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! *

Black Raspberry Jam Tea Cakes

It has been a fairly mild winter in New England, so mild that I can count the number of times I’ve needed to turn on my heat on one hand. It also helps that I’ve been in a bit of a baking frenzy, and somehow managed to turn a small corner of my kitchen into my office.

All it really takes is a spark of curiosity, and before I know it I’m buried in a new cookbook with a notebook and pen in hand and my laptop less than an arm’s length away. And sometimes my experiments work out well, like these mini cakes — a perfect treat for a mid-morning coffee break.

Mini Black Raspberry Jam Tea Cakes

Adapted From: The Best Quick Breads by Beth Hensperger
Makes: 8 mini loaves, or 12 muffins
Oven: 350 degrees
Baking time: Approximately 20 minutes

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 – 2/3 cup black raspberry jam, preferably with seeds
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your mini loaf pan, or muffin tin.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, almond extract, and butter. Carefully add this mixture to the dry ingredients and beat until the batter becomes smooth and fluffy.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Cover each loaf, or muffin, with spoonfuls of the jam, dotting it over the surface of the batter. Insert a butter knife straight into the batter and gently swirl a few times to distribute the jam slightly through the batter.

Bake in the center of the oven until a cake tester inserted into the cakes comes out clean, about 20 min. Rotate your pan halfway through.

Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the cakes and place them on a cooling rack. Sift the powder sugar over the top of the cakes.

The cakes can — and should — be served immediately.

Additional notes:
Because I had some extra buttermilk to use up, and the first batch went so well, I decided to make a second batch using some chocolate hazelnut spread I had hanging out in my cupboard. While this was a little bit more difficult to distribute through the cakes, the flavor was exactly what I had been looking for — warm, chocolatey, and not too sweet.

What jam, or other spread, flavor do you want to try in this recipe?

February Foodie Penpals

After having so much fun with my first Foodie Penpals experience last month, I was beyond stoked for this month’s exchange. This month my package was coming from Emily over at The Last Corral and I couldn’t wait. As soon as Emily let me know what date my package was supposed to arrive, it took all I had not to stalk my postwoman — or my friend that I had house- and puppy-sitting for me while I was off eating my way through Gulfport and Louisiana…

As soon as I was home with my delivery pick-up ticket in hand, I headed over to the post office to pick up my stash. Where it took every ounce of self-control to not rip it open in the middle of the post office floor. Or maybe I was just motivated by my lack of desire not to share any of the treasures that Emily had picked out for me.

First things first, was Emily’s note — wishing me a happy trip South and and some quick explanation of the items she had included in my box.

In my initial message to Emily, I had mentioned that I am a little bit obsessed with the sweet and salty snack combination. And she did not disappoint. The next thing I pulled out of the box was a batch of Chocolate Caramel Pretzels, followed by a small package of Virginia peanuts. Yum, yum, and YUM!

Chocolate Caramel Pretzels and Virginia Diner Peanuts!

Next up were two cookies, which Emily had described as “delicious vegan delights”. I was slightly skeptical — especially considering how picky I am when it comes to Snickerdoodles — but there is not one crumb of either cookie left in my kitchen.

Vegan Snickerdoodle and Peanut Butter Cookies!

The next thing I picked up was a box of Green Tea with Pomegranate by Yogi Tea. I will always be a coffee person first, but I am really starting to come to terms with a nightly tea ritual. Much better than a midnight cup of coffee, right? And of all the teas out there, Yogi Tea tends to be my favorite pick — not only do I love the great, restorative flavor blends but the fun little thoughts on every single tea bag always help me recenter myself. And who knew there was a Yogi Tea out there that I haven’t tried yet? Yay!

A New Mug and Tea

The very last thing I pulled out of the box was quite possibly my favorite thing yet. A brand new mug. I am 99.9% sure that Emily didn’t know about the tragedy that struck my all-time favorite mug, so pulling this new owl mug out of the box made me laugh and feel like just maybe I could move on after all. It may not hold 24 ounces of coffee, and it may not be covered in fun Bahstun-inspired sayings, but it has quickly become my new favorite mug. I’ve found myself washing it by hand more than once a day, just so it can be ready for my next cup of coffee or tea. And in my kitchen, that’s true affection.

Thank you so much, Emily!

And in normal Lena fashion, I had to stop myself from going overboard in my shopping and preparing the package I sent out for Anne of Running Los Annegeles. I really hope she enjoyed her package, even half as much as I enjoyed my package from Emily!

Wanna 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.

If you’re interested in participating for March, 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 March 4th as pairings will be emailed on March 5th! **

January Foodie Penpals

When Lindsay from The Lean Green Bean started the #FoodiePenpals exchange back in the fall, I immediately knew I wanted to get involved. But all too soon the September deadline passed. Lindsey assured me it was okay — I could still get involved for the October swap. Then that deadline passed. And then before I knew it, November and December had disappeared. But as we were coming up on the new year, there was no way I was letting another month pass me by, and I jumped on the chance to send my commitment email in — on time. By this point the exchange list included over 100 participants. WOW! I couldn’t wait to get started.

