What do a brownie, tarter sauce and tomato jam have in common?

I have no idea. My friend Joanna would find a way to make them work, though.

I met Joanna of Midwestern Bite last year.

Well, not really met, per se.

I had written an article for the paper about the foodie penpal program which, thanks to the powers of the Internet, her husband found. He read it and sent me an e-mail saying how much his wife enjoyed the program. Joanna does this cool this in which she uses every edible item in her monthly foodie penpal gift to create a recipe.

(Wow. I mean, seriously. Everyone has recipes they’ve made up, but to find a way to incorporate all these crazy ingredients into something great? And to do it every month? I just snack on my gifts individually, eventually using up the non-snacking items — spice mixes, sauces, etc. — in other recipes.)

I spent an hour or so stalking Joanna’s blog before writing her husband back to say thank you — complimentary e-mails are hard to come by in the newspaper world, so I treasure them. I also e-mailed Joanna and the two of us exchanged e-mails back and forth for a few weeks, talking about the program, food, living in the Midwest, etc.

Juicing was big on my mind at the time when we first started communicating. I wanted a juicer, but wasn’t sure how Scott would react to another kitchen utensil. Joanna tried to warn me that buying a juicer would be a waste of money — she has one and said it was a pain to clean and that she rarely uses it — but I went ahead and bought one anyway.

I’ve used it once. Back in October. It’s been sitting in the pantry ever since. I don’t think I ever admitted that to her. Until now.

You were right, Joanna! 🙂

I stopped participating in the foodie penpal program after my October exchange. I had received an awesome box of food — as usual — and I was proud of the box I had sent, but life was getting busy and I had to let something go. Joanna and I still communicate every now and then via e-mail or twitter, but that was it for a few months.

Then February — the longest, grayest, coldest month of the year — rolled around and the two of us reconnected on twitter. A back-and-forth conversation, in 140 characters or less, led to use deciding to be each other’s unofficial foodie penpals this month. Our theme was local eats, so I sent her a package containing some of my favorite Iowa goodies and she did the same.

It was fun putting together a box for a friend, although I’m not sure my items did make her personal challenge of using all of them in a recipe any easier. I just wanted to show off my part of the state. I wasn’t even thinking about how everything would work together.

You can read what she came up with here. I’m haven’t read it yet — I told myself I need to get my blog written first — but I did look at the photos and she did it again. I want to live at her house and eat her food.

My package from Joanna arrived days before our self-imposed deadline and, for future reference, all forms of chocolate will be accepted and are greatly appreciated.

Foodie pen pal -- joanna

Isn’t that a lovely box of goodies from Ohio? Personally, I prefer foodie penpal boxes that have a little of everything instead of a couple bigger items. Let’s discuss each item, shall we?

Tartar sauce: I laughed when I unwrapped this. We had just run out and it was on my grocery list. How’d she know?

Chocolate: Joanna sent this amazing Esther Price salted chocolate caramel and I cherished every bite, then got sad that there was no more. Luckily, she included an Esther Price chocolate sample pack, too.

(I’m not going to admit how long that DIDN’T last. I’m not ashamed, especially since the peanut butter cream chocolate egg is still in my freezer. It likely won’t be by the end of the day — because I forgot about it until I saw this picture — but I can do whatever I want in the comfort of my won kitchen. Except juice. I apparently don’t juice.)

The Killer Brownie from Dorothy Lane Market: The name is not a lie. So freaking good! I brought it to work and shared it with a couple of colleagues (That was stupid; why did I do that?) , which led to a discussion about supposed food allergies to walnuts. (My friend doesn’t have an allergy, but she thinks she does even though her parents and doctors say otherwise.) As someone who is usually anti-nuts in any baked goods, they worked with this brownie, which also had chocolate chips and caramel surrounded by an ooey-gooey fudge brownie.

I wonder if Joanna and I will ever exchange food packages again. And if we do, if she’ll just send me brownies.

Cupcake cookie: This claimed by E, who celebrated her birthday that week. When I asked if it was good, she said yes. I’m going to take her word for it.

Barbecue sauce: This will come in handy if it ever gets warm enough for Scott to grill again.

Photo of onions: This picture is at my desk at the office. I will find a better place to display it once we move to the new newsroom.

Tomato jam: This is a puzzler. I had never heard of tomato jam before. (I’m a bad food writer.) I used to be anti-tomato. I still avoid having them on burgers and sandwiches, but I make homemade pasta sauce, with whole tomatoes, all the time and will enjoy lots of bruschetta once fresh basil is available at the farmers market. Tomato jam, though? Hmm. Joanna says her grandmother used to make it all the time, so how can I not find a recipe to use it in support of her memories?

If you have any suggestions, though, I’m all ears!

Thank you, Joanna! I love, love, love my box!

Foodie Penpal Reveal Day: The Maine Event

My foodie penpal this month is Susan from Maine.

She was on the ball, my friends. My awesome package of Maine goodies arrived in early October and I’ve been loving it ever since! Here’s what I got:

We’ve got honey (which is so funny because I had just used the last of the honey my foodie penpal in Tennessee sent me earlier this summer), chocolate covered blueberries (so good, by the way), lobster-shaped pasta, seasoning salt, canned blueberries (you can’t really see the label, but they are called Maine’s caviar — it still makes me giggle), a pumpkin whoopie pie (yum!), strawberry-rhubarb jam, marshmallow fluff, and a maple candy Susan says is her state in candy form.

Susan also sent her recipes for fudge, which includes the marshmallow fluff. However, my daughter saw the jar first and asked what it was. I told her to grab a spoon and I’d let her have a taste.

Her reaction?

“How did I not know about this sooner?”

It was another great month in foodie penpals. Thank you again, Susan, for my wonderful food package and sharing your great state with me! Here’s hoping I get to Maine someday so I can sample everything again!

