Fantastic Foodie Photo Fails

There are three kinds of people in this world. People who love food photos. People who have no desire to see another picture of breakfast, dinner or any snack in between. And people who can’t imagine why anyone would take a picture of their plate before offering a blessing or just digging in. I’ll never forget the time my uncle exclaimed in an utterly perplexed tone, “You’re taking a picture of a shrimp?” It was actually a set of Madagascar prawns, plated with precision.

Most foodies celebrate fresh, colorful, textured food that tastes even better than the finely tuned arrangement on the plate appears. Like singing, the art of considering oneself a foodie, progresses with time, experience and God-given talent, from someone who appreciates the fine food crafted by others to actually morphing into the creator of fine cuisine that others beg to taste and photograph.

As a freelance food stylist and photographer for a Dallas-based food brokerage, I never turn down an opportunity to style and capture exquisite food compositions. I might even love photographing food more than I love eating it. As the highest order of foodie, I relish any opportunity to take that exhilarating leap to creating the ultimate original masterpiece in my own kitchen for others (and myself) to enjoy.

What many self-proclaimed chef foodies, like myself, do not share, are the fantastic foodie photo fails that precede the social media perfection we all see posted with half a dozen hashtags.

The other night, I got what felt like a bright idea (divine inspiration) to create a gourmet snack that started with gluten-free fresh lasagna pasta and sharp white cheddar cheese. Once I perfected the base, I planned to add an interesting combination of fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes and perhaps a small crumbling of chunky sea salt. Doesn’t that sound yummy?

Well, it wasn’t. I burned the first batch in the air fryer. The next batch came out looking nice enough, but as it turns out, fresh lasagna pasta is not a gourmet alternative on which to build fancy tapas. I could have dressed it up to make it photo worthy, but why? It tasted terrible!

So I did the only decent thing, I tossed my experiment and made a slightly healthier version of traditional lasagna with the remaining fresh pasta, a ground turkey-and-beef mix, homemade marinara sauce and three kinds of cheese. And it was spectacular. Moist, flavorful, and just the right amount of richness to taste slightly decadent. I devoured the corner piece on my plate, before it dawned on me: I forgot to take a picture.

I grabbed my camera, took a few shots, and then quickly divided the rest into containers to share with family and friends. Truthfully, I could never trust myself with an entire batch of scrumptious lasagna within nibbling distance, unless I was willing to buy a larger wardrobe.

I was proud of myself for trying something new and creative, even if it did end up as a fantastic foodie photo fail.  As it turns out, even for a self-described foodie, sometimes a proven recipe really is the best way to cook.


A Small Step in a Fresh Direction

We’ve all experienced those times when the best laid plans in life fell apart. It’s okay to grieve and grouse, but then it’s time to take a small step in a fresh direction. It’s basically that or drink a lot of wine, give up or die. This post tells you which option I chose.

We all have dreams! As a dreamer, I have lots of dreams! Have you ever felt stressed when you know you should be feeling lucky and thankful? I’m referring to those moments when everything in your rational brain knows one thing to be true, while at the same time, another voice is grumbling inner sounds that resemble the famous mumbling teacher in every Charlie Brown television special?

Despite the fact that looking back at what might have been is unproductive – unless there’s a specific lesson to be learned to move forward – I feel a bit like a puppy chasing its tail as I reflect on the last year.

Winter in the Northwest can be a bit of a bear, and last year, Central Washington saw more snow (I hear) than in the last twenty years. I’ve only been back here for twelve. It was also colder than when I lived in Wisconsin! So this past spring, I decided last winter was my last winter in a cold climate, and I started applying for jobs in Arizona (where I have a solid network of friends), California (where I lived for six years), and Texas (where two of my best friends live.)

And then it happened. My best laid plans went up in smoke. Last month, my knee surgery was postponed, and the dream job, with the huge salary and benefits amazing enough to make a grown woman cry with joy fell through. I came in second. It’s mid-September now, and I should feel incredibly lucky – but instead I honestly feel a little bit (okay, a lot bit) like engaging in high levels of grousing.

