Thursday, January 31, 2013

Foodie Penpals - January 2013

I must say my January Foodie Penpal was extremely cautious about our artificial-free dietary restrictions. They've all been great about sending "safe" items, but Shim (my January penpal) double checked to make sure all the questionable ingredients were okay. Highly appreciated! 
Its always tough when faced with home-made goodies at potlucks and parties, since you just don't know. It's not like they come with ingredient labels! Home-made is usually safer, since people don't often have a 400-ingredient cocktail of artificial "casserole" flavoring laying around. But many surprising things aren't! Like some bouillon or soup mix has fake colors, and people use those to flavor a variety of dishes in creative ways. And mac-n-cheese, of course. Marshmallows (hidden in Ambrosia salads and rice crispy treats.) Pickles (hidden in slaws, potato salads, and relishes. Etc. And most people couldn't tell you if the ingredient they used had artificial additives in it. So I'm always a fan when someone double checks in advance!
January's Foodie Goodies!
Home-made Peanut Brittle - 'Nuff Said.

Star Anise - Oooo! I'll need to find some fancy recipe that uses this. I usually don't venture much further than curry powder and Italian seasoning! A brief internet search said that it's often used in Asian slow-cooked dishes. Slow cooking (or "toss it in and wander off" cooking) is right up my alley! Although these Tea Eggs look both do-able and fun in bento lunches! Woot woot! Heyyy... Chinese New Year is coming up fast... Year of the Snake... Eggsss... Yesssss...

Dried Corn-on-the-Cobs (Corns on the Cob?) - At first I wasn't sure what these were. They were darker and shinier, so I thought maybe candied in some way [Hey. I like candy. My mind will pretty much ALWAYS go there!] But then Hubby said they were probably for popping. What what? Pop corn right off a cob? Regular dried corn? You don't need some special kind of popping kernel? Sooo excited to try these! [I haven't yet, because I'm embarrassed to say it took me a while to figure out what they were and look them up, and then what with getting hit by wave after wave of plague the past three weeks, we just haven't had a chance to enjoy eating anything!*]

*Except the peanut brittle. I had to forcibly stop myself from gobbling the whole bag the day my foodie box arrived, since it was too dark to take pictures. I shovelled sugar cereal veggies in my face until I was too full to eat more, so I wouldn't sneak back and snarf some more brittle!
Later that night, Hubby came to me and said, "You do realize you left a bag of peanut brittle unattended in the kitchen don't you?" Luckily he only swipered one piece. He's a brittle fiend!

Check out The Stahl Family to see how they enjoyed the goodies I sent!
blogbadgeAPPLE Foodie Penpals

And now it's time for some details about Foodie Penpals.  In case you’re a new reader, here’s a reminder of what the program is all about:
-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!
-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! 
-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 & European residents.  Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. Same with Europeans. 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 from the US or Canada and are in participating for November, please CLICK HERE ( to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions. 
You must submit your information by February 4th as pairings will be emailed on February 5th!

*If you're from Europe, please CLICK HERE ( to signup. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Granola Four-Ways! With Nature's Hand Granola

Until we went artificial-free, I wasn't really a granola fan. Too crunchy or too soft, often tasting of cardboard... Blech! But now that I've had to find alternatives to our favorite "brand name" cereals, most of which contain artificial preservatives (BHA, BHT, or TBHQ,) I've had to give granola another look. And boy have I been pleasantly surprised!

With a large assortment of lightly sweetened and naturally flavored options to choose from, I've found many ways to enjoy eating granola again! I was extremely pleased to find Nature's Hand Granola. I'm not a fan of soft granola, and Nature's Hand didn't disappoint. Pleasantly crunchy and clumpy. And the flavors I chose had nice chewy dried fruit bits too.
Nature's Hand Granola wasn't just yummy for a healthy, low-fat, low-sugar, no-sodium, all-natural granola. It was just plain YUMMY! 