I sent my foodie penpal package to Heather in California this month. Check out her blog, In Her Chucks, to read her thoughts on my fall-themed box.

Want to know more about the program? Here’s how it works:

Sign up here and 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 Penplas is open to US & Canadian 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.

If you’re interested in participating for November, CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

A big thank you to Lindsay (theleangreenbean) for creating such a fun program!

Bonne fin gourmet correspondence jours

According to Google translate, that says Happy Foodie Penpal Day. My foodie pal of the month can tell me if that’s right or not — she’s originally from Quebec but lives in Virginia. And she knows how to put together a great food package!

I love it!

I’ve got some Virginia peanuts, some lemon pepper pasta, several kinds of chocolate and yummy peanut butter cookies.

The cookies didn’t last long. My son and husband discovered them and ate two before I could even get a picture! Or eat a whole cookie!

Also no longer with us are the foods in this photo:

The pretzels were the first to go. I love pretzels. I used the peanuts in a pesto sauce to top the pasta Johanne sent me and I brought the beets to work. I was pretty sure my editor, a health nut, would love them, but it was surprising how many the assistant features editor had. She is one of the pickiest adult eaters I know, so when she asked to try another, I passed it over.

Maybe there’s hope for my picky son yet.

(Thanks, Johanne, for warning me about the purple tongues! I stopped one of the anchors from having one minutes before the midday news show. She waited until after the broadcast to try a beet.)

I still have the mug cake, sesame snack and candy bar hidden somewhere in my kitchen, to be devoured when I need it most. I know! I can’t believe my self-control, either!

Thank you, thank you, thank you Johanne for a great food package! Or shall I say, merci, merci, merci! (Don’t worry — we exchanged several e-mails throughout September. She knows I remember very little for studying French in high school.)

Interested in knowing more about Foodie Penpals? Here’s how it works:

Sign up here and 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 Penplas is open to US & Canadian 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.

If you’re interested in participating for October, CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions. As always, thank you to Lindsay (theleangreenbean) for creating such a fun program!

Happy Foodie Penpal reveal day!

A great big thank you to my August Foodie Penpal, Ann at Harvest Moon By Hand, for my wonderful food package.

Not only did Ann send me some fun food, she also included a description of each item in the box. Because our states are neighbors, it was fun to have new insight into a place I have visited many times.

My August package included Minnesota Wild Ride for Wild Rice Soup (she included a recipe, too); Anna’s Ginger Thins from the Gammelgarden Museum; hot cider and hot cocoa (a must for those Minnesota winters); and Naranjo orange drink mix from El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul.

Ann also included foods with a personal connection for her and her family — Hello Panda Biscuits with Milk Cream and Botan Rice Candy. Her daughters are adopted from China, so this was included to honor their heritage. (My youngest sister is adopted from Vietnam, so I understand incorporating parts of another culture into your family.)

My favorite item, though, had to be the box of Ghirardelli Chocolate Brownie Mix. This made me laugh, given that I had returned from the Iowa State Fair and the Ghirardelli Chocolate baking competition a few days earlier. Ann included it because she used to live in San Francisco, where Ghirardelli chocolate was founded. You’d think I’d be tired of Ghirardelli Chocolate, but no! 🙂

Oh, I can’t forget the super cute cupcake liners! Ann wrote “There’s really no reason that I’m including them other than I thought they were cute and they were near the brownie mixes.” That totally sounds like something I’d do!

Thank you, thank you, thank you Ann! I love everything you sent me and hope I get the chance to be your foodie penpal sometime and send you fun foods from Iowa!

The package I made for my foodie pen pal in Georgia was a bit of a challenge. Haley is gluten-free, so I wanted to find items that said “Iowa” that she could enjoy. I didn’t take a picture, but I included:

  • Apple butter from Kalona (a really cool town less than 30 miles from my house — the cinnamon rolls at the Kalona Bakery are to die for!)
  • Tiny But Mighty Popcorn (heirloom popcorn from Shellsburg)
  •  A yummy marinade from a local restaurant
  • A box of gluten-free Rice Chex

OK, the cereal isn’t from Iowa, but I saw the new Rice Check gluten-free commercial before I went to the grocery store, so I had to buy some. I hope Haley liked her package!

Have you heard of Foodie Penpals? It’s a great program started by Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean. Here’s how it works:

Sign up here and 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 Penplas is open to US & Canadian 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.

If you’re interested in participating for September, CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

What’d ya get? What’d ya get?

foodiepal stamp2 Foodie Penpals

Happy Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day!

I received my lovely foodie pen pal package in early July and it has been killing me not to blab about all the awesomeness I received.

First, a photo:

Looks good, doesn’t it?

My packages arrived from Miranda in Tennessee. Miranda chose to honor her state by sending me a Goo-Goo Cluster and honey — both of which are made in Tennessee. She then went the homemade route, sending me yogurt covered pretzels (raspberry and blueberry) and zucchini bread (which was sooo good!). I also received two fruit leathers, which was funny because I had sent two fruit leathers to my foodie pen pal, too. Great minds, right? I also received a lovely jar of lemon-honey body scrub. I love it!

I think I lucked out with my foodie pen pal because she also included a “Health Benefits of Honey” handout. Who knew a spoon of honey can help power you through a workout?

July was my first month participating in Foodie Pen Pals and I’m already looking forward to what August will bring!

What is Foodie Pen Pals? The program is the brainchild of Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean. I can’t thank her enough for starting it and making sure it runs smoothly every month! Here’s how it works:

Sign up here and 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 Penplas is open to US & Canadian 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.

If you’re interested in participating for August, CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

You must submit your information by August 4th as pairings will be emailed on August 5th!