Monthly Archives: August 2012

My First Foodie Pen Pal!


In August, I participated for the first time in the Foodie Pen Pals program!

And today is Reveal Day!

I’d been reading about Foodie Pen Pals on several other blogs I follow and after reading the requirements and learning how fun and easy it was to participate, I decided to give it a try. I mean, you know I love to try new things, right?

The best part for all of you reading out there:

You don’t need to have a blog to participate!

Here’s how it works:

1. You sign up by the 4th of the month for each month that you want to participate.

2. By the 5th, you’re assigned a Foodie Pen Pal for that month.

3. You communicate with your pen pal about any food allergies or preferences, as well as where to ship their package.

4. By the 15th of the month, you send $15 worth of food to your pen pal that may include homemade goodies, local treats or just some of your favorite discoveries that you want to share! The box must also contain something handwritten.

5. You receive a package from another Foodie Pen Pal, who was assigned to you.

6. If you are like me, you squeal with delight when your package arrives.

7. You enjoy said goodies, which you may have never known about otherwise.

8. If you are a blogger, you post about the package you received on the last day of the month – Reveal Day! {If you are not a blogger, you do not need to do anything, but thank your Pen Pal, of course! However, if your Pen Pal does blog, you can choose to write a guest post, if you so wish.}

My very first Foodie Pen Pal package came from Frieda at Purple Oven Mitt. We’ve corresponded and she is so sweet! I love her blog and her no-nonsense, healthy recipes, too.

August Foodie Pen Pal package from Frieda at Purple Oven Mitt

Now picture me opening this package and squealing with delight! Frieda wrote me a nice personal note on the enclosed card, too. So sweet!

Goodness Knows Very Cranberry Snack Squares are made with Cocoa Flavanols to “support circulation of nutrients”. What does this mean?

Here’s your explanation!

I love any excuse to have chocolate. And dark is my favorite! On a couple of occasions, I took these to work and had them either as breakfast or a snack with a cup of coffee. Mmm… {I adore dark chocolate with coffee!}

I love that it’s not just a bar, that they come in little squares. It makes me feel like I’m getting 4 little treats!

Next up…

Kettle Brand Almond Butter

I didn’t know that Kettle made almond butter! Isn’t that the company that makes Kettle Chips?

I’d never bought almond butter before… until a week prior to receiving this Foodie Pen Pals box! In fact, I only bought a one-serving pouch of Justin’s Maple Almond Butter as suggested on another blog so I could try out making her best Green Monster Smoothie. I fell in love with the smoothie, but during Weekend Pantry Challenge, I cut myself off because I was out of almond butter and insisted that I could only cook from the pantry that weekend! Sure, I could have substituted peanut butter, but why change up a good thing?!

After receiving the almond butter from Frieda, I’ve been able to satisfy this new addiction ever since!

In fact, I enjoyed one of these smoothies night-before-race-day and I’m attributing that to me shaving off about a minute and a half of my most recent 5k race! 😉 Tee hee. I have now dubbed this smoothie the Magic Smoothie.

Green Monster Magic Smoothie made with Kettle Almond Butter 

Canterbury Naturals Harvest Moon Vegetable Classic Artisan Soup Mix

I haven’t tried this item from my Foodie Pen Pals package yet. Why? Because there is a great recipe for Chicken Soup on the back. I am now hoarding it for that cold, rainy fall day when it will warm me up perfectly!

Chicken Soup Instructions

Thank you again, Freida!

If you’d like to see what I sent to my August Foodie Pen Pal, Noelle, check her out her blog called Norrey which depicts her love and life with her husband, Torrey. This month, they celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary, so be sure to stop by and send them some love!

My wonderful experience with Foodie Pen Pals was such that I want to continue. However, due to timing of international travel coming up, I may take the next two months off – not because I want to, but because it wouldn’t be fair to my Foodie Pen Pal if I am late or drop the ball.

If you’re interested in participating for September, please CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions. You must submit your information by September 4th as pairings will be emailed on September 5th.

If you were to send a foodie care package to someone you love, what would you send?


Where to Buy Chicken Casserole Supplies?


My husband loves reading Lamebook and other sites that show funnies from around the web. Here’s one of his favorites:

Well, my friend Stacy was over for dinner this week on a night that my husband was out for his Fantasy Football Draft. So you know what that meant?

