Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fall is the Time to Try Pork & Mindy's

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Pork & Mindy's
Bao to the Tot - photo courtesy of Pork & Mindy's
Wherever you live, you probably have access to Food Network star Jeff Mauro and his relish creations on the boob tub.  Maybe you've even tried some of his recipes at home or picked up his famous sauces int he grocery store.  But have you visited Pork & Mindy's in Chicago, where he and founder Kevin Corsello put his Sandwich King status to the test with crazy-good smoked creations?

To be fair, I wouldn’t have known about about Pork & Mindy’s unless a) it was mentioned in the Red Eye, the Tribune’s dumbed down version of a newspaper for people like me with short attention spans, of which I am obsessed with reading in order to bucket-list new restaurants; or, b) someone told me about it.  It turns out both happened.  Unfortunately I missed the writeup earlier this year while jacked up on painkillers that kept me from reading.  Thank heavens my wife joined forces with the quirky Wicker Park / Bucktown restaurant as Franchise and Operations Director not long after, so that she could tell me about how freakin’ phenomenal the food tastes!

This morning, I opened the catering menu that had been residing in my purse since I picked it up two nights ago at the fall tasting event at Pork and Mindy’s which featured their newest culinary mind-blowers.  Like Pavlov’s dog, my taste buds immediately lit up as I got a whiff of their famous smoked meats right from the paper flyer.  The Bao to the Pork, a gorgeous piece of pork-shoulder topped with a jalapeƱo relish and some other crunchy veggies, on a……wait for it…..steamed bao bun, is my all-time favorite sandwich on the menu.  After the party, I’m thinking it might have to take a temporary back seat to the new Eggplant Parm, which rocked my world!  While it’s described on their menu as crisply fried eggplant coupled with the house smoked mozzarella, which is killer in its own right, I was pleased to note the eggplant carried the best of both worlds, with a firm texture consistent with a fried item, but without the greasy breading that often accompanies a watery vegetable like this.  Perfectly-herbed focaccia encompassed the staples, along with sundried tomato pesto, fresh basic, and roma tomatoes.  Perfecto!

A better man would have paired it with Sweet Potato Potato Salad to keep it totally vegetarian, but I’m a sucker for the meats, so I chose the Reuben Tots as a funky sideshow, complete with pastrami, homemade 1000 Island dressing, toasted rye seeds, and shredded swiss atop perfectly seasoned tater tots.  Right now, I’m making that motion of kissing my fingers and flinging them out with with flair that usually signifies how good something tastes, just thinking about it.  The tots on their own, without a single topping, dipped in Pork & Mindy’s homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, make a bold statement of taste.

Other items launched at the event included Da Beef, a slow smoke-braised chuck with giardiniera, sweet peppers, and beef au jus on a dipped roll and the Pastramindy, yep you guessed it, a house-cured, smoked pastrami sandwich on marble rye with mustard and spicy pickles.  The new Buffalo Chicken Tots gave the established Totty Bar classics a run for their money (Bao to the Tot and Tot’tine) with smoked chicken, hot sauce, blue cheese, and ranch. 

I didn’t get a chance to sample the Cheezy Beef Tots, but I’m guessing it would have held my attention with giardiniera, smoked mozz, and chuck.  Pork & Mindy’s famous candied bacon, aptly named Pig Candy, made an appearance in the new Buffalo Blue Hog Slaw, partnered with creamy buffalo dressing and blue cheese.  While I didn’t try it, I can’t imagine a single food item that couldn’t be enhanced by Pig Candy!

If you’ve already tried Pork & Mindy’s, go again and try the new stuff! If you’ve never tried it, get on it….stat.  
ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Pork & Mindy's

Pork & Mindy’s 
1623 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL  60647

Friday, July 29, 2016

An Unexpected Show of Compassion

An Unexpected Show of Compassion - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
‘Random Acts of Kindness’ has graduated to a staple buzz phrase in our world.  We’re not only familiar with its meaning, but most of us have experienced it, either as the giver or the receiver, or both.  You know what I’m talking about….the anonymous neighbor that weeds your garden and mows your lawn, the guy behind you in line at at the Starbucks drive-through who literally pays it forward by buying your coffee before you pull up to the window, or you carrying a load of groceries home for a senior or young mother who seems to be struggling.  I love the trend of showing kindness to complete strangers; it’s a custom I’ve come to rely on.