I really shouldn’t be complaining. I mean, I am really lucky! I tore my meniscus on the job 18 months ago and I had a Washington state claims manager who fought for me to have my case reopened and receive a second opinion. He even warned me not to move out of state until I had my surgery because he feared I might not actually get it once I left Washington, and he wanted to see me healthy again. (WOW!) I was assigned an exceptional physician for my second opinion. I was accepted by the exact surgeon I wanted, despite the fact that he rarely accepts L&I. My long projected recovery is due to the fact that I have no arthritis in my knee and the surgeon will be able to stitch my injury up in such a way that will result in a perfect knee ten weeks from now. I am employed at a job where I make a difference to thousands of students and teachers. I have a roof over my head, basic needs met, family and friends, three pets I adore – the list goes on.

But the other side of the coin: I lost a dream job and dream house, with a hot tub for ten, in Phoenix. I haven’t even had my surgery yet and I’m looking at a recovery that includes crutches for six to eight weeks. It’s mid-September. And the thought of spending another winter here makes me want to cry.  But I don’t cry. I take a deep breath and murmur quietly to myself like the teacher in Charlie Brown specials. I watch hurricane aftermath coverage and read social media posts about people who are battling life-threatening illnesses and I feel worse. Because despite the fact that another year passed me by without my dreams materializing, I know that life truly could be so much worse.

And so I do the only things I can. I send out resumes, connect with former colleagues on LinkedIn, hug my pets, thank my loved ones for caring and pull out boxes of Christmas cards to start addressing. Because if I’m stuck in a full leg brace, in a cold climate for yet another winter, at least my holiday cards are going out on time this year. It’s not Phoenix, Los Angeles or Dallas, but it’s a small step in a fresh direction. And hopefully it will silence the disappointment and grumbling sounds in my head.

Blog puppy


Everybody loves a great comeback story – especially in sports by a team with nearly impossible odds. Last night, I missed what will probably go down in the history of my alma mater as one of the greatest games of all time. But it could have been any team at any college in any state. A great comeback story needs only to include a few key elements: The odds must be stacked against the eventual victor. There needs to be a struggle – and a pending heartbreak – where at least one of the competitors stands to lose more than a game. And there needs to be at least one unlikely hero, who in a tiny, squeaky voice says, “We can do it.” For a story to be retold for years to come, the spirit, confidence and perhaps the entire momentum or memory of the season must be on the line. Last night, those pieces knitted together in a most unexpected way.

We hear stories of hurt, loss, disappointment and the long rebuilding of dreams and circumstances that didn’t go as planned. Those stories are sad, but unfortunately ordinary.

It’s that crazy story that defies all odds, and touches us in just the right spot to make us scream, “Yes!” – that rouses a throbbing hope buried deep inside, longing to re-surge. Without the slightest hesitation, our inner champion confidently shoves the cynic to the ground, and grabs tight to the belief in this indelible victory, both for what it represents to the underdog team and what it potentially represents to our own hibernating dreams. And just like that… Poof! That great beam of optimism and anticipation suddenly and instantaneously returns.

There’s no need to rehash a college football game that’s over, but I wanted to share a few highlights that made it one of the greatest comeback stories that will likely be told at WSU for years to come – mostly because we can all use a great comeback story, especially with all the bad news in our world right now.

When I graduated from Washington State University in the 1990s, we didn’t go to bowl games. We supported our team, celebrated with our friends – which is code for drank a lot of beer – and the most hopeful of us walked away believing, “Next time will be different.” In fact, there’s actually a term called Coug It which refers to our football team giving up victories that should have been in the bag. And sadly for me, when I went to bed last night (before the game ended at 11:44 p.m.) that’s pretty much what I thought. I wrote off this game the same way I have some of my most precious dreams. Discouraged by the score, and the small amount of time left on the clock, I checked out.