I could make a chicken dish!

Why not a Chicken Casserole dish?

I’ll tell you where you can find Chicken Casserole Supplies:

My Pantry!

I had all but two of the 18 ingredients needed for a Chicken Casserole dish from – you guessed it – The Homesick Texan. {As much as I love them, I don’t keep corn tortillas on hand, nor did I have half and half.} After picking those two items up from the nearby Cub Foods, I had the components to make:

Slightly Fancy-Pants King Ranch

Chicken Casserole

from The Homesick Texan

Eighteen ingredients may sound like a lot, but it really wasn’t. And if you want to make the easier, old-school version with cream of  mushroom and cream of chicken soup, Lisa includes that recipe on her website, too.

I started by seasoning and cooking up the chicken, which took more time than anticipated:

Chicken seasoned with lime, chili powder and salt

Then I shredded it:

Shredded Chicken

Next time, as a time saver, I’d have the chicken done ahead of time or just buy a rotisserie chicken and add the spices.

Then, I sautéed the onions and peppers. The recipe called for a poblano and a red bell pepper, but I had some small Anaheim peppers left from my last CSA box, so I used that instead of the red bell:

Poblano (1) and Anaheim (2) Peppers

I added the spices:

Spices: garlic, flour, cumin, cayenne, chili powder

After thickening the mixture with the chicken broth, I added the half and half. And since I didn’t have a can of Ro-Tel on hand that the author is so fond of, I put in 10 ounces of canned tomatoes along with a chopped jalapeno and serrano pepper, yet again from my CSA box. {Do they expect me to make Tex-Mex and Mexican food all summer? Aha! How did I forget about the serrano peppers used in Indian Food!? Note to self…}

After some simmering {not me, the sauce mixture}, I added the remaining lime juice, sour cream and some cilantro and seasoned it with salt and pepper:

Creamy mixture for the Chicken Casserole

With the oven heated, I began assembling the Chicken Casserole with layers of  the sauce mixture, corn tortillas, shredded chicken, cilantro and shredded cheese.

Layering of the Chicken Casserole…

Unfortunately, you don’t get a picture of the finished product. But with all the bubbly, golden brown cheese on top, it looked just like The Homesick Texan‘s Tex-Mex Squash Casserole that I made.

The Verdict? This King Ranch Chicken Casserole is the perfect combination of chicken, ooey-gooey cheese and heat. We thought it would be nice if it were a just a tad creamier, so maybe I’d add a little more sour cream next time. {Or I’d have some leftover to dollop on top. I finished off the container of sour cream for this dish, so we didn’t have that luxury.}

So where did I find my chicken casserole supplies?

  • Mostly my pantry and fridge
  • My CSA box
  • Cub Foods for the missing ingredients

Hopefully, that’ll help out Mr. David D. 😉

What is your favorite casserole dish?

Please include the recipe or a link to the recipe!


Corkage – What is it?


This Wine Wednesday, let’s talk about corkage.

Or rather, The Corkage Fee.

Did you know that many restaurants that serve wine will allow you to bring your own wine in to drink during your meal?

I don’t think it’s something that most restaurants particularly like to offer, but they do understand that there may be a special occasion where you want to pop the cork on a very special bottle.

What is a Corkage Fee?

In order to offer you this opportunity to bring your own wine, but still cover the costs of serving your wine in their stemware, a Corkage Fee is added.

Most restaurants mark up the wine that they offer at least 100% more than the retail price. {We’ve all seen that $40 bottle of wine on the menu that we know we can get at the store for $12.99, right?} Sometimes it’s difficult to fork out the money when we know this, especially if we know the wine isn’t really that good anyway.

And while wine {and alcohol in general} can be a decent profit-maker for the restaurateur, consider the fact that you are paying for not only the wine, but also the cost of the wine service itself. It is for this reason that the Corkage Fee is applied.