One of my favorite parts of the way the #FoodiePenpals exchange is set up is that while I ship a box to one person, a different person will be shipping a box to me. It’s like one big, never-ending circle of connections. I will be honest, the most stressful part of the whole process though was figuring out what I was going to pack up to send away — trying to make sure I’m not duplicating something that person has received in an earlier month (there are a LOT of my Boston friends involved in this, naturally), staying on budget (it’s a $15 spending limit), and then the packaging itself. I obviously didn’t want anything that would break or spoil while in transit. So much to think about!

Laura Jayne from Laura Lives Life emailed me right away to find out if I had any food preferences or allergies. I assured her that aside from lima beans and peas, I was an anything-goes kind of girl. Since she would be shipping my box from Utah — a state I’ve never been to — I knew there would be treats I have never had before, and I couldn’t wait. Not surprisingly, Laura followed up right on time to let me know when my box had been shipped out and when I should be able to expect it to arrive at my door. I definitely circled the date on my calendar. There’s nothing like spending a Monday waiting for the doorbell to just make the day drag on more than normal.


First thing I pulled out of the box were two chocolate bars — one filled with peanut butter and one filled with caramel sea salt. I’m not sure exactly how she knew, but caramel, sea salt, and chocolate? I might have squealed out loud when I read the wrapper.


The next thing I pulled out was a piece of taffy, and then another, and then another, and then… You get the picture. True story — I have been on the hunt for saltwater taffy for years. Not just any kind though. The kind my dad and I used to get every fall at our county fair. And one I haven’t had in over 10 years. The guilt of which I used to talk him into buying a box for me and shipping it 1000 miles. However, now the taffy beast has been unleashed. So while Laura painstakingly picked out 30+ different flavors of taffy for me to try, I reverted to my 5-year old self and practically inhaled each and every piece. I cannot, or rather will not, confirm or deny if the taffy lasted longer than 24 hours. Maybe I can blame that on the dog?


Next up was a loaf of Raisin Cinnamon Whole Wheat bread — a favorite for Laura before she had to give up gluten. And at less than 60 calories a slice, I went ahead and threw a piece, maybe two, in my toaster mere minutes after my discovery. It was so delicious, I immediately portioned out some of the loaf for the freezer — in part to avoid it spoiling before I could enjoy it all and then also to limit the chance of the dog making a play for it while I’m downstairs doing laundry. I have no doubt in my mind that this is one loaf he’d be sure to sniff out and swipe if given the opportunity. What can I say, he’s got great taste.

And last, but definitely not least, Laura included a box of Tulsi tea (holy basil) and creamed raspberry-flavored honey. While I tend to be more of a coffee drinker — okay, I’m a coffee fiend — I do enjoy the occasional cup of tea, particularly after a very tiring, and trying, day. In her note, Laura explained that the tea is supposed to have healing properties and always helps her when she has a headache. Considering the day I had, I immediately put the water on and grabbed a mug. The smell of the tea was so refreshing and calming, I couldn’t wait for it to steep. And since I was on a roll with everything else, I decided to treat myself to a swipe of the honey for just a touch of sweetness in the tea. An absolutely perfect ending to the evening.

One of the only rules from Lindsay is that each box must include something written — this could be a note explaining something in the box, a recipe, or just a note to say “hi”. Laura Jayne included a very nice notecard that gave me some insight as to what she included in my box, simple but so personal at the same time. This card may have been my favorite part of the whole box. There’s something so refreshing and encouraging about receiving something hand-written and addressed to you alone.

While I was working my way through the treats I received from Laura, the box of Boston-based food goods I had packed up was on its way to Washington to Michelle of Tacoma Aroma Eats. Check out her site to what she thought of everything!

Want to see what I got in my last box?

Interested in getting involved in future #FoodiePenpals exchanges? Read up here and follow the instructions to get in touch with Lindsay! The more the merrier — and hungrier!

Baked Pears in a Chocolate-Riesling Sauce

It takes a lot to get me to turn on the oven in the summer, but when the temperature outside drops below 65 degrees it is a little bit easier to persuade me. Plus I really wanted something sweet, but healthy. And I had extra fruit and wine that needed to be used.

Baked Pears in a Chocolate-Riesling Sauce

Serves: 4
Oven: 400 degrees
Cooking time: Approximately 1 hour

Ingredients:
4 pears, washed with the bottoms sliced off so they can stand upright while baking
2 cups Riesling wine
1 tbsp dark chocolate vinegar
1/2 – 1 tsp honey to taste, remember there’s plenty of sugar in the fruit and wine as well
1 – 2 cinnamon sticks
zest of 1 orange

Directions:

Place the pears upright in a baking dish. Whisk the wine, vinegar, honey and orange zest together in a bowl. Pour over the pears.

Bake for approximately 1 hour, basting with the sauce every 15 minutes. Serve in a heat-safe dish, large ramekins work well, with a few spoonfuls of the sauce poured over each pear.

Additional Notes:
I also used apples in my first try – simply wash and core the apples, trimming the bottoms like the pears, if needed. Additionally, this dessert is also perfectly okay to be made in advance. I refrigerated the pears, covered in their serving dishes, and the sauce, in a separate container, overnight. I then warmed the sauce over a low-medium burner, whisking constantly, before spooning over the chilled pears.

I’d imagine a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream would also go well on the side of this treat, but I can’t actually testify to that.

ENJOY!

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