dozen members of the Pink Boots Society residing in Michigan, ranging from Certified Cirerone Annette May to brewers, writers and owners.

For women not employed within the beer industry, but simply interested in enjoying craft beer, there is the affiliated Barley’s Angels. This group is designed to “foster beer appreciation in women, teach women’s role in beer history, encourage women to homebrew, and inspire the next generation of potential women beer professionals.” There are currently chapters in at least six states including Illinois and Minnesota, as well as in Canada, the UK, Australia and Argentina.

Christine Jump, producer and host of the audio interview program Craft Brew Cast, sponsored the very first Barley’s Angels group. “I thought that I didn’t like beer for three quarters of my life,” recalls Christine. “The idea that I could help other women discover the marvelous variety of craft brew was a very easy sell. My hope is that women will discover that craft beers are so widely varied; there is literally something for everyone.” Another “consumer-focused,” national group is Girls’ Pint Out, established to promote “solidarity between beer drinkers of the fairer sex;” they have chapters in at least five states.

Both consumers and professionals may join Women Enjoying Beer (WEB), “an education based company that develops and serves the female beer consumers … [and] works with professional beer community members to accurately and successfully market beer to women.”

Some groups are based more on face-to-face interaction, and feature monthly events like brewery visits and themed beer tastings. Others, such as Ladies of Craft Beer, are geared towards fostering online communities of women.

In addition to national groups, there are myriad local groups across the country. For example, there’s Women’s In Pursuit of Ale (IPA) Club of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Beer for Babes in New Jersey and Ales 4 Females in Colorado. In Michigan – a state simply awash in superior craft beer – the female beer appreciation group scene is in its fledgling stages. However, we’re off to a respectable start.

Detroit has Detroit Draft Divas, which launched in the spring of 2011 under the direction of Copper Canyon Brewery head brewer Todd Parker, who identifies himself as “consultant, liaison, and mascot” for the club.

Todd set out to “establish a Metro Detroit area group for like-minded women interested in craft beer … women interested in learning more about beer and brewing in a more comfortable setting,” and the group has more than met this goal. “I am very happy with what we have done. We have created a group that has some dedicated members, and set up a communications structure to get the word out. It is not huge yet, but with time, it will only get bigger.”

The Divas meet at a different location each month; events may include a brewery tour, an informational gathering followed by lunch (and a few pints, of course), or a party at an area brewery. According to Cindy Hegenauer, a founding member of the group, there are currently about 25 regular attendees, representing “almost the whole spectrum of female craft beer drinkers.”

On the other side of the state, Grand Rapids is home to the PussyCat Beer Guild. Inspired by the Pink Boots Society and initiated by HopCat owner Michele Sellers and HopCat staff, the Guild dates to the summer 0f 2008. “We hoped to encourage women to be open and bold about their appreciation for good beer, whether they’re a brewer, an aficionado, or simply just interested in learning more,” explains Sheryl Rose Marshall, who is involved in running the club. “We’ve realized that goal in varying degrees over the years, and continue to attract new members and interest in what we do.”

Ladies of the PussyCat Beer Guild

Meeting attendance usually hovers below 10 women, although there were 20 females at the largest meeting and there are more than 50 “members” in the Facebook group. “Feedback has been excellent,” confides Sheryl. Sheryl admits that there is a certain amount of preaching to the choir, as “nearly every woman who has come to a meeting was already on the craft beer bandwagon in some way.”

But, all members ultimately benefit from the enthusiasm and combined knowledge of the group. “We’ve had a few women who had never homebrewed and were excited to attend our off-site group brew days to learn how. Once in awhile, someone will come in and say she only likes a certain type of beer, but we’ve been successful in encouraging her to try new things by evaluating what it is that she likes about the beer she does drink, then finding a beer in a different style with the attributes she expressed as desirable.”

On a side note, “men often comment that they wish the woman in their life would get involved with us,” says Sheryl.

Also in Grand Rapids is the Ladies Ale Society at Schmohz Brewery, where 50 to 80 ladies attend meetings. Begun with a beer tasting event in October 2010 and scheduled for a meeting in early November 2011, this Society centers on encouraging women “to try beers that they normally might be steered away from,” says Schmohz “Beer Engineer” Chas Thompson. “Too many times, I see ladies being overly influenced by male companions and not getting the opportunity to try very many things,” Chas says.

Although not the brewery-home of a structured club, Wolverine State Brewing Company in Ann Arbor hosted their first “Real Women Drink Beer” event in June 2011. The female-centric night was such a success that similar events are now in the works on a twice-yearly basis, with the next get-together scheduled for February 2012.