You may not be aware that the following items are just a few of the overhead costs that are included in your wine service:

  • Stemware
    • Breakage and replacement is inevitable!
    • Higher end restaurants often use higher end stemware.
  • Dishwashing
    • The dishwasher’s time and care of the stemware is important. They must take great care, especially with more delicate stemware, to minimize breakage and make that glass shine!
  • Payroll
    • Patrons who order or bring in their own wine often linger longer. Whether or not a wine is brought in, they still need to pay their staff.
    • Higher end restaurants may employ a sommelier who not only takes the time to put together a list of a wide variety of quality wines to ensure that you have proper pairing options; but also has the education and expertise to help you select a wine based on your preferences and budget.

How much is a Corkage Fee?

While it is not legal in all states for restaurants to allow you to BYO wine, those that do will charge a Corkage Fee of anywhere from $10 to $35. You’ll probably see most corkage fees on the higher end of that range. Also, expect that if most of the wine list consists of higher priced wines, the corkage will most likely be higher priced, too. Some corkages are more expensive just so that they can offer you the opportunity, but discourage you from wanting to bring in your own bottle.

We have been to a restaurant or two that require no Corkage Fee {We sadly miss Palomino which used to reside in the Hennepin Theater District}, but it is fairly uncommon. I don’t quite understand how they can get by without it.

Some restaurants may simply not offer the BYO option. Why? Customers don’t show respect for this privilege when they commit the following faux pas:

Don’t Do It!

  • Don’t bring a wine that’s already on their wine list. Yes, we know you can get it cheaper elsewhere. Yes, it might even be cheaper to bring in that wine and pay the corkage fee. One word: rude.
  • Don’t bring a low-end wine. Seriously, your Three-Buck Chuck is not going to prove any points. If anything, you are sending the message that you don’t value the food they serve – that it’s just as low in quality. The general rule of thumb is to bring a wine equal to or more than the retail of the lowest priced wine available by the bottle on their list.
  • Don’t argue or complain about the Corkage Fee. This is a service they are offering to you. Pay them respect for the courtesy.
  • Don’t bring in a bottle of wine still in the brown paper bag from the store or with a price sticker still on it. Tacky! You can bring the bottle in by itself or carry it in a nice tote like the one pictured below. Since you should always bring your white wine pre-chilled, this tote will keep it chilled for you in transport. {I also keep several of these in my luggage to pack wine to bring home from vacation!}

Wine Bottle Tote –  You can find one here.

Other Tips:

  • Not sure what the Corkage Fee is? Just call. They might not even allow you to BYO wine. Nothing is worse than showing up with your favorite bottle for a special occasion only to learn that you can’t do it.
  • If you are with a group, you may get the Corkage Fee waived if you buy a bottle from their list for every bottle you bring.
  • If the restaurant has a sommelier, it’s polite to offer a taste. {We’ve offered our server a taste the last time we brought in a bottle. Some may not be allowed to try, but they will be appreciative of the gesture.}
  • Order an apéritif or a glass of bubbly before your meal. Then have the server pour your wine to enjoy with your meal. It’s a nice gesture to buy at least one beverage from the restaurant. Or if you perfer, order a digestif after the meal. {You just might even get your Corkage Fee waived then, too.}

We, personally, have only brought our own wine in to restaurants on a couple of occasions; and it was truly just to celebrate. Each time we called first to inquire about corkage. When in search for restaurants online that offer corkage, or even half-priced bottle of wine nights, don’t expect to find accurate lists. We actually considered creating a list ourselves and then realized how difficult that would be to maintain accurately. Pick a restaurant first, then call. It’s your best bet.

And whatever you do, remember it’s out of sheer courtesy that restaurants offer the option to bring your own wine. You are merely paying a convenience charge for the service. Be respectful and express your gratitude. Commit a Corkage Faux Pas, and you just might ruin it for the rest of us.

Have your brought your own wine into a restaurant?

If so, was it for a special occasion?

What wine did you bring?

Castaways – Bay City, MI


This Restaurant Impression post is purely selfish.

You see, when we go back to Bay City, Michigan, and back to Castaways {which is inevitable!}, I want to know what to order! I have no pictures of mouth-watering delights to share with you. So you are gonna have to go old school and picture them yourself, just like you are reading a book.

Still, that may be difficult. I don’t have a ton of notes. So this post will probably lack the descriptive words necessary to conjure up a visual in your imagination. I really need to remember to write down my thoughts on dining in a restaurant within hours of eating there, or at least the next day. {Note to self.}

On this visit to Castaways, I was in a burger kind of mood. I’m very rarely in such a mood; but when I am, the burger I order has to be a really good one. It has to be worth it. 

