About Me

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I am a wife, mother, teacher, runner, baker, fund-raiser, reader, watcher of movies, dog-lover, writer, music-lover and foodie. So - I'm a woman of many moods! I write and share in order to teach and enrich. I currently have two blogs going: The Kitchen Refugee, and A Mile At A Time. The first is about time spent in the kitchen and the second about time spent on the road. Frequently the two roads intersect!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

June Foodie Pen Pal Reveal!

On any given Foodie Pen Pal month, once the 15th comes and goes, I am anxiously awaiting a package in the mail. This month, my package came from Bridget Carroll, from Running Crumbs.  I always approach these packages with the anticipation of a child at Christmas.  It's such a lift to my spirits, and this month, the package came right after a particulary hard all-school funeral for a teacher friend of mine.  I needed a little lift!

I always love the cards, notes, or written portion of the gift.  I like to see people's handwriting - perhaps because I'm a teacher, and maybe just because I'm an old fashioned nerd who loves REAL mail instead of all text-im-email!  Just look at this handwriting!

                         This is the cutest card ever!

The breakables were gently nestled in a sea of paper, and were completely intact! AWESOME.  Lemon Curd - I could write sonnets about the pure wonder that is Lemon Curd.  Oh, my - I could not have asked for a better gift!  I have seen it in the store, I have made it at home, and still - I have never bought a little jar of heaven for myself.  This was such a treat!  I haven't busted open the berry preserves, yet - but I know it will be equally marvelous.  I need to make some bread!

The Lemon Curd inspired me to make one of my favorite breakfasts...IMMEDIATELY!  Dutch Baby pancakes are the perfect vehicle for anything lemon, so I spread curd on it, sprinkled a little powdered sugar, and just rolled my eyes back in my head and sighed.  

One of the other things I love about the foodie packages is the tiny treats - tastes of things I've never had before.  I am wishing I lived near a Trader Joe's because I can tell I would be a regular customer!  We are using the Everyday Seasoning...well, every day, on everything!  It comes with it's own little built in grinder - adorable!  Can't go wrong with Sesame oil, or almond butter either.  I haven't tried the honey-almond butter before, and it's a big hit! 

Let me just say, the Chocolate Dipped Coconut Luna bar won me over.  It's like a Mounds Bar with much less guilt!   Oh - I have already purchased more of them for my pre-run snacks!  The Cherrie Pie Larabar was also a new snack for me - and I liked it a lot!  I have a sweet tooth, so finding things that fill my pie-hole without packing on fat and calories, make me happy!

Speaking of making me happy...this chocolate, salted caramel bar was like crack!  Oh my - it was just delicious!  Even the hubs got to share (then, when it was gone, I immediately regretted sharing!) and he loved it too.   

Okay - so the seaweed wraps are very much outside the box for me - so I will be experimenting with them, and looking for recipes.  I really do appreciate being sent products that I would not have thought of to try.  I hope Bridget has some recipes on her blogsite - I need to know what to do with them, and I'm bound and determined to figure it out!

So THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU - BRIDGET!  This was an awesome package!

If you are interested in becoming a Foodie Pen Pal, just pop on over to Lindsay's Page to find out how!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

May Foodie Pen Pal Reveal!

I'm having so much fun having and being a Foodie Pen Pal!  It's just so fun to get a random package in the mail - that you KNOW has food in it, and a letter from someone you don't even know.  I guess it speaks to my dream of kindness among all people.   I know I take a lot of time planning what to put in my food boxes, and it's sweet to think that somewhere across the states, someone is doing the same for me!

This month's food box came from Shelby in Chicago, IL.  I was immediately intrigued by the 'fragile' marking on the box.  

What breakable delight could this box contain?
   Dirty Chips?!  Shelby, you had me at 'fragile!'
        Oh...something crunchy & salty!
What kind of a bar is a KIND bar??

So, it turns out the breakables were some Earth Balance Almond Butter, and some Trader Joe's Nutmeg.  I've never tried almond butter.  It's another one of those foodie items that has been in my hands at the store, but I've always put it back.  Now I have the chance to try something new!  

Also new to me was the KIND bar - Walnut & Date - I highly recommend it!  It's funny the things you DON'T notice at the store until you go looking for them.  I'd never heard of them before, and easily found them at Safeway and our local health food store.

I've also never even heard about coconut flour - and I do a LOT of baking!  The first thing I tried it in was sort of a disaster.  Then I read the directions on the back of the bag, and saw that you are only to replace up to 20% of your flour with coconut flour, and you may have to add extra liquid.  (That explains the little brick muffins I made!)  Now I know.  I'm excited to try it again.  Shelby sent it because she saw that I'm a runner, and wanted to show me another way to add protein into my baked goods.  She's quite a fan of coconut products, and her letter was really informative about them!