My Four Favorite Ways to Enjoy Granola:
1. Eat it plain!
2. Eat as a cereal, with milk
3. With yogurt - as a parfait or just a mix-in! Also on ice cream. Same concept.
4. "Apple Sandwiches"
(These certainly aren't the ONLY ways. Here are some yummy-looking recipes. Granola can be a tasty pie or tart topping, with baked apples, etc. But I'm too lazy to cook... )

Mama's "Apple Sandwich"
Rosemary bread, apple sandwich with PB and Nature's Hand Wild Blueberry granola, salad
w/cauliflower, broccoli, carrot scraps, golden beet, dried blueberries, sunflower seeds, dressing 
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I found this "Apple Sandwich" recipe at MOMables. I loved it with my Nature's Hand Granola, but with this extra crunchy granola, I think they would have been better as "open face" sandwiches. It was a bit hard to eat this way, but really yummy and fun once I pulled the apples apart.
To help keep the granola from getting soggy, I spread peanut butter on both slices of apple, to create a barrier.
I think in future I'll pack the ingredients separately and assemble on-site. More fun, and I can fit more apple slices in there!

For the most part I snacked on my granola in handfuls here and there. Or ate it like cereal. But a few times, I was able to pack a yummy, healthy treat to-go!

Simple Parfait
This one is easy and should be fairly obvious, but I'll describe it anyway.
Layer yogurt (I prefer Greek yogurt,) sliced fresh (or canned) fruit, and granola in alternating layers. DONE! Deeelicious!
You can prepare these a bit in advance, but be advised that the granola could get soggy after being in there too long. I ate mine an hour later, and it was still mostly crunchy. Depending how long there is between leaving the house and lunch, these would be a great treat to pack. I used an 8-ounce plastic Ball freezer jam jar, since it's sturdy and has a lid that closes nicely.

Mama's Breakfast On the Go!
For a quick on-the-go breakfast, I packed some Nature's Hand Granola in a sealable container and grabbed a yogurt cup. Some of the granola went into my yogurt, but Baby ended up eating most of the yogurt, so I got my granola plain!

You can find Nature's Hand Granola online, or at a store near you!

Disclaimer: I was given two flavors of Nature's Hand granola to try. They lasted about 5 seconds each! Haha!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tried-It Tuesdays - January 2013

I decided to move this to the last Tuesday each month because I forgot it makes more sense to link what you've done THIS month, rather than the previous month each time.

So since this has essentially skipped December, feel free to link to your post or publicly shared photo, anything new you did in December too!

A big first for us was Baby's first birthday! Just a few days before Christmas, so she totally got the shaft. I wasn't organized at all, hadn't gotten her a birthday present, and threw together a last-minute birthday dinner that none of her cousins or aunties could come to (A GREAT-Auntie came though!) Although my lack of planning isn't really a new thing...

I also made the very first "beautiful lunch" for myself that I actually put a lot off effort into, and got bento gear dirty just for looks instead of utility. And I loved it so much, I felt bad eating it!

What did YOU do this month? Come link up the LAST Tuesday of each month, with anything new you've tried, made, eaten, done, whatever!



Sunday, January 27, 2013

Curiouser and Curiouser... - Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland

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January 27th is the birthday of Lewis Carroll, author of the well-known Wonderland books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. To celebrate, I made an homage in bento!

Check out some other fun Carroll-inspired lunches at Bent On Better Lunches!

Curiouser and Curiouser!
Strawberries, watermelon and grapes, mini Unreal candy bar; edamame, beets, kohlrabi, and carrots;
cream cheese, ham, and cheese on whole wheat sandwich thin with fruit leather, beet, and olive details. 

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This is my very first lunch in our new PlanetBox! I got mine through Pottery Barn Kids (with an adorable owl print bag and magnets!) but it's really hard to open. Friends who got theirs through PlanetBox say that is not normal. So it looks like something's different with the PBK ones. No way could Z open or close this herself (*I* had a hard time with the clasp!) so I planned this lunch to be eaten at home. So keep that in mind, since there's no way all those picks would fit in there with the box closed, unless I'd pulled them out and stuffed them in nooks and crannies. (The clock fit, and the strawberry roses did, if I flipped one upside-down. The rest sat in a cuppie on the counter until I stuck them in right before lunch.)

