June Foodie Penpals

Great summertime treats!

Another month has come and gone — and with it another great round of Foodie Penpals! And it couldn’t have come at a better time, or with a better set of penpal partners. Being back home in the country is not exactly all it’s cracked up to be when it comes to my healthy eating plans — surprising, right?! Luckily this month I was set to receive my box of treats from Farrah of Fairy Healthy Life.

Not only is Farrah’s story amazing, but her love of running? Right up my reborn running self’s alley. I was pretty sure I could not only count on her for some yummy treats, but I was positive I’d end up with some useful, and healthy, pantry items as well.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love being right?! No? Well — I do. A lot.

Cooooooooookies!

Okay, I won’t lie. The first items I squealed over were the cookies. Farrah sent me two kinds — a package of fig cookies and a package of vanilla bean-green tea cookies. The first thing I thought was how PERFECT the fig cookies would be to shove down my throat at 4:45am, when I’m trying to get myself up and ready for a run. The second thought was how good the vanilla bean cookies would taste after said run. Again — I love being right!

Hot, spicy, and local — all great things in a Foodie Penpals box!

Next up were two spicy treats — a bottle of Cholula sauce and a package of dried chile peppers from a shop local to Farrah. Love, love, LOVE! I barely had these out of the box before I was thinking of ways to put them to good use. Farrah suggested using the peppers as a topping for soup — and I can definitely see that happening, at least once the temperature drops back below 80 degrees. In the meantime, they’ve been a perfect addition to steamed vegetables, marinades for fish and chicken, and even in omelets. And that Cholula? I can happily put that on just about everything.

From salad to dessert — a full meal right in the box!

I try not to play favorites when it comes to my monthly Foodie Penpals treats, but sometimes I just can’t help it. And this was one of those times. All three of these treats were huge winners for me — starting with the tabouleh mix. Once upon a time, in a land not so far away (the north side of Chicago, to be exact) I was introduced to this dish. And have been hooked ever since. So to have a box that I can make up on my own at home — that I don’t have to share? Sweet!

Next was the GoPicnic Ready-To-Eat Meal. I know, I know — what happened to my commitment to unprocessed foods? Well, when I’m working 6 to 7 days a week at a diner surrounded by fried potatoes, burgers, and danishes — I’ll take any reprieve I can get. And this made a perfect midday snack to hold me over between my morning smoothie (when I even remember) and dinnertime. I think I may need to keep a couple of these on stock for such emergencies.

And last, but definitely not least, was the sorbet — with Sicilian lemon juice. These adorable little cups came ready to be popped in my freezer before enjoying. And that’s exactly what I did. After I smuggled them away from my niece’s watchful eye. For some reason, she thought since there were two cups of sorbet she should be able to have one all to herself. I considered it for a minute. Luckily, her 6-year old attention span kicked in and before I knew it, she was licking my bowl of hummus clean. Small sacrifice, really.

And all it took was one late night run in 90 degree weather to make me extremely grateful she had forgotten about the magic cups of sorbet. Because I sure didn’t forget — shortly after wringing myself out from my run, I grabbed a sorbet and a fresh bottle of water and enjoyed every single bite. All to myself.

Thank you so much, Farrah, for such a great month of #FoodiePenpals!

Half of the fun of Foodie Penpals isn’t about what I get — it’s about what I get to send off to another person, and hoping they love their package as much as I loved mine.

Normally, I am sitting on the edge of my seat — waiting for the “yay” or “nay” verdict from the penpal to whom I sent a box. But not this month. I got to send my box to Shawn — a blog reader (for now…) — and quickly got the sweetest email response. What can I say? Spreading the #FoodiePenpals love makes me happy!

From Shawn…
“Thank you so much – you made my first FPP box fabulous! The assortment was perfect, especially the quinoa and the Tate cookies. Yum! And the bonus nonfood item was a great surprise. I’ve already put it to good use. But I especially appreciated the handwritten note talking about your selections and sharing your recipes. It made the connection so much more personal. My first experience has been great. I’m hooked and can’t wait for next month. Thanks Lena – you rock!”

A glimpse of the treats I sent off to Shawn!

Want to see what else I’ve gotten (and sent) over the past few months?

Want to join in the fun next month?
Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean organizes #FoodiePenpals, so in her word’s here’s what it’s all about!

  • On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
  • You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
  • The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe … use your imagination!
  • You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
  • Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.
  • Foodie Penpals is open to US, Canadian residents & UK residents. Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa. So, I’m going to keep two separate lists and match US w/ US and Canada w/ Canada!

    ***If you’re in the UK, please contact Carol Anne from This Is Rock Salt at rocksalt@thisisrocksalt.com to get involved!

If you’re interested in participating for June, please send an email to Lindsay at theleangreenbean@gmail.com and include the following information:

Your full name
Your email address
Your blog name/address
Your twitter handle (if applicable)
WHETHER YOU ARE A US RESIDENT OR CANADIAN RESIDENT. – this is SUPER important so she can get you on the right list!

