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Foodie Penpals: Newbie Edition

I’ve been hearing about Foodie Penpals for a little while. My friend Anna has raved about her experience after participating a bunch of times and every now and then I come across another blogger who participates in the program.

Did you have a pen pal in elementary school? I did! She was from Russia (I think we called it the USSR then?) and our schools were “sister” schools with classrooms of kids paired up and sending letters and tokens back and forth across the Atlantic. I honestly can’t remember how many times we exchanged letters – I imagine it was only 3-4 times. But, I have vivid memories of her penmanship and the paper she wrote on (it looked like graphing paper). I can’t remember what we discussed, but I do recall the feeling of connection with someone in a far away place who had the slightest thing in common with me.

While not uniting people from distant lands (shipping food through customs would be a nightmare!), Foodie Penpals does bring together people who share a love for both introducing their favorite foods to new people and people who have tastebuds at the ready for discovering new favorites. Foodie Penpals is the brainchild of Lindsay from the Lean Green Bean. Each month she facilitates a signup and matching process to pair new pen pals and this month, I decided to get in on the action! (If you are interested in learning more about the program, check out Lindsay’s FPP page.)

I probably looked a little something like this opening my letters from my pen pal back in the day too!

My package came from Stephanie in Fort Collins, CO. Stephanie is not a blogger, but that isn’t a condition of the program, so anyone get join the fun. When you get matched, you share some details about your preferences with the sender – likes, dislikes, opinion on homemade goods, etc. This time around, I went with the “surprise me” approach, but I did share a few major dislikes (coffee, coconut). Aside from an unfortunate (and messy) shipping mishap (a Ball jar of peach butter didn’t survive the trip) it was so fun to explore the contents of the box and learn a little bit about Stephanie through food. She must like peaches because she sent me both peach butter (sad face) and peach honey (tasty!). She grew up in Kansas City and shared an excellent taco seasoning mix from Spanish Gardens and thyme is her favorite spice. Funny enough, I think my favorite item from the box was also one of the smallest. She included a few packets of Twangerz flavored salt and the Pickle flavor sprinkled on air popped popcorn is t-a-s-t-y. (only time will tell if this a pregnancy-induced obsession or a truly tasty snack!)

The goods from Stephanie including Moroccan soup, peach honey, dark cocoa, taco seasoning, thyme and flavored salts.

I sent my first Foodie Pen Pal package to Melissa at Bare Book Reviews and she’ll be posting a recap of the goods I sent her, so check it out!

Did you have a pen pal? Did you stay in touch for a long time or just a short while?

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate

Ever since I tasted Ceylon cinnamon at The Spice House in February, I have been dreaming of adding it to hot chocolate. It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that I haven’t had one spare moment to make hot chocolate in the past two months, but it isn’t that much of a stretch. At the end of February, we moved from our downtown condo to a house in the ‘burbs. The move has been fantastic for our family, but the month of February was spent packing and moving and the month of March was spent unpacking and getting used to a new routine. (I’m visualizing you playing me a tune on the world’s smallest violin…)

Anyway, back to the topic at hand…summer is fast approaching (yay!) and I know I’m not going to be in a hot chocolate sort of mood much longer, so I took advantage of the chill in the air today as a good excuse to finally make my dream a reality. I made mine from scratch using Rademaker Dutch Processed Cocoa that we received in a gift basket of goodies from Holland. I followed the directions on the box, but added the Ceylon cinnamon when I made the chocolate paste and before adding the milk. I also frothed my milk using a Bodum milk frother.

2 tsp cocoa
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
8 oz warm milk (frothing optional)
Combine cocoa, sugar and cinnamon in a large mug. Slowly add milk until a thick past is formed. Add the rest of the milk and stir until well mixed. Sprinkle additional cinnamon on top if desired.

I know you can’t smell this picture, but if you could you’d smell rich chocolate, sweet oranges, a hint of cinnamon spice and the sweetness of warm milk. This was well worth the two-month wait and fully lived up to my expectations. I doubt I’ll be waiting until there’s snow on the ground again to make this!

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories 165 , Total Fat 4g, Carbohydrate 48g, Protein 10g (Note: used 1% milk)

Olive Oil, Spices & Wine…Oh My!

Thanks to the fabulous Brooke, I kicked off February (and now the rebirth of this blog!) with an evening of tasting olive oils, balsamic vinegars, spices and wine. I mean, is there a better way to spend an evening? Brooke organized a foodie networking tour in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood that included stops at Old Town Oil, The Spice House and O’Briens. My fellow foodie-tourists included a great mix of dietitians, chefs and people who love good food.

This blog is a place to examine and discuss health, taste, wellness, indulgence, nutrition and all-things-yummy. The tour, Olive Oil, Spices & Wine…Oh My!, was all those things rolled up into one with a shiny bow on top!



The evening started at Old Town Oil where the knowledgable staff gave great tips on how to select oilve oils and pair them with balsamic vinegars to make tasty dressings and marinades.






old town oil




One of my favorite pairings was the Garlic EVOO and OTO Reserve balsamic vinegar. Another really refreshing and tasty combo was the Blood Orange EVOO and Peach white balsamic vinegar.





bulk spices


We moved over to The Spice House where owners Tom and Patty Erd gave a interesting and informative presentation about the history of the spice trade and where various spices come from. Have you had any spices in your drawer or cabinet for more than a year? If so, it is time to toss them out. Whole spices can last for longer than a year, but anything ground won’t be fresh beyond a year. 




me with cinnamon


Here’s me with two different types of cinnamon. Did you know cinnamon is the bark of a tree? The one in my left hand is Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka and it has a strong citrus aroma. The one in my right hand is Saigon cinnamon (I think…too much info to absorb at once!)







my haul



This is my haul from the night. I purchased some items, others were given as part of the tour and I won the bottle of wine for participating in the networking scavenger hunt! From Old Town Oil I have Garlic EVOO, OTO Reserve balsamic, Lemon EVOO and Pomegranate balsamic. From The Spice House I have Florida Seasoned Pepper, California Seasoned Pepper, Little Italy Herbs, Salt Free Cajun, Sunny Spain Seasoning, Bridgeport Seasoning and Ceylon Cinnamon. The door prize wine is Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling. and I also got a bag of Skinny Pop popcorn to try. (I think I’ll be sprinkling some of the Bridgeport seasoning on it!)