So how did I know that Castaways had good burgers?

I didn’t.

However, while walking from the bar to the tables where our group was sitting, I passed by a plate of cheesy bread being delivered to a table. It sold me. However, I did see a plate of cheesy bread delivered to a nearby table. It sold me. I’m not sure why I was in a let’s-eat-unhealthy-because-we-are-on-vacation-mood.

Oh yeah. I just ran 3+ miles that morning in 95+ weather and humidity so high that it sucked the air right out of my chest.

Now I didn’t know what to do…

Cheesy bread?


Decisions. Decisions. In the end, I don’t know how I did it, but I talked Rob into splitting both with me! I figured that if the burger wasn’t great, the cheesy bread just HAD to be!

The Cheese Bread came out first and was just as expected – globbed with melted golden brown cheese. Yes, it satisfied, but the order was huge and we knew we had to slow down for the next “course”. We tried to offer it up to others, but many people were waiting for their pizza to arrive – also popular at Castaways.

The burger we ordered was the Island Burger. It sounds exotic, like it might have pineapple on it or something. But it was really just your basic burger.


Island Burger

Topped with bacon, sautéed onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, ketchup, mayo and both Swiss and American Cheese. – $6.95


But this burger was excellent! We ordered it medium rare as we always do and it was cooked to perfection. It was juicy and flavorful. Because I have neither pictures nor detailed notes, I can’t tell you ’bout the bun nor the fries. Just that we loved this burger. We were pleasantly surprised. When we go back to Bay City, when that burger mood strikes, this is where I’ll be getting one!

Rob ordered a mixed drink from their menu, but wasn’t too impressed. So he followed my lead and switched over to Cherry Wheat. I knew by now that we weren’t going to find Cherry Wheat on tap at home, so I had to take advantage!

The service here is more impressive than we generally give them credit. Castaways is our group’s go-to joint post golf-tournament. We usually have 20 or so people coming and going in our group at any given time. We usually set up one or two long tables together. People order at different times and some go in and out to play volleyball. And somehow the servers remember what you were drinking, who ordered what and which people get which bills. While I’m sure there are bound to be screw-ups of some sort at any establishment among this confusion, the staff just seems to always know what they are doing and doesn’t seem flustered. They make sure to keep the drinks flowing. You are never waiting for very long!

So, there you have it – my vague record of what we last ate at Castaways. Next year, I won’t be asking Rob, “Did I like the tuna melt here?” Instead, I will know exactly what to order.

Where do you like to go when you are in a burger mood?


Minnesota Zoo Tiger Tracks 5k: A Recap


This weekend, I got my fourth 5k race under my belt!

Lately, I haven’t been much into running. It has felt extra hard. I haven’t seen any progress. I haven’t been getting any faster, nor have I felt like I can transition into a longer race like a 10k. Haven’t. Haven’t. Haven’t. Wah. Wah.

If it weren’t for having this race scheduled months ago, I might have quit running completely. Instead, I’ve been running consistently three times a week. However, I wasn’t doing much else in terms of activity outside of those runs.

No wonder why it has taken me all summer to drop another five pounds.

But I could have just skipped the race, right? Nope. Months ago, my friend Stacy signed up for this 5k with me. So not only am I grateful that signing up for this 5k kept me going, but I’m also grateful that having the opportunity to see Stacy again made me accountable. 😉

The week prior to my past three 5ks included two rest days prior to the race. Unfortunately, my schedule this last week didn’t quite allow that. In fact, the last time I ran prior to this Saturday race, was Tuesday. I was unable to run or even workout at all on Wednesday or Thursday. Okay, that’s probably an excuse, now that I think about it. I could have done twenty minutes of something in the morning, right?

The Night Before…

Sophie Jean had been getting pretty whiny lately when I left to do my runs and didn’t take her. She can’t go very far running, but boy does she go crazy when you ask her if she wants to go for a walk! So I decided that a nice brisk 30-minute walk after work would suit the both of us.

I figured that a walk would loosen me up a bit for the race and help my back that’s been so stiff lately. Twenty minutes in, she started to slow down and looked up at me as if to say, “Are we there yet?” It really had been way too long since I’d taken her for a walk. Bad momma.