With eight minutes left in the home game, WSU was down 31-10 against the clearly formidable Boise State team, in Pullman. Boise State had just scored AGAIN when a freshman player walked up to a senior and said, “Yo, we’re going to come back and win this game.” Imagine what that senior player was thinking. (It’s worth searching the game to read the play-by-play.)

The facts included these: The 20th ranked Cougars were down 21 points and their starting quarterback. It was very late at night and fans were starting to leave the stadium. The Cougars needed to come back bigger, better and faster than they had in more than three decades (with three touchdowns to just tie the game) – and for this miracle-believing freshman to be right, they had to do this in less than eight minutes.

At 11:44 p.m. local time, in a game no one imagined would go into triple overtime, WSU shocked Boise State and football fans far and wide with a 47-44 win. I’d like to say it was a moment I’ll never forget, but of course, I went to bed. Frustrated. Fearful. If we Couged it in a non-league game, so early in the season, what would it do to team morale for the Pac-12 games still to come?

The Sunday morning headline in the Spokesman Review: Washington State Beats Boise State With Miracle Comeback.

How many times in life do we give up and go to bed early because our dreams seem too impossible to reach? I’ve done that in my own life. I have this great plan, and then I take a pounding, and a win seems so unlikely.

But what if it didn’t have to be? What if the freshman voice of possibility in each of us talked back to the senior voice of experience and said, “Yo, we’re going to come back and win this game?” What if we didn’t settle? What if we didn’t go to bed? What if we stood strong and kept fighting?

Life has pushed most of us down at some point – or will. Circumstances, injuries, relationships and choices have taken the wind out of our sails.Dreams get crushed. And sometimes in life, we simply Coug It. But what if, when these things happened, we kept believing? What if we actually found the strength to get up one more time? What if we believed?

It’s football season and hopefully that means months of excitement ahead. Each day is also a chance to create a new season in life. For some, that’s the excitement that comes at the coin-toss to start the game. For some, it’s rebuilding a life after an illness or a natural disaster, when exhaustion is yet another obstacle. For all of us, it’s a reminder that with faith, determination, and a little grace, there’s always the chance to do the impossible and create the greatest of comebacks. We just have to believe!


wsu football

Sometimes Love Requires Getting Poked

Winnie adopted me. She was feral when someone dumped her litter off on my street. Four starving kittens.  I already had a pet bird and was not in the market for any felines. But, as is often the case with animals, they pick their humans, and Winnie picked me.  The short story was that while I fed her (how could I not?) she remained feral until she had kittens two years later, and today, my fully domesticated and spayed Winnie, and one of her kittens has joined the bird and me in our forever home.

Getting poked (whether by life, a finger or a needle for a vaccination) is never fun. But keeping animals safe and disease-free is important, and it’s one of the best ways humans can show them our love.

Like many cats, Winnie and Lucky do not particularly enjoy car rides or visits to the veterinarian – despite how truly gentle, supportive and nice he and his staff are – despite that these adventures always include food treats at the end of the visit – and despite that each time, after the quick check-up is complete, I cup their little heads in the palm of my hands, stroke them, kiss their noses and give them the hard truth: Sometimes love requires getting poked.

The fact is that loving – a person or an animal – means investing in a living, breathing, changing relationship. And relationships are not always how they appear in static photos on social media. Sometimes they feel amazing. And sometimes they hurt a lot.

When I have a tough day, few things bring the level of comfort that comes with snuggling an animal  – a dog, cat, bird or whatever that curls up beside you quietly, looks you eye-to-eye and tilts their head as if to say, “I understand.”  Humans come with opinions, questions, ideas, judgments and sometimes unwelcome commentary. Animals come with a need for basic necessities (food, water, shelter) and love.

I wish there was a more enjoyable way that I could keep my pets safe and healthy. I wish the shot didn’t make them whimper and the car ride wasn’t uncomfortable. “We protect responsibly” is the motto at our veterinarian’s office. And because love sometimes requires getting poked, it’s my motto too.  Winnie

Sunday Afternoon Comfort Food

I grew up in a family that showed their love through food. My dad was an apple farmer, and mom was resourceful when it came to food. She used to pick out the bird-pecked fruit to cook with because she said the birds knew which apples were sweetest. (I don’t know if that was true but it seemed reasonable.) Mom cooked for everyone – our family, our friends, our apple customers, and the families who harvested the orchard.