"Eat Me": I trimmed the ends off the wrapper of a mini Unreal 5 chocolate-caramel-nougat bar (like Milky Way, but with no fake junk! Available at Target, as well as other stores.) I used some really tiny letter cutters (found at a Japanese shop in California... Ichiban?) on some Colby Jack cheese. I had originally planned to just put them on the bar itself, but I thought the design on the wrapper went well with the Wonderland theme.

"I'm Late! I'm Late!": I spread cream cheese on the inside of the top slice of sandwich thin, and kept it inside-up. Slices of uncured ham and Colby Jack cheese rest between the bread layers.
To make it look like the White Rabbit's pocketwatch, I stuck a ring pick in the top and a matching dot pick on the right side, to look like that thing you twist to wind it.
I used mini number cutters to cut the numbers from some Betty Crocker Simply fruit roll-up (all-natural thin fruit roll-ups, available at most stores!) and I just cut the "hands" freehand. As a nod to the cards and such near the end of the story, I used tiny card suite shape cutters on some black olives and red beet. Since I'd packed this the night before, the beet bled a little. And the cream cheese cracked. Oh well.

And of course I had to include a white rabbit pick! The daisy picks and mushroom pick were a nod to The Caterpillar, who she also meets near the beginning. I had planned on making a caterpillar out of peas, but forgot to thaw them, and I didn't have time the next day.

"What Kind of Flower Are You?": I used large and small veggie flower cutters on an assortment of carrots, Chioggia beets, and kohlrabi. I told her they were rainbow carrots. Teehee! I used leaf picks and a flower stem pick to make them look more like a garden. Meh.
I popped out the last of our edamame beans to help fill up the "ground."

"A Very Merry Unbirthday To You!": A party hat cupcake topper to celebrate Alice's "Unbirthday," a top hat cupcake topper for the Mad Hatter, and teacup and tea party cupcake picks (found at a bakery supply shop,) stuck in some watermelon cubes for a fun tea party!

"We're Painting the Roses Red!": I got the idea to make strawberry "roses" from seeing the white tops on the out-of-season berries. I used more flower stem picks and turned the strawberries into rosebuds. I made sure to choose ones with white, since the Queen's men paint her white roses red, since they'd accidentally planted the wrong kind! I stuck a heart crown cupcake pick in the back to represent the Queen of Hearts. Simple and fun! 

Mama's Adventures in Wonderland
This lunch was cursed or something. It did not want to get made! First the girls ate all my strawberries on Wednesday. I only needed them to save three! But no. So Hubby got me more on his way home from work. Then the next day Z was home sick (really bad cough and she'd kept waking herself up, so needed more rest.) And the girls ate them all again! So he picked up another carton. Except they looked terrible. It was hard finding three decent ones. Oh well. 
I had planned to pack this lunch on Thursday night for Z to eat at home on Friday. But I fell asleep with Baby. And then Friday morning Baby started blarching all over me. So I didn't really have the time or energy to put this together Friday morning, what with a clingy sick baby.
So I packed most of it Friday night (after scrubbing down!) for Z to eat before heading off to see Phineas and Ferb Live the next day. But she still had her cough, and not much of an appetite. She ended up eating it for lunch and dinner. And ate almost none of the safe treats I'd sent with her to the show [they've been really good about letting us bring our own foods when I tell them up-front, and it's clear they're just for her. And no drinks - I bring a safe drink mix packet (Trader Joe's, Crystal Light Naturals, or TrueLemon) and buy their $5 bottled water.]

At least I remembered to take pictures! But when I sat down to start typing this up Saturday night, I suddenly got dizzy and weak and had to lie down. Yup. Mama caught Baby's flu! Good thing she got to eat this Saturday though. Sunday (today,) poor Z started blarching too. It seems I've gotten this the worst, with muscle aches and dizziness. The girls urp up all over my side of the bed, then are chipper and energetic the rest of the day. Yay.