Actually, everything in my food box was a new item for me to try - well, except the tried and true nutmeg!  I really liked having my horizon broadened by this little box o' fun!  

Thanks so much Shelby!

If you're interested in becoming a foodie pen pal, pop on over to Lindsey's page and find out more.  Lindsey single handedly manages over 600 pen pals!  Thanks, Lindsey, for taking the time to organize this every month!

I've signed up again for June - surprise, surprise! :-) 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Brownies

For as much as I love brownies, I REALLY love brownie batter!  I'm not sure what it is about it, exactly, but it always hits the spot.

Today seemed like a good day for baking.  I try to treat the guys my hubby works with every so often.  The guys frequently mention 'The Green Plate' - it's the big serving plate that I send treats on.  They have talked about buying me another one so we can always have one in rotation.  One time when I sent goodies on a different plate, they were a little suspicious - they weren't sure if the treats were from me, or someone else.  (It's almost always me!)

One of the guys has been asking for something peanutbutter/chocolate flavored - even though he knows it's not my husband's favorite combination.  Brian likes these, though.  Maybe because there's an element of cheesecake-i-ness to them, I'm not sure.  Oh - this just in: Brian just snitched one from the plate and said, "Mmm...What makes these so Cheesecakie?"  There ya have it!   This is one of those recipes that require that you get a couple different bowls dirty, but trust me - it's worth the effort.

The original recipe came from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/peanut-butter-brownies-ii.

2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
1 cup melted butter
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Beat the eggs with the sugar until nice and fluffy.  Add everything but the chocolate chips and mix like crazy.  Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.  Reserve 1 cup of the batter and pour the rest into a greased 9x13 baking pan.

2 8-oz packages softened cream cheese (fat free works fine)
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 TB milk

In another bowl - mix together all of the filling ingredients.  Spread peanut butter mixture over the brownie mixture as evenly as you can.

Next, take that cup of reserved brownie batter and drop it by spoonfulls over the peanut butter layer. Using a sharp knife, or even a skewer, cut in the batter, giving the brownies a marbled affect.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.  Let cool completely before cutting - I know this is hard, but hot brownies don't cut worth a darn!

It was 'Green Plate' Monday at the Budweiser Warehouse today!
Green Plate by Bob Jensen at
Brownies by Karen

Foodie Pen Pal Reveal!!!!

On a rainy Monday in April, I came home to a mystery mail-bag.  I knew at once it had to be from my Foodie Penpal, Shana Hart, in Maryland!  I was so excited – even before I opened it.  It was such a day brightener to have a package in the mail.  You know how Mondays can be, and a surprise of any kind is just a glorious event.

I tore open the bag, and found this chocolatey loot:

I unwrapped the Endangered Species Chocolate bar IMMEDIATELY and had myself some chocolate therapy.  This chocolate is now on the endangered species list, as I made short work of ending its life.  Yum – it had a really yummy cocoa flavor and wasn’t overly sweet.  It was awesome.

The Choco-Walla Odwalla bar was something I knew I’d save for my coffee break the next morning.  I’ve seen Odwalla bars, but I’ve never tried one.  I was pretty excited.  After a morning of kindergarten kiddos, and elementary recess, I came in and paired that Choco-Walla with an excellent vintage of Starbucks coffee.  It was the perfect morning combo.  I will definitely buy myself some more of these little morsels!  I can’t remember the calorie count, but it was under 250 – so for a snack that has some staying power, this is a good little energy bar.  I may use these for packable snacks when I run.

The trail mix from Nature’s Promise was so chock full of walnuts it was amazing!  I couldn’t identify all of the types of dried fruits, but this was also really good.  It’s also a product I hadn’t tried before, and will definitely purchase in the future.  I love nibbly snacks!  I think I just like all kinds of snacks – but especially those that are sweet and go well with coffee.  These kept me from going straight for the Reese’s Easter Eggs that are filling the mark-down displays!

I have been saving the coffee for another rainy day!  Godiva Chocolate-Raspberry Coffee deserves a special occasion.  Maybe I'll share it with my work-friends on the last day of school.  Just smelling it through the wrapper is enough to make me want to chew open the bag.  I'm showing a lot of restraint!!!

I'm definitely going to keep participating.  Are you up for being/having a foodie penpal?  Each month you get paired with someone new.  The rules are the same: email arrives on the 5th of the month introducing you to the person to whom you'll send a package.  Treats in the mail on or before the 15th of the month, and reveal day is the 30th of the month.  This is on a month to month basis - it's free to join, and you can skip busy months or money-stretched months if need be.  Thanks to Lindsey at The Lean Green Bean - this is a really fun program!  Can't wait to see what May will bring.


foodiepal stamp2 Foodie Penpals

I sent a package to Van, in Chicago.  If you want to see what my box-o-loot looked like, here's a link to her blog: chieats.com

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gettin' Sauced!