Since I developed celiac, mom and I have discovered the secrets of gluten-free cooking together. One myth about a gluten-free diet is that there’s nothing we can eat. And I will admit that it seemed that way initially. The real treat of a gluten-free diet is that it includes almost every natural food on the planet, outside of some grains. While soy sauce contains gluten, that’s added in the processing; even soy beans are naturally gluten-free. Meats, dairy, vegetables, fruits, legumes, rice, fats and oils – they are all gluten-free. (Yes, when it comes to processed foods, things can get tricky.)

One of my favorite (super easy) gluten-free dishes to make on Sundays and eat throughout the week is Debra’s Gluten-free Chicken soup. Here’s what I include:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken broth (At least six cups – I make mine with water and bouillon but boxed is easier)
  • A half head of cabbage shredded
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 2 little clove sections of garlic minced
  • 1 Tablespoon of real butter (not necessary, but everything is better with a hint of butter)
  • Truffle salt (regular will work, but why?)
  • Fresh parsley, rosemary and oregano from my garden (feel free to add whatever you have)

Throughout the week, sometimes I’ll add carrots, potatoes or noodles, but I don’t add them to my base because they don’t hold up. Same with celery. I like food that doesn’t taste like leftovers (unless it’s leftovers from an amazing restaurant, usually involving a rich sauce, or coconut milk, in which case my mouth can water just thinking about that little box of yumminess waiting for me at home.)

The other reason I tend to keep my soup base basic is because life is hard – for a lot of people. And you wouldn’t imagine how much it can make someone’s day to deliver them a container of homemade soup (and sometimes they have allergies). Soup brings comfort, warmth, and as mom knew long before I did – love. Feeding someone something wonderful is like spooning love into their insides. And who doesn’t need an extra cup of love?

Debras chicken soup

Energy Awareness and the Seven Levels of Winning

We are all made up of and surrounded by energy. Most people accept that. But as a life coach, one of the things that most impacted me, early in my training, was the realization that understanding energy levels and how to recognize and alter them actually gave me access to a tremendous reservoir of power I didn’t know existed.

To better understand energy and differentiate the possible outcomes, consider a gradient that divides this spectrum into seven levels of winning, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But first, it’s worth asking: Why does your energy level matter? Or more importantly, why does knowing your energy level matter? There are a lot of answers to this, but the most important one is that being aware of your energy level makes you the most powerful person in the room, circle or community as it relates to you.

It’s like having a mirror to make sure everything is where you want it to be. Imagine going into an interview with a tear in the back of your shirt. If you don’t know this, it might detract from the image you want to present. If you do, you might change your shirt or respond in a different way.  In life, everyone has people or entities that control them to some degree: bosses, creditors, the government, a partner, commitments to children, etc.  Knowing your energy level and having the tools to adjust it through the practice of reframing prevents the people you don’t want to control you from impacting your emotions and experiences.

Here are my seven levels of winning, or seven energy levels, if you will.

  1. I lose. I am losing.
  2. I win, so therefore you must lose.
  3. I win, and hopefully you win too.
  4. You win.
  5. We all win or no one wins.
  6. We always win.
  7. Winning and losing are illusions. (With which no sports coach ever agreed!)


Taken out of context, these seven statements mean absolutely nothing. Taken out of context, there are clearly better levels and worse levels. But because this is energy, and not a football game, every level has a purpose and a place. Every level is equally important. For instance, in grief (about anything), it’s very normal to experience, acknowledge and even sometimes accept losing. Whether you lost a purse, a pet, a game, or a person, failing to experience Level 1 Energy equates to lacking the capacity to emotionally connect. You have to connect to grieve. And you have to connect to give and receive from others within the context of a relationship.