But I’m also a sucker for the unexpected show of compassion I receive from others, and occasionally dole out myself.  While compassion itself can be passive and does not necessarily require action, the intimate offerings of warmth I’m referring to require a little more interaction and often takes a lot of guts.  Example?  How about the lab technician who gave me a full-on hug from behind today while I was uncomfortably trying to keep my boobs from being squashed to death in the mammogram machine during my annual appointment.  Sounds wacky, but the unexpected offering of fellow feeling totally eased my angst over a painful medical necessity.  

We were talking about tattoos, as what else do you talk about when you see a crying eyeball in the center of a flaming sun etched on someone’s chest as you’re positioning their ta-ta’s on the tray?  She said she wanted her own permanent mark  for her 50th birthday, and we shared a moment of verbal appreciation for doing something for yourself that makes you feel even more in tune with your spirit than you already are.  Somewhere between the compression of the twins, and the holding of my breath for the umpteenth time while the camera captures a digital image of my mammary glands, she gave me a quick squeeze on the back of my shoulders. 

In that moment of uber exposure while my cha-chas’s lay flattened out on a cold glass table-top machine and portions of my chest were being crushed to the verge of a cracked rib cage, her simple charity of touch went a long way to both ease my distress and to allow me to accept the connection she was handing out through our conversation. 

While I traditionally can hold my own in the compassion department, I’ve recently experienced a rut, where the simple connection with others is difficult, as my immediate comfortable zone is to close myself off.  Thank you, fearless lady, for extending your humanity to me, even in the most awkward of times; your action has already started a chain reaction in me of reaching out to others. 

Shall we keep the ball rolling?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Life Lessons Live On

Every year I track her down on Facebook to make sure she’s still around.  Our disastrously intense, messy, and passionate love affair came to an end almost seventeen years ago, yet I still need to know she is out there somewhere, that she exists, that she’s still alive.  One year my FB creeping yielded that she had moved and was in a new new relationship; another year’s tracking revealed that she was in the hospital again, and still another year’s data mine pointed  toward a new business she had started.  This year my search led me to Debi’s obituary.

The sense of loss I’ve felt over the last week since discovering she’s gone is nothing short of life-altering.  Our tumultuous four-year relationship ended exactly as one would expect, in catastrophe, given the circumstances.  I was a young, proud gay woman struggling to find my way in the world on my own, for the first time without the emotional support of my family.  Debi, almost twenty years my senior, dropped the entire life that she knew - husband, kids, business, and home - to love me just as I was.

Our life together was unsustainable in every way imaginable.  While we kept in touch for quite a few years after our difficult split, fostering the connection eventually became a strain for both of us.  While the relationship had died, the love and respect remained in tact.

I mourn the loss of Debi from this earth.  I shed tears for the family she left long before her death.  I grieve for the loss of “first love” and innocence.  I sorrow over the vulnerability I’ve tucked away all these years as a measure of self-protection from the hurt I experienced during our partnership.  I shed tears for the loss of a life guide who helped form me into the human I am today.

Our unlikely relationship proved pivotal in my growth as a person.  I learned:

What sort of mother I want to be
To seek healthy relationships at any cost
Never to rely on the affirmations of others for my own happiness
Laughter heals most pain
Self-care is necessary to be a good ANYTHING (mother, lover, worker, etc.)
To be true to myself at all costs
Love is NOT enough to keep a relationship alive when practicalities are not considered
To honor the fine line between how much of myself I can give without falling off the ledge
Life lessons don’t die just because the person who taught them is gone

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Entitlement Era

We see it in our kids and our youth.  The assumption that they can do as they choose, regardless of boundaries or limitations that have been place on them, without ramification.

“Can we have 5 more minutes to play after lunch?” a 6-year-old playmate of my daughter asks me.  “How about 2 minutes or 1 or even 30 seconds?“ is the negotiative response to my emphatic no.  Two little feet patter over to the slide and climb its ladder, despite our conversation.

“So?  It’s no big deal,” a motorized scooter-riding, almost-teenager responds to an adult pointing to a sign posted to the outside wall of the school, prohibiting wheels on the new turf.

“But I just missed it by one point, Mom!  I should have still still made the finals.”

They’re just kids learning the ropes, right?  Sure, if we’re doing the teaching.  But what if the parents are the ones teaching the entitlement?  

What if dad parks in the crosswalk at the corner of his daughter’s school when he’s running late, despite the illegality of the park job, endangering other kids trying to cross, and the weekly emails from the school highlighting the traffic issues and asking each parent to do his part to keep the kids safe? 