** Lindsay will need to hear from you by July 4th as pairings will be emailed on July 5th! *

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Breakfast Quinoa — Take I

Every kitchen-minded friend of mine has one or two key ingredients that they just can’t imagine surviving without — and I’m no different. Fresh garlic, olive oil, avocado, kale… Those are definitely some of my favorites, but there is one thing I am even more loyal to — and that’s quinoa.

I remember the first time I heard about quinoa. I was a newly recommitted Weight Watchers member (for possibly the 3rd or maybe 4th time) and I was on a mission to find some new-to-me healthy, whole grains that didn’t involve the words “brown” or “rice”. And after searching high and low, I finally came across a small package of this mysterious new ingredient. And it didn’t take me long to become attached, finding recipes to eat this for every meal — dinner, lunch, and even breakfast.

So when I heard about someone using quinoa in place of oatmeal, my interest was piqued. After some trial and error, I found success with this recipe. Fun fact? This recipe was even featured by FitSugar during their “Get Fit for 2010” challenge — go me! And while that may have been well over 2 years ago, that recipe is still going strong in my kitchen.

This is also a great recipe to make ahead for a week full of healthy breakfasts. I usually whip up a batch of this on Sunday afternoons, so all I have to do is add my fruit of choice and the yogurt, or almond milk, before sitting down to breakfast.

Summertime Breakfast Quinoa

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and picked clean of any debris
1 cup water
1 cup juice, cider, or nectar — I prefer something fresh-squeezed, or a no sugar added variety
2 tbsp walnuts, chopped
2 tbsp chia seed
1 cup blueberries, rinsed
2 fresh plums, pitted and diced
2 cups of plain yogurt, or almond milk

Directions:

Bring the quinoa, water, and nectar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Let cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let the quinoa cool completely. Carefully mix in the walnuts and chia seed and divide the mixture among 4 bowls.

Top each bowl with an equal amount of fruit and 1/2 cup of the yogurt or almond milk just before serving.

Additional Notes:
There are plenty of seasonal variations that work with this recipe as well — proving that something this good never goes out of style. Keep tuned here and I share a few more of my favorites over the next few months!

What is your favorite “go to” recipe that you enjoy all year-long?

May Foodie Penpals

Every month I participate in Foodie Penpals, I feel like it just gets better and better. And this month was no exception. While I had done a good job at keeping my upcoming move under wraps, I had to wonder if I let something slip when I got this month’s box from Lizzie, of The Weekday Vegan. Filled with treats that are either perfect snacks for the long drive from Boston back to the midwest, or are perfect to share with my family once I get back.

More coffee!

My friends in Boston think I drink a lot of coffee — and I do — but they may be in shock at how much coffee we go through when I visit my family. Whether it’s a farm thing, or a Norwegian thing, I don’t know — but there is coffee brewing from early in the morning until late at night every day. So to have my very own stash of good coffee — from one of Lizzie’s favorite places in Charlottesville? A great thing to have on hand to kick off the next seven months.

Crunchy and chocolatey goodness — a perfect snack for a long drive

I have been on a wicked granola and nut crunch bender lately. Whether I’m snacking on it straight, or mixing it with some of my almond milk — not a day goes by that I’m not enjoying it in some way. And since I had procrastinated on everything else for my trip, making a fresh batch of my homemade granola was not going to happen. So I was ecstatic when I pulled out a big bag of Back to Nature Chocolate Delight Granola — a perfect snack for the long drive.

More treats!

Next up were more treats that I’m looking forward to taking with me on the road — including a bag of Pretzel Crisps and a chocolate bar. A perfect combo to satisfy both my salty and sweet tooth (tooths? teeth?) on the drive. The last thing I pulled out was a spicy “super-condiment” that is local to Lizzie.

Once upon a time, I couldn’t stand anything spicier than the mild salsa you can buy at any supermarket or gas station. But now, I am enjoying the heat more and more — I’m definitely looking forward to trying this out as a marinade when I get grilling privileges at my dad’s house. Although, that could take a while — so I may end up using it as a dip instead. Either way, I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

Thanks again, Lizzie for all the great treats! You really did a great job — and totally saved me from some horrendous rest stop vending choices along my drive!

The Foodie Penpals fun doesn’t just stop at what I got in my box of treats — I had just as much fun putting together the box I sent off to Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean, blogger extraordinaire and founder of #FoodiePenpals. Want to see what I sent her? Check out her reveal post!

I hope Lindsay enjoyed everything I sent as much as I enjoyed everything I got from Lizzie!

Want to see some of the other treats I’ve scored?

Want to join in the fun next month?
Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean organizes Foodie Penpals, so in her word’s here’s what it’s all about!

  • On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
  • You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
  • The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe … use your imagination!
  • You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
  • Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.
  • Foodie Penpals is open to US, Canadian residents & UK residents. Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa. So, I’m going to keep two separate lists and match US w/ US and Canada w/ Canada!

    ***If you’re in the UK, please contact Carol Anne from This Is Rock Salt at rocksalt@thisisrocksalt.com to get involved!

If you’re interested in participating for June, please send an email to Lindsay at theleangreenbean@gmail.com and include the following information:

Your full name
Your email address
Your blog name/address
Your twitter handle (if applicable)
WHETHER YOU ARE A US RESIDENT OR CANADIAN RESIDENT. – this is SUPER important so she can get you on the right list!