While self-preservation is critical to help ourselves and others (which is why flight attendants reiterate, “Secure your own mask first,”) anyone who has volunteered to help someone or chosen to serve others, understands that serving others supersedes the need to care for themselves. If you’ve ever served food to the homeless or the needy in a food kitchen, or at a company Thanksgiving celebration, you are exercising a classic Level 4 Energy where your goal is to experience the Level 4 Energy of Winning: You Win. It feels good to help others win!

The most important take-away is recognizing that every level of energy has its place. Every level includes distinct advantages and disadvantages – and knowing where you are, gives you the power to continue or reframe your mindset and energy to project the message and give off the energy that will best serve your goals in any given situation. Find thorough explanations of each energy level and what it means to your personal or professional life on the Olive Press Coaching Facebook page.

Respond, Recover, Rebuild

Part of what makes natural disasters so crushing and overwhelming is the magnitude of them – the number of people impacted, in both the short-term and down the road. As we look at Houston, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it’s difficult to quantify the mass devastation. Our hearts ache as we see person-after-person and family-after-family who have lost everything. And while as observers we care, and demonstrate that concern by sharing money, prayers and other resources, and while many of us are glued to news sources, sometimes for weeks, eventually, life outside of the area returns to status quo.

The thing is, we all have Harveys in our lives. Sometimes we hide them from the world and sometimes due to circumstances, they are on display for the world, or our community, to see. And the question is: How do we respond to the Harvey in our own lives? How do we respond, recover and rebuild? How do we show up?

In life coaching, we do not look back. We look at where we are, and the client determines where they want to go. Often, they don’t know right away, so we ask key questions, to uncover true desires. Respond. Recover Rebuild. Generally, the first response comes immediately. Recovery comes with time. Rebuilding comes after we catch our breath and ask, “What now?”

The world is responding to Houston, through the Day of Giving and other channels that people are using to help those who have lost so much. We’ve seen it before on a large scale with 9/11 and Katrina, with school shootings and towns devastated by tornadoes or fires. We’ve seen it locally in our communities – families who have received a life-threatening medical diagnosis, suffered a fire, or lost loves ones in an accident, or betrayal, only to be surrounded by support and love of those they know, and sometimes complete strangers. We know that difficult times bring out the best in humanity – and in ourselves.

What are you recovering from? Where are you in your journey to rebuild? Most people know what it feels like to question hope. Most of us have asked why at least once in our lives. That’s normal. It’s healthy. It’s also healthy to find the courage to rebuild and stand back up even when your legs are weak. If you’re still in a place where you need to reflect and look back, consider talking to a therapist. When you’re ready to move forward and face the world head on, one step at a time, a life coach can help you build your plan.  Dad house fire

Dishing Up Unlikely Comfort Food with Fresh Vegan Recipes

Plant-based diets do not have the reputation for being considered indulgent or achieving that sought-after reference of comfort food among mainstream foodies.  “I could eat a whole bag of raw kale,” says no one ever, in response to a challenging day. Most of us are proud of ourselves when we work healthy ingredients into recipes we already like – recipes that include dairy, fat and meat! In fact, I was once such a dedicated carnivore that I refused to date a really nice man simply because he was a vegetarian. I remember thinking, “He’s cute but what would I feed him?” Times have changed!

A friend invited me to a vegan cooking show last night and what a great show it was. First of all, our host, JL Fields, founder and culinary director of the Colorado Springs Vegan Cooking Academy, is fun, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and gets the audience excited about cooking vegan. Yep! The woman (me) who refused to date the vegetarian is now enthusiastic about vegan cooking.  Obviously, there’s a secret: great recipes plus awesome appliances (an electric pressure cooker and an air fryer) make everything taste better.

My favorite dish was the Kale and Potato Nuggets in the air fryer. First of all, mashed potatoes are nature’s original comfort food, and with the steamed kale mixed in, they are prettier, heartier and taste amazing. (Making them at home – I would top them with butter – but they were delicious without any added dairy or calories.)