And how about mom juggling her latte, a bag full of snacks and juice boxes that will keep the two kiddos in tow quiet during the 2-hour musical, despite the rule of no food or drink in the auditorium?

And what does it say when an adult whips out his handheld for a quick text, call or FB update at an event that has been dubbed no phones or electronics allowed during a presentation?

It trickles down folks. Each incident may seem like minutia, but each small entitled action screams not only to the world, but directly to our children, that per definition, we are “inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment” and it’s just not so.  Our children don’t learn entitlement from the outside world, they learn it right at home….from you and from me. 

Even though we may take the time, energy, and unpopular stance of setting up behavior expectations and ramifications for non-adherence for our kids, it’s not enough.  Regardless of following through with the monitoring and doling out of consequences to our children for their behavior, it doesn’t do the trick.  Active engagement in a child’s life alone is insufficient.  We must acknowledge that our personal actions have direct bearing on what our children learn.

When we act as the rules don’t apply to us, our kids will think the same for themselves and respond in fashion: Monkey See, Monkey Do.  Let’s change the behavior.  Let’s change the attitude of tomorrow’s youth.  Let’s change the self-monitoring behavior at a time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Candy Shops Rock

Dizzy Cow - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder

Who remembers the old-school candy shops with glass containers holding volumes of hard candy, sugared concoctions, chocolates, and packaged favorites like Sugar Daddys, Snowcaps, and Lemonheads?  Many of us have blocked those rites of childhood out of our minds because we have no modern-day form of reference to keep the alive.

Dizzy Cow is here to remind you of sweet days gone by and to allow you to introduce the concept to a new crop of candy lovers.  Located in the North Center neighborhood at 2155 W. Irving Park Road, between Leavitt and Hamilton, this stained glass window storefront is chalked full of your favorite candies and treats.  Picture various sized packages of multicolored gummy bears wedged between huge pieces of peanut brittle and malted milk balls stacked high in mason jars.  Imagine lolly’s as big as your face saddled up next to bags of chocolate stars and pop rocks.  You name your heart’s desire, and Dizzy Cow has some rendition of it.

Proprieter Margaret Reynolds bought the building last summer and keeps the shop stocked with loads of bonbons, toys, and novelties, all housed in classic furniture or displayed on antique servers.  It’s one of those magical places where every step you take gives you another reason to ooh and ahh.  From the vintage Coca Cola machine to the 1950’s Ruth E. Newton rubber dolly to the bubble gum cigarettes for sale next to the vintage cash register, each encounter prompts nostalgia for a time that was easy, where the biggest decision for a kid was should I get  the big Baby Ruth or go for a Chuckles and a Tootsie Roll?

Dizzy Cow - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
My daughter and I happened into Dizzy Cow a few week ago and we were so enthralled with the store, its shopkeeper, and its potential future (think back-of-the-store milkshake counter in the summer doubling as a cocoa bar in the winter), that I went back twice in the following week for gifts and treats.  Reynolds’ enthusiasm for candy and all things vintage came across loud and clear in her vast selection, moderate pricing, and her personalized suggestions.  She offered us samples while we were browsing, pointed the kids to the bargain rack with the $1 bags when she saw I was paying in quarters, and pointed us in the direction of her favorite chocolates.

The sugar treasures and trinkets at Dizzy Cow are a must see.  If you’re cuckoo for candy, it’s a no-brainer.  Go now.  If you don’t have a sweet tooth, check out this local business for its antiques and kid-oriented merchandise such as tea sets, homemade doll clothes, toy water guns, and slinkys.  If you want a place for your kids to hang out after school where they can be a candy-loving kid instead of a coffee-guzzling morph of an adult, send ‘em in on their own with a few bucks where they can buy a pair of candied wax red lips, a dice game, circus peanuts, slinky, or army figurine candies.  The store is open Tuesday - Friday, 1-6pm and Saturday 10am - 4pm.  For more information on current inventory and events visit Dizzy Cow’s FB page or call Margaret at the shop at 773-706-6187.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Call a Spade a Spade

Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged - Call a Spade a Spade
My 7-year-old came home from school last week excited to show me the finished product of a story she had been working on in class.  Her 3-part project included a timeline page, complete with 3 events plotted out to match her colorfully drawn pictures, a hand-written page on lined paper with a primary pencil, and the front cover, a mostly-white page highlighting her paragraph-long essay, thoughtfully typed out for her by her first-grade teacher:

The funniest thing that I saw was when my mom threw her crutches on purpose because she was mad.  First, my sister and I did not clean our room.  Then we walked away down the stairs.  Finally, she threw her crutches and yelled at us. 