I met Stacy and her family for dinner at Ansari’s Mediterranean Grill and feasted on a Greek Salad and a Chicken Gyros Wrap. {Sorry! No photos!} As I usually do the night before a race, I over-stuffed myself. I really thought that being with other people would distract me; but it didn’t. Whoops. I’m fairly sure that I finished my food before anyone else.

After dinner, Stacy came back with me to my house. It was so nice to spend the rest of the evening talking, laughing and hanging out. It was just so relaxing.

Still, I felt like I needed a snack. I knew it was just nervousness, so I decided to make one of my new favorite staples I’d discovered during my Pantry Challenge Weekend: Kim’s Green Monster Smoothie.

Green Monster Smoothie Concoction

I finished it quickly and then realized why I wanted it so badly over anything else: I was thirsty. And my glass of water in front of me was still sitting completely full. Hmm…

We got to bed at a decent time and I practiced my night-before-race ritual of taking a hot shower before bed and using lavender oil – both to help me sleep. Even if it’s all in my head, it always works.

Race Day…

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but I think I’ve established what I like to eat for my pre-race breakfast: peanut butter on whole wheat toast, a banana and water. We also stopped at Caribou Coffee on the way to the race and I got my usual Americano. Yay! Strong coffee!!

On the way to the race, Rob said to me:

“If you finish in under 37 minutes, I’ll buy breakfast!”

“Don’t say that!” I yelled back. “It’ll only make me start out too fast.” Besides, I hadn’t  even run one under 38 minutes yet, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up. Especially not after that bad Tuesday run…

We arrived with plenty of time and Stacy taught me how to put the timing chip on my shoe. It’s the first race I’ve done using one and I just couldn’t follow the instructions.

Stacy and Carrie: Pre-Race

After waiting what felt like an eternity to use the portapotties, we got in line for the run. We thought the weather was great when we got up, but felt a bit of humidity when we were waiting at the start. While we were chatting, the horn blew. We didn’t even realize what time it was! But it took a while for us to get to the start line. For some reason, starting out confuses me. People are running every which way, trying to get ahead of each other, etc. It takes me a while to get in the groove.

The run through the zoo could be very peaceful if alone. There were a LOT of people running this race which caused a few small bottlenecks from time to time. There were people of all shapes, sizes, abilities and ages (even kids!)

I felt absolutely great the first mile or so. Better than I’ve felt in a long time! However, I never actually saw the first mile marker. When I looked at my HRM {which ended up failing me in monitoring my heart rate} and saw that I had been running for sixteen minutes, I hoped that I had just missed the marker. Gratefully, I did.

One strange part of the race was going by the Wells Fargo Family Farm area. What wonderful aromas when you are breathing heavily! HA! But the bunch of goats all standing on top of a table or something reminded me of my Sophie Jean. She always seems to need to be up high. For that reason, we sometimes call her a cat. And after she gets a really short fur cut and her legs look extra long, we actually tell her she’s a little goat! So despite the smell, I smiled.

There were a few little hills that added a bit of a challenge, but they also led me downhill. I took full advantage of them and picked up speed on those! The killer, though, was the Monkey Ramp. If you’ve been to the Minnesota Zoo, you know what I mean. I didn’t realize the route was one where you go out and back, so while we went down that ramp on the way out, very close to the end we had to run back up that ramp. The monkeys were probably looking at us like we were the real monkeys!

I was having a hard time the last half-mile or so… So I started to make up games. I told myself that I had to pass ten people before the finish line. Now, normally, everyone is passing me. But this was a big race and there were a lot of run-walkers. Even if I passed people, they’d eventually pass me again. But it was my way of distracting myself. I didn’t end up passing ten, but it kept my mind occupied for a bit!

After I passed the three-mile marker, I picked up the pace a little bit. Then I saw the finish line and the clock time and really kicked it into high gear.

My final chip time?


A Personal Record!

And a free breakfast for me!