Once you have made Oodles of Noodles, you’ll need some sauce to go with it!  I love, love, LOVE this Bolognese recipe and it freezes really well.  I generally make two pots of it side by side, and then freeze it in containers for two, or four people.   In my noodle post, I said that it’s totally worth making homemade noodles (any night of the week) especially when you have some delicious sauce already in the freezer.

I’m just going to direct you to the blog where this recipe came from, since the pictures are divine, and I want this woman to have full credit.  I am just a recipe stealer – and I am grateful for her post!  Who ever Pastor Ryan is – God bless him!

For some reason – the first time I made this, it didn’t look all cooked down like it does in  Ree’s blog.  I wanted to have that kind of smooth texture, so the next time (and subsequent times thereafter) I did a quick chop of EVERYTHING in the food processor.  I pre-mince all the veggies before sautéing, and once the meat is cooked, I break it down further with a whirl through the processor.  Yes, it makes more work, and more dishes…but I’m a texture freak, so I have to do it.

Any meat would work with this sauce – so I use ground turkey.  It makes me feel a little healthier.  I can’t wait to make this in the summer with fresh tomatoes, basil, carrots and garlic!  Yum!

This sauce also works well meatless, and I’ve made it that way a few times.  My husband loves meatballs (is this just a guy thing?) so I’ve started making turkey-sausage meatballs and freezing them ahead, to go with the sauce.  For working people, it’s so awesome to have meals in the freezer ready to go – I don’t know why I didn’t learn this sooner!  I have also adapted this recipe to make pizza sauce – more on that later.

My other new favorite recipe is for clam sauce – if you can even call it sauce.  It’s like a delicious coating of goodness that wraps itself around noodles.  Ooohhh, I love it!

This recipe came from:

It has become a weekend staple.  It’s easy, and it’s sooooo delicious.  I have made a few alterations to it.

1 chopped onion
6 -9 cloves of garlic (we LOVE garlic)
3 TB olive oil
2 cans of minced clams, and their juice
1 package of mushrooms (the blue Styrofoam kind)
¼ cup of butter
¼ cup of white wine
salt & pepper to taste (we like a lot of pepper)
chopped parsley

If making noodles – I make the dough, and let it rest while I prepare the sauce.

In a large skillet, sauté the mushrooms (dry – no oil) until browned.  Remove and set aside.  I do this to make sure I don’t end up with creepy brown sauce from the mushroom liquid.  I also prefer to leave the mushrooms firm, not cooked down to slippery versions of their raw form.

Next, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil until they are soft.  Add the clams and juice, butter, wine, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes until it the sauce reduces and thickens a bit.  *It doesn’t get super thick, so don’t over simmer, or worry.

While the sauce is simmering, I cut and boil the noodles.  I boil them until they are al dente, then drain them and add them to the skillet of sauce.  (Oh yeah, don't forget to throw in the mushrooms!) I let it all simmer together for a few minutes.  The starch from the noodles thickens up the sauce that last little bit that makes it just perfect.

 Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and top with Parmesan.  Mmm-mmm, Good!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Oodles of Noodles

One of the things I've really been enjoying lately is homemade noodles.  Originally, I had thought about getting one of those fancy noodle-making attachments for my Kitchenaid mixer, but they're really expensive!  I couldn't really justify having a $300 Playdough hair maker!

Lucky for me, I was watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, and he was in Italy.  He was in the home of an Italian grandmother, and she was the kind of woman who mixes her noodles right on the countertop.  The next thing she did completely boggled my mind - she rolled the dough out, floured it liberally and rolled it up cinnamon roll style, and then cut them!  It looked so easy!  I figured even I could manage that method, so I got to looking up noodle recipes.Many of the recipes I found online called for semolina flour.  This was a new purchase for me so I went with the Bob's Red Mill (http://www.bobsredmill.com/) brand, and I used the recipe from the bag.  The consistency is perfect and the dough is really easy to manage.

3/4 cup semolina flour
3/4 cup white flour (or wheat)
½ tsp salt
2 eggs or 3 egg whites (or equivalent egg substitute)
2 TB water
2 TB olive oil

Mix all of it together with a fork until it forms a dough ball and all the flour is mixed in.  Cover, and let rest for 30 minutes.  The dough doesn't rise, it just says on the package that it needs to rest.  I interpret this to mean that the cook should pour a glass of wine, and kick back for a half an hour.

When it’s time to make the noodles, generously flour the counter and roll the dough out as thin as you can.
 You should be able to see the counter through it.