As director of sales and marketing E.T. Crowe (also known as The Beer Wench) explains, “I know the traditional ‘Ladies’ Night’ is a ploy to get women in by offering them drink specials. I wanted this to be a true Ladies Only Night where we could gather, meet, drink, learn and relax with a little pampering action.” Notice how she just slipped the “learning” right in there? Perhaps lured by free massages, munchies and henna tattoos, it was the first visit to a “beer bar” for many of the ladies who attended.

"The Beer Wench" leads a tour at Wolverine

“I worried a little that I’d get my regular crowd,” continues E.T. “Nothing wrong with regulars mind you! But I really wanted to offer this as something new for women who would never in a million years consider coming to a “tap room” to meet their friends to enjoy a craft beer. I would guess the crowd was split 20/80, with a solid 80 percent either completely new to the place or to craft beer generally.”

Women living far from the bustle of Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids or Detroit should not count themselves out. It only takes a handful of members to create a successful women’s beer appreciation group. Starting a group can be as easy as visiting a local brewery and talking with a brewer, bartender or female mug club member about when an inaugural meeting could occur, and how to get the word out. Social web sites like Facebook, Meetup and Google and Yahoo Groups also make ascertaining interest, building membership and inter-group communication simple and quick, whether or not there’s a brewery nearby. And, already-established national or international groups are yet another option for finding a female beer clan.

Women and craft brews are a perfect match, and women flourish within groups of “sisters;” female clubs devoted to the enjoyment of craft beer are a natural culmination. Michigan, as The Great Beer State, has a bright future ahead of her, full of passionate groups of ladies who appreciate, evaluate and enthusiastically quaff our outstanding brews.

Happy Halloween!

When I was a kid, my mom would make us a special treat for Halloween: a large, round brownie, frosted and decorated to look like a jack-o’-lantern. This was exciting for several reasons: we didn’t often have “sweets” in our home, and I was a sugar-fiend; we got to help with the decorating, which meant gorging on as many candy corn and M&Ms as we could shove into our mouths; and, it looked cool.

This year, for the first time, I decided to make my own. However, there was no prerequisite pizza pan with a short “lip” at the store, so I had to improvise and, rather than one large “pumpkin,” make two smaller ones in two glass pie pans.

In addition to the aluminum, lipped pizza pan, the original “recipe” (which I believe was clipped from a Good Housekeeping magazine circa 1984) called for M&Ms, Chuckles and candy corn atop an orange-frosted brownie. My brownies feature white chocolate chips, and I used a cream cheese frosting, but overall, I stayed quite true to the original. Enjoy your Halloween!

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Oatmeal Cocoa Chocolate Chip Cookies

Did you ever bite into what you thought was an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, salivating with anticipation, only to discover that those “chocolate chips” were … raisins?! That might be great for some people, but I am not riding the white flour-butter-and-sugar-laden cookie train just to arrive at oats and raisins. But I do absolutely love a fresh, homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and so does my husband. Last night, he requested a dose of homebaked comfort, but couldn’t decide whether the aforementioned cookie would ring his bell, or if it was a chocolate cookie he craved. No problem, we can have the best of both worlds. I threw together this recipe, and proved it.

  • 1 C softened butter
  • 2 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 2 C flour
  • 3/4 C cocoa (I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa)
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 C regular oats
  • 16 oz. chocolate chips (I used half dark chocolate chips and half semi-sweet, with a few additional white chips for garnish)
  1. Combine first four ingredients, beating well.
  2. Mix together all remaining ingredients except chips, then stir into butter mixture.
  3. Mix in chips.
  4. Bake 9-10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. So good!

The inaugural MI Fest

Badass Beer was the best brew on offer. Well, maybe that’s not the best place to start, but it’s pretty much where we started. This was the first-ever MI Fest at MIS in Brooklyn, Michigan, and if nothing else, it was a unique experience.

An outstanding September day set the stage: fresh breezes blew away ominous clouds to reveal sparkling blue skies; the temperature was brisk yet comfortable. My husband and I left our 1-year-old with a sitter for a very rare night out and headed for the 1,400-acre Michigan International Speedway complex, most famous for hosting NASCAR races twice a year. The event, billed as “an outdoor music & camping experience,” was set up in a large, rolling field used as camping space during NASCAR. Wristbands on and backpack checked, we entered and soon found ourselves browsing an array of artisan and farmer’s-market-type booths, just after passing the impressively long lines at the Third Man Records van.

The variety of stands really added to the “festival” for us, and we ended up buying a few chocolate chip cookies (dry and bland), eying some jewelry and – after much finance-related discussion and some bartering – purchasing a very cool handmade ashwood-trimmed birdhouse. So that was fun.

the Third Man Records van

But, we were thirsty. And that was a problem. Perhaps this is de rigueur at all the events these days, but it seems deeply wrong to me: water was $4 a bottle, and that was the only water one could get. This, I was not a fan of. Empty (or full) water bottles were not allowed into the festival, and even if they were, there was not a single drinking fountain or even a damn hose to be found. Touted as a family-friendly event, there were kids here, and pregnant ladies, and hell, really drunk people! Maybe I’m being an old fart, but this is beautiful, wonderful America, where you can drink free-flowing water from almost any tap and not get sick, and here 12 ounces of water cost more than a gallon of gas – and it was the only water available at a 12-hour festival. It offends me.