  • The Event: Tiger Tracks 5k 2012
  • The Location:  Minnesota Zoo – Apple Valley, MN
  • The Date: August 25, 2012
  • Night Before Dinner: Greek Salad & Chicken Gyro Wrap
  • Night Before Snack: Green Monster Smoothie
  • Pre-race Breakfast: PB on whole wheat toast, banana, Americano
  • My Time: 36:08 (PR!)
  • The Weather: Mid 70′s, slightly humid, partly cloudy
  • General Feeling: Content
  • Uniqueness: Funds raised from the 5K Run support the Zoo’s conservation efforts.
  • The Goods: Zoo Admission for the Day, Tiger Paw-Print T-Shirt
  • The Grub: Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey Granola Bar, Old Dutch Potato Chips

When is the last time that you wanted to give up and were glad you didn’t?



A Poll: Our Next Vacation!


So, Rob and I made a bet… and let’s just say I WON!

So, now I get to pick our next vacation destination abroad.

I think I first got the travel bug when traveled through France through our high school French Club. In fact, at seventeen years old, my first flight ever was Chicago to Paris. I worked my tush off at KFC to save for that trip! My eyes were opened up to a whole new world. I still remember the pit in my stomach the night before returning home.

Three years later, I found myself studying abroad in the South of France: Toulon.

Three years later, my friend Jen and I took a post-college, ten-week backpacking trip of Europe. I look back on that trip with such fond memories. Today, I can’t believe how cheaply we got by in just ten weeks.

This was becoming a pattern. Every three years, I was ending up in France. I knew in 2003, I would need to return. This time, I took my mom! She had never been abroad before. She, too, fell in love with Paris.

But just one week before I left for that trip with my mom, I met Rob.

I didn’t mention a word about him, because I didn’t want to jinx anything. 😉 Besides, we had only just met. We hadn’t even been on a date yet. But he did already learn one thing: I loved to travel.

Three years later, I brought him on his first trip abroad – to Paris.

View of Sacré-Coeur from a side street in Montmartre, Paris

He fell in love as well. He, too, was bitten by the International Travel Bug.

In 2008, I earned an all-expense-paid trip to Tuscany, Italy through The Traveling Vineyard. Rob wasn’t going to come. I hadn’t earned it completely for a second person. But his co-workers talked him into it. “This is a trip of a lifetime!” They said. “It’s still way less expensive than you would ever spend if you planned it yourself!” And so he came…

The view from our bedroom in Tuscany… seriously.

And in Tuscany, at the Villa Dievole, is where he proposed.

You have to know Rob. He’s witty. He’s a jokester. And he adores eBay. I seriously thought that when it came time to propose, it would be via email with a picture of a ring from eBay. Those were my expectations. You can understand my utter shock and delight when he did it on one knee in one of the most beautiful places in the world with the vineyards and cypress trees in the backdrop. It was like a fairytale.

We returned to Italy for our honeymoon. This time, the Amalfi Coast:

The view from our favorite restaurant in Positano. Lo Guarrancino is carved right out of seaside rock. 

You may be wondering why we don’t branch out… Why we don’t travel domestically… Why I always returned to France… and now Italy.

Well, that’s not the case. We do travel domestically. In fact, we love to travel domestically. We do it every year. But that’s not what this post is about. When Rob and I discussed marriage, I had one request:

I wanted our life together to include traveling abroad once every year.

It was a dream of mine. I can cut back on other things in life. Seriously, I will run my little Toyota Corolla until it dies. It has about 134,000 miles on it now. So its got some life left!

And we are making it happen!

This fall, Rob and I are traveling to Ireland with his parents.

We love to travel in the fall, when tourist season isn’t as high and kids are back in school. Generally, the weather is a bit nicer, too.

So, I’m trying to decide where to plan our 2013 trip abroad. Here are my thoughts. But since I’m horrible at making decisions, I’d love your vote and input!

Australia –  Truly, this is at the top of my list. Why? I get to choose.  And since Rob has no desire to take a flight that long, it would be my best chance at getting there. However, I need to be realistic, too. This most likely won’t be the choice. We’d want to be there for a few weeks and neither of us would have the funds nor vacation to make the trek in 2013.

Provence – Yes, I’d love to return to France. This time: Provence. I’d love to show Rob the region where I studied. But one of the things on my bucket list is to bike through the region. I am not sure if I’d plan the trip for us or go on a group tour.

Sicily – Yes, of course, we want to return to Italy! We just can’t get enough of it. There are more regions to discover. But I get to pick. So this would be my first choice.