Next, flour the surface of the dough and roll or fold it, 
making sure that every exposed side of dough gets dusted with flour - you'll thank me later! 

Once you have the dough rolled up, cut noodles as 
wide or narrow as you wish. Obviously, with this method,  you can't make spaghetti, but I can live with that!  

This is when I call for my hubby to come help unfurl the noodles.  If you have floured well, you can grab one end and fling them out like little ribbons.  The last time I made them, I realized that if I’ve floured properly, I don’t even have to handle them individually - I can gently shake them loose, a handful at a time.  That's all there is to it!

I know many people dry their noodles, but we prefer dropping them straight into boiling water.   I have frozen them before, and I don't think the texture is as good. It wasn't worth saving a few minutes of work at the end of the day.  We are both so spoiled with these noodles that I've stopped buying noodles at the store.  This dough can be cut wide for lasagna, or like egg noodles for stroganoff.  

This recipe is simple, and good.  I even make noodles on weeknights (but save myself some time with frozen sauce - homemade, of course).
You can do this - I promise!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Designer Cupcakes

I love how cupcakes have become the new 'thing.'  A cupcake can go from childhood treat to festive grown-up fare with just a change of dressing paper.  There are a milllion new blogsites about cupcakes, so I won't go into too much detail here, but I will direct you to some new sites I've found.

This weekend, we celebrated my mother-in-law's 80th birthday.  It was a great weekend filled with friends and family.  I hadn't really planned on serving cupcakes until some festive papers caught my eye - at Wal-Mart, of all places!  In the cake decorating/weddding isle, they had cupcake papers that looked like little flowers.  My mother-in-law is an avid gardener and has a yard that would make pixies envious.  Once I saw those papers, the theme came together, and the more I thought about it, making a variety of cupcakes meant two things: guests would have choices, and no one would have to serve cake!  Perfect!

I spent the next six weekends trying new recipes, and making notes about things to change or adjust.  My husband's workmates were the perfect recipients of all my experiments.  I would sample one cupcake and send the rest to the warehouse where they would disappear.  My biggest problem was in deciding which recipes would make the cut - I knew I'd have to draw the line somewhere.

One of my new guilty pleasures, is Pinterest www.pinterest.com.  I'ts like an online scrap book for grown-ups.  One can lose many an hour just looking at pretty pictures, many of which involve FOOD!  I found a couple cupcake recipes on Pinterest.  You can follow these links to the recipes.

Key Lime Pie Cupcakes

These were really wonderful!  There are graham cracker crumbs mixed in the batter, and it really gives a great taste to the cake.  I added some lime zest to the batter (my only alteration to the recipe).
The lime/cream cheese frosting is delightful, and the dusting of graham cracker crumbs and lime zest add to the display!

Coconut Cream Cupcakes

This recipe is also very good.  The one change I made, however was in the filling.  The original recipe calls for toasted coconut in the filling, and I felt that the crunch took away from the creaminess.  When I made them for the party, I just used the coconut untoasted.  A little toasted coconut made them look pretty, but didn't detract from the texture.   Mmmm....yummy!

For my own birthday, in March, I made special St. Patrick themed cupcakes for my kindergarten friends.  It was a lot of work, but they made a spectacular showing that only five-year-olds could really appreciate.  I'm sad to say that I used a box mix for these - I was tired.  So - I used a white cake mix, and then separated the mix into Gladware to add food coloring.  I'm also embarrassed to say that my mind must've been particularly fried that night because I failed to mix a couple of the desired colors.  Oh well - that's when I had to say "it's good enough for kindergarten!"

Once the colors were created, I realized that I would have to spoon 7 layers into 24 cupcakes.  Bleh!  What have I done?!  I'll tell you right now, that unless you are making a rainbow CAKE, where you pour each color into it's own layer pan, you will not get actual, separated, colors.
It was a good idea, but it came out more like tie-die than rainbow! 
 Oh well.

 To top off my St. Pat's cupcakes, I did plain, white buttercream frosting and added gold 'gem' sprinkles and a gold-wrapped rollo.  (Of course, during my many trips to the store, I FORGOT to shop for chocolate coins! - once again: good enough for kindergarten!)  The kids totally got the reference to gold at the end of the rainbow, and were completely delighted with my efforts.  That's why I love them so!  :-)

Whether you spruce up a cupcake with a fancy paper, piped frosting, or special sprinkles - they are always festive and everyone loves them.  Years ago, one of my kindergarten friends (who is now old enough to write her own blog http://themadisonyoung.com/ ) laid down some 5-year-old wisdom after eating a birthday cupcake at school.  With a big, contented, sigh, she said, "Aren't cupcakes just...enough!"  Oh - yes, they are!