Tools of the Trade

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January Dye-Free School Snacks - Weeks 2 and 3

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Monday January 7 through Thursday, January 17

Monday 1/7
I packed the last Bento Bread Scrap French Toast Muffin in a Thermos Funtainer to keep it warm. 
First I boiled some water really quick in the microwave, then I put it in the Thermos for five minutes to heat up the insides. Meanwhile I re-heated the muffin, sprinkled on some powdered sugar, popped it in the toasty Thermos, and we were good to go!
Fork came from Dollar Tree. It came in a set with two forks and two spoons, plus a travel case. So her bag didn't even get dirty from the used fork! I use these a LOT!

Z stayed home sick Tuesday and Wednesday due to a super mild flu. Really, if we had to have the flu, this was definitely the one to get!

Thursday 1/10
Forgot... Think I sent a single-serve bag of something that came in one of my monthly foodie boxes... Can't remember what.

Monday 1/14
Twisted Water, Chocolate Peppermint Waffle Cookies, Baby Bell cheese, apples
I packed a Baby Bell mozzarella cheese with a star-flower cookie cutter cut-out plus some leftover McD's apple slices [no judging] in our new kitty snack bento box
As a special treat, I added a few Chocolate Peppermint mini dipped Waffle Cookies (from Target's Archer Farms brand - no fake colors or flavors! Bought them on clearance after the holidays!) 

Twisted Water from our January Savorfull box. This was our last box, since Savorfull is switching to a business-to-business model. So pass it along, if your workplace, school, vending machine, etc is interested in getting allergy-friendly "free-from" snacks - or if you think they SHOULD be!

Tuesday 1/15
"Guilt Chocolate" (Theo Dark Chocolate Peppermint Stick,) Smart Puffs
After Z was sick the previous Tuesday and Wednesday, Baby E got a fever Thursday through Saturday. Then a rash on Monday, so the doctor diagnosed Roseola. She said it was contagious until the rash disappeared. So instead of Baby's Little Gym class, we stayed home and took a nap... Only Mama didn't wake up until 15-minutes after Z's bus had come to drop her off! Oh noes!

So Mama packed a junkier snack than usual to try and compensate! I tossed in some Smart Puffs, from the makers of Pirate Booty. I don't care for them myself (or the Pirate Booty, for that matter,) but she thinks her "nat-choo-ral Cheetos" are the bee's knees! 

Z does not handle the unexpected well, and she's been convinced from birth that I'm gonna lose her or ditch her or not come for her. So my sad little girlie deserved some "Guilt Chocolate" from Mama!  She got two squares of my precious Theo's Chocolates holiday limited edition Dark Chocolate Peppermint Stick. These puppies are $4 per bar, and I like to saaaavor them. (They were on super sale at 2/$5 at Whole Foods. Hubby went back and bought me TWO! ♥♥♥)

Wednesday 1/16
Sweets and Beets chips, white cheddar popcorn (hiding under cheese,) cheddar and mozzarella
I had this grand idea to use some leftover cheese flowers in a silicone flower pot muffin cup to make a little potted plant and be all clever and adorable. I had both cheddar and mozzarella in two sizes of flowers using some tiny flower cookie cutters. But my jewel picks kept splitting the cheese open! I hadn't thought of just jamming them down into the cubes until after I'd given up on trying to salvage the larger broken ones. Oh well. Next time I'll try poking a hole with a toothpick first, so the wider "arrowheads" at the end of the picks don't break my cheeses!

Thursday 1/17
Cinnamon-Sugar Popcorn, Sweets and Beets chips
I put some Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn that came in our January Goodies Box in both muffin cups, and filled the rest of the sandwich box with TERRA Sweets and Beets Chips. The popcorn was surprisingly low in sugar. I was impressed! But I know that cinnamon tricks us into thinking we're tasting "sweet," so that could account for some of it.

Tools of the Trade

*For those of you paying attention, the Hello Kitty 2-tier bento from the collage picture isn't shown later in this post because it was actually made for Baby's lunch one day. But I accidentally put it in my photo collage, and didn't notice until it was all done, and didn't feel like re-doing it. It gets its own post later! Promise!