Even more than the recipe, I was excited to try something new and expand my horizons when it comes to plant-based diets. While I have no plans to “go vegan” entirely, I’m super excited to have a whole new set of delicious recipes to try at home and take to parties with friends.

It’s easy to create a safe routine and do the things we know we enjoy. But it’s also fun to branch out, try something new and be open to life from a different perspective. Who knows… if the opportunity came up again, I might even date a vegetarian. The recipe referenced in this post is available at

Vegan balls

Responding to Hurricane Harvey

As pictures pour in from the catastrophic conditions in Houston and Southeast Texas, naturally, the nation and the world want to help. It’s hard to hear the dire warnings and see the people who are “luckily” escaping with their lives and maybe a family pet or garbage bag of belongings. Thankfully, fellow Texans, emergency response teams, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and others, have called upon every resource available to help.

Perhaps like you, watching the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the torrential rains that followed, leave me wondering how I can help from 2500 miles away. From a physical standpoint, the most needed resources are money (to legitimate charities), blood (to the American Red Cross), volunteer hours (if you are nearby) and of course goodwill and prayer. Here are a few organizations that are participating in hurricane relief efforts:

As a life coach, I’m also asking what I would have done if I had been in their shoes – or how I would have coached a client to prepare for a pending disaster, even before the warnings sounded.

Here’s one way to prepare yourself: Set aside two weekends to disaster-ready your life. The first weekend, create a drill whereby you (and/or your family) receive evacuation orders, assuming you will have nothing physically left when you return. What is most important? What will you need? How will you prioritize it? What is your game plan for evacuation? Make a physical list. Don’t worry if you can’t find something on it, just make a list of what you need / want.

The second weekend, pull together everything on your list. What important documents you will need? Are there photos or meaningful family items that you would be devastated to lose? Scan them, buy a jump drive and save them. Try to get as much of your life as you can on a jump drive or pulled together in a small safe or special place. Take pictures of items you will want to turn into the insurance company.

Earlier this year, my home was robbed. I was gone an hour and eight minutes. This summer, the region where I live was heavily impacted by fires and my sister’s property was within a mile of properties being evacuated. In 2015, my parents’ home caught fire. Crimes, accidents and natural disasters happen quickly. As a life coach, I help people prepare for the worst so that if it happens, they have the resources to recover the documents, memories, photos and other items they need and that mean the most to them.

Debra Yergen – Author

Join Author Debra Yergen on a journey to explore the best parts of humanity – how we live, how we serve, how we help and how we make a difference collectively.

Still in Development

More than two decades ago, my high school English and Journalism teacher told me to write about what I know. That one comment induced what felt like a 10-year stare into space (creatively speaking). What DID I know? From the time I was little, I knew I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to eventually create characters that made the story compelling, not that merely plugged into an interesting story. I knew I wanted to elicit emotions and inspire my readers to believe that every obstacle had a lesson or a silver lining. And so, long before I knew it, I started observing and taking notes on current events, on people I knew, and some I only met. I started paying attention – to the beautiful and the not-so-beautiful aspects that made up human behavior and the circumstances we face.

But that’s not what I wrote about – at least not at first. My first book Real Life 101: Winning Secrets You Won’t Find In Class, addressed the challenges of adapting from college to the professional working world, because I did that! And then the Creating Job Security Resource Guide and the Green Light Scoring Model came next, because again, life gave me the opportunity to hone a set of skills and resources that could help others, in addition to myself. I wrote a children’s book series set in the Louisiana Bayou, because I’m a big kid at heart, and I probably always will be. And now, I’m working on The Gift of Grace fictional trilogy, that might have originally been planted by my English and Journalism teacher at West Valley High.

Does life come full circle? Ask me two decades from now. I’m still figuring it all out.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Feel free to comment. Hopefully I’ll make you laugh and cry along the way as we dig into the hearts of humanity, current events and the evolution of the human spirit. And you never know: share your heart, infuse kindness in your community, and find a way to inspire one person in your world – and your good deed might just end up included in the Gift of Grace fictional book series. Like life… it’s still “in development.”  First blog post