After sharing the papers, she went on to say the teacher asked her if she thought she should write about something else in case her mom might be mad about the topic.  

“I told her my mom would be fine with it!” she confidently stated.

She’s right.  Not only am I not mad, I’m thrilled that this totally true story from two-surgeries-ago sticks in her mind as funny.  Having endured three separate knee surgeries and recovery periods in the last year and a half, alongside my wife’s year-long bout of depression, I’ve learned a few important facts:
  • I throw occasional fits that give toddlers a run for their money; that will probably never change
  • Asking for help is both extremely difficult and equally necessary
  • My kids and my wife are not breakable; they are resilient, compassionate and prone to just laughing in my face.
  • Life is unreliable, with the exception of it’s messiness.
  • Every negative creates a positive, if you let it
  • Acknowledging and greeting reality by name is necessary for growth and general well-being, no matter who you are
Am I proud of my crutch-throwing incident? No, I’d put its embarrassment level right on par with the Wendy’s debacle, where after a night out cocktailing, my wife and I decided to hit Wendy’s on foot at 2am for Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers that always seem to soak up the liquor.  Unhappy that the indoor restaurant was closed and only the drive-through was open till 3am, we called an Uber to pick us up at the entrance of restaurant, drive us through the drive-up window to get food, and drop us at our home 2 blocks away.  

My daughter and I sat at the kitchen table and laughed for what seemed like 15 minutes about those crutches flying through the air and the pictures she drew in description of the event.  We talked about my frustration and indignation at having to be limited in my movement, preventing me from quickly exiting the scene in order to put myself in a time-out, and we discussed the surprise, fear, and comic relief that my kids felt all at the same time.  My 1st-grader even re-enacted the scene for me so I could see the scene from her angle.  We laughed so hard we cried.

What can you do but laugh at yourself?  Losing my cool with the crutches coaxed me to acknowledge my vulnerability and highlighted it to my family members.  It forced my kids to learn perspective.  It, along with many other non-picture-perfect moments over the last few years, gave our family the platform on which to build an on-going conversation about confronting our fears and emotions, sharing our feelings, and developing the self-assurance to call a spade a spade.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Lay it Down for Wellness

 GayleForce Healing Massage and Bodywork
A longtime proponent of massage therapy, and in more recent years, self-care in general, I’ve realized that a good massage can have immediate short-term effects.  Usually it’s a great way to relieve tension and pain, as well clear my head of a whirlwind of to-do’s.  When I make it a habit, regardless of the interval, I’ve found that consistent massage therapy contributes to my everyday general relaxation and mental well being.

I’ve gone to salons, hotel spas, clinics, doctor’s offices, strip mall chains, and private homes for massages.  My wife even researched massage methods to use at home in order to help alleviate the daily knee pain I had experienced for last year.  Although all different, I’ve never had a bad massage.

Before the holidays, my elementary-aged kids seemed unduly stressed out with homework and activities and friends.  While much of it was self-created with the fast pace of our lives and was controlled by the simple act of slowing down over school break, we didn’t want it to start up again in the new year when school started back up.  Our antidote was Gayle Stephens of Gayleforce Healing Massage and Bodywork.  We booked an in-home wellness day for the kids, where each child was pampered in their own informal setting with a massage.

“I love doing wellness visits,” voiced local parent and massage therapist Gayle.  “Setting up a day for kids, adults, or the whole family is super easy. We can design a session where I bring a massage table or chair, or we can just as easily work on a carpeted floor.”  
ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Lay it Down for Wellness

Gayle brought a mat to our house and worked her massage magic on the floor. We arranged less time for our younger child and more for our pre-teen; they fully enjoyed both their massages and the healing care they received from Gayle.  She made sure to get input from the kids on where they felt the tension/pain and even wrapped them in their own blankets after the massage.

It was incredible to see the same results in my children that I am accustomed to feeling myself after a massage.  While each child uniquely experienced the massage, both children looked like the weight of the world had been lifted from their shoulders.  Neither could believe how how calm and relaxed they felt after Gayle’s visit.

Wellness packages are completely customizable in scope, time, and price.  There’s a package suitable for every budget.   We learned that a little goes a long way and the kids have already asked when Gayle is coming back.  Hoping to add my body into the mix on the next visit.

To book an in-studio or in-home wellness session or for more information, call Gayle Stephens at 773-263-6887 or visit