** Lindsay will need to hear from you by June 4th as pairings will be emailed on June 5th! *

April Foodie Penpals

Score!

If you haven’t figured it out yet — Foodie Penpals is one of my favorite things to participate in each month. This month I was treated to a box from a fellow East Coaster and blog reader, Michelle. Michelle — who unfortunately doesn’t have a blog, yet… — put my box together with a theme in mind. Her theme was “Jump, Jive, and Wail” — and she nailed it.

It's here, it's here!

The first item on her list was a package of locally roasted coffee that she assured me would make me “jump” with all of “its caffeinated goodness”. It didn’t take long for me to pull out my grinder and a pitcher to make up a batch of cold-brew coffee. Michelle wasn’t lying. It was delicious!

COFFEE!!!

Next up were 2 snack bars that she promised would make me “jive” thanks to their super healthy, yummy, organic ingredients. As much as I am trying to stay away from processed foods, one look at the ingredients list and I felt okay about throwing one of these in my purse to avoid a poor snack decision when I’m on the run.

Mmmm, chocolate!

Ooooh! Spicy!

The last two items she packed for me were a can of wasabi-coated peanuts and a package of roasted seaweed snacks — that were sure to make me “wail” thanks to a kick of “spicy deliciousness”. I’ve never had either of these snacks before, so I was really excited to try something new. And just as Michelle promised, they were both delicious.

Yum!

Thank you, Michelle for all the treats and the really thoughtful note. Everything was so yummy! Can’t wait until you get your own blog started (hint, hint)!

And as much fun as I always have opening up and trying everything in my box of treats, I had just as much fun putting together the box that I sent out to Hannah. I really hope she enjoyed her package as much as I enjoyed my treats from Michelle!

Want to see the other goodies I’ve gotten?

Want to join in the fun next month?
Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean organizes Foodie Penpals, so in her word’s here’s what it’s all about!

  • On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
  • You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
  • The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe … use your imagination!
  • You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
  • Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.
  • Foodie Penpals is open to US, Canadian residents & UK residents. Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa. So, I’m going to keep two separate lists and match US w/ US and Canada w/ Canada!

    ***If you’re in the UK, please contact Carol Anne from This Is Rock Salt at rocksalt@thisisrocksalt.com to get involved!

If you’re interested in participating for May, please send an email to Lindsay at theleangreenbean@gmail.com and include the following information:

Your full name
Your email address
Your blog name/address
Your twitter handle (if applicable)
WHETHER YOU ARE A US RESIDENT OR CANADIAN RESIDENT. – this is SUPER important so she can get you on the right list!

** Lindsay will need to hear from you by May 4th as pairings will be emailed on May 5th! **

Just a Little “Spring Cleaning”

As soon as I open up my front windows and blinds to let the fresh spring air in my apartment, I become overwhelmed with an urge to clean up.

And by “clean up”, I mean CLEAN UP. Everything. From dusting the light fixtures on the ceiling to changing over my comforters to cleaning out the fridge — no inch of my apartment is spared.

Well — that’s not necessarily true. Over the past few years, one part of my apartment has just become more messy. I am a hoarder of pantry staples. I can’t help it. Canned tomatoes, broth, pastas, rice — when my brands go on sale, I stock up. And then before I use them all, they go on sale again and I stock up all over again. And my cupboards — and my waistline — have suffered as a result.

So when I opened up my windows the other day, I took a good long look at what I had been avoiding and decided it was time to make a change.

Before: What's all that crap?

I cleared off my counter, grabbed my step stool, opened up the garbage can, and got to work.

Shelf by shelf, I pulled every single item out of the cupboard and made three piles: whole, unprocessed/bulk foods; whole, packaged foods; and processed crap. I allowed myself to keep three items from the “processed crap” pile — a pack of tootsie roll suckers, my can of milo, and a jar of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Oh — and a jar of hot giardiniera. I dare you to even try to pry that from this former Chicago girl’s hands. These items were then put high on the top shelf, which forces me to grab the stool in order to reach them — that takes some serious commitment right there.

The whole, packaged foods include my “larabars”, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, tuna (in water), whole grain cereal, steep cut oats, whole grain pasta, wasa crackers, raw honey, vegetable broth, and dried cherries and other fruit. I purged a few items that I either won’t use within the next 2 – 4 months, but simply reorganizing and taking stock of what I have on hand was a huge step. I tried to centralize these on the second shelf — easy to see and grab when cooking.

The last part was my favorite part. Pulling out my pretty OXO containers and organizing all of my bulk, unprocessed, whole food items — quinoa, rice, cornmeal, nuts, seeds, lentils, popcorn, nutritional yeast, and unsweetened coconut flakes. These containers went front and center.

After: All clean!

Much better. Not perfect — but better.

Knowing what I have on hand and keeping my cupboard and pantry well-organized definitely helps to get my one step closer to eating in a fresh and “clean” manner. And that’s exactly what I need right now.

Do you have any “spring cleaning” rituals? What are some of your favorite “clean” pantry staples?

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