It's wet and it's cold. Yay.

Ah well, we like beer, and so we gravitated to one of the refreshment stands dotting the grounds. Twelve ounces of Badass Beer: $5; 16 ounces of either of two varieties of “light” macrobrews: $7; I won’t quibble with these prices. Although my husband and I briefly debated the price-per-ounce question, it was a moot point, as I had no desire whatsoever to drink a light macrobrew. So Badass it was. And the discussion of that beer is another topic for another blog, but let’s just say, it’s good if you really want a macrobrew. ‘Nuff said, thirst quenched.

But this was a music festival, right? When we showed up, The Romantics and Ty Stone were blasting out music that seemed to compete for our attention – the two stages were only about 100 yards apart. Music from one stage vibrated the air during the lulls in songs being performed on the other. I don’t think the artists loved this, and at least one performer commented on it between songs. However, this motley collection of acts seemed to make the best of it for the most part. I should mention at this point that when I bought our tickets, there were three stages planned and a host of mostly-Detroit-based talent on the ticket, but that all evaporated a few days before the event launched. The tickets didn’t sell as robustly as the organizers had planned, and I also caught wind of the promoter bailing just before the event, and MIS assuming control. So two stages and less bands, but really, I didn’t care. I was here for one reason, and one reason alone: The Raconteurs.

Yet Jack White didn’t take the stage for a few hours, so we tooled around the grounds, eventually brushing past the main, “MI Fest” stage, where Ronnie Dunn (of Brooks & Dunn fame) was doing his thing. Since this sounded like run-of-the-mill-radio-country to me, and that isn’t really my thing, we drifted to the “Grandee” stage, where The Rockets were slaying it.

OK, these guys are old. They played one song that we thought we had heard before. But you know what? They totally rocked! Maybe we were chuckling as they went through their clearly time-honored posturing, but it was undeniably enjoyable. The lead singer posed and writhed and sweated, the guitarist jammed out on a righteous solo and they delivered a tight set of fan favorites. Sweet!

Here’s another odd facet of this festival: the variety of acts, and the people they attracted. The attendees were a mix of families, young and very cool hipsters, and the retired set in their Velcro sneakers and fanny packs. All this diversity made for some stupendous people-watching!

Many people brought lawn chairs, blankets and coolers of food and “camped out” near the main stage. This was fine for most of the day, but things got hairy when the headliners took the stage and fans began pressing closer around, stumbling over chairs and trampling blankets. (However, many of these “campers” packed up and left after Sheryl Crow finished up; they saw what they’d come for and left more room by the stage for me!)

It was tough luck for The Rockets that Sheryl Crow began 15 minutes before they ended, as they finished up to a sparse crowd. We stayed on for the end of the Rockets’ set, then dispersed through the gathering twilight to see the big-ticket draw.

Not Detroit

Sheryl sounded great and presented a high-energy performance. This pocket-sized singer ran through her hits and actually seemed to enjoy doing it. If I could give her personal feedback, I’d advise her on two topics. First, know where you are. Yeah, Brooklyn, Mich. is near Detroit, just like Nyack, NY is near New York City or Benton Harbor, Mich. is near Chicago. Over and over, she shouted out things like “are you feeling me Detroit?” Um, we’re two hours from Detroit. That ain’t right. Second, send out a lackey and see what kind of event you’re at. Shouting out, “how do you like those corn dogs?” doesn’t really work when there are no corn dogs on offer. Trying to redeem yourself by asking about the (non-existent) funnel cake doesn’t help, either. We were eating ribs and burritos. And waiting for The Raconteurs!


I was grinning from ear to ear and bubbling with excitement as night fully blossomed and the crew set up The Raconteurs’ equipment. Once they finally took the stage, I was not disappointed! Courtesy of Jack White and the rest of this finely-tuned music machine, I was transported to a galaxy of awesome, along with the rest of the remaining crowd who came not to hear country music or bands from the 70s, but for this, this.

As long as I’m dispensing advice, here’s some for Jack: I know you’re in your own world and that’s why we love you, but please consider us, the little people, before you turn your back to the crowd to jam out with the drummer; we want to see you tear it up, man! I know, I’m just being greedy. I’ll admit that, for a few moments, I understood those screaming girls in the old Beatles movies. Overall, their performance was fantastic. I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating by using the word Epic. When it was all over, I wanted it all again, and again!

I walked back to the car in a bubble of music-fueled joy. The festival had a few kinks, sure, but if The Raconteurs return next year, so will I.

Spin did a good write-up and took some solid photos