Greece – Well, since I seem to love the Mediterranean so much, and it’s a country Jen and I did not get to on our ten-week backpacking tour, it’s a great option for a new place for me to discover in Europe.

Argentina – If you would have asked me about Argentina five years ago, I wouldn’t have had the desire. But it’s intriguing me more and more. First, we’ve never been to South America. For that matter, we’ve never even been to the Southern Hemisphere. I’ve heard stories from a few people have been to Argentina, furthering my interest. And how could we go wrong with the wine? Also, did you know that second to Spanish immigrants to Argentina were the Italians? Besides a lot of beef {which will suit Rob well!}, I’m told that there is a lot of Italian cuisine in Argentine culture. Mmm…

Québec – I’ve never been to Canada. My reason for choosing Québec, in parcticular, has not only to do with the French culture, but also the history and food. This would be a culinary adventure! We’ve discussed Québec many times and have even considered making a longer trip of it. We’ve thought about driving down to New York to visit some friends in towns near the border and also my cousin in Oswego. We could maybe even hit the Finger Lakes Wine Region.

See, we have plenty of ideas for international travel for the next six years. But to choose one? Nearly impossible.

Please HELP!

Please vote where we should go and comment as to why or your experience if you’ve visited any of these destinations.

Merci beaucoup in advance!


The Homegrown Experience


As I mentioned, this past weekend, after my cooking and cleaning frenzy, my friend Jen and I attended The Homegrown Experience at the beautiful Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis.

I would have never known about this if if wasn’t for Goldstar. It’s a another Daily Deal site. And you know how I love those! I would have never known about this event if I hadn’t received the email. And this was its third year in existence! Since I prefer to eat and cook with fresh, quality ingredients and I love supporting the local community, I jumped at the chance to check this it out.

Upon checking in, we received bags and wine glasses along with some coupons and advertisements. This was included in the ticket price as well as the tasting samples we were about to receive!

I really wouldn’t have called it a “Food and Wine Festival” as Goldstar described. There wasn’t much wine being poured. However, despite my affection for wine, that wasn’t my reason for being there. I wanted to learn more about local, organic and sustainable food in the Twin Cities metro area.

And so we did.

There were so many wonderful samples that I’m sure we made a meal out of it. There were all sorts of vendors including co-ops, non-profits and restaurants that use local or sustainable ingredients. Products included wine, beer, spices, bbq sauces, chocolates and candies, oils, coffee, beauty products, cheese, ice cream and more. We made our way through all of the booths, but patience was key. There were so many people! The lines were long and went extremely slowly. Some people popped in and out of booths, which caused even greater delays in the lines. I’m not sure if the lines were meant to be there, or if we, as the crowd, created them though!

My favorite bite was provided by one of the Eastside Co-op – just a simple crostini with colorful tomatoes, basil and a drizzle of olive oil. They had some excellent chocolate we nibbled on as well.

Truth be told, while I recognized some of the restaurants, I was unaware of the majority of the businesses showcasing their products and services! I collected a lot of brochures, pamphlets and business cards. In fact, now that I think about it, I picked up a few magazines/catalogs, too. In my weekend cleaning frenzy, they must have ended up in a pile somewhere. I have to find them! I’m most looking forward to the current issue of Edible Twin Cities!

However, probably the most interesting discovery to us was Twin Cities Local Food. When we approached their both, we saw this:

Camelina Oil

What’s camelina oil?” You ask? I did, too. Camelina is a wild flax chock full of those healthy omega-3 fatty acids. You can learn more about camelina here. The camelina oil was used in a dressing and bread was offered for dipping to sample. But why was Twin Cities Local Food showcasing it?

Because local farmers and producers of local food products are offered through the Twin Cities Local Food online marketplace! As a member, you place your order online by Wednesday morning.  By Thursday afternoon, your order is ready for pickup at the location of your choosing. There is a drop off site in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Savage. SAVAGE! We south-of-the-river girls were excited about that!

We were told that the produce is picked up from local farmers the same day, so everything you get is fresh, fresh. It’s the perfect alternative to a CSA. You get the choice of what you’d like and what you know you will use that week. A win-win! We are seriously thinking of giving this a try. {P.S. It’s a year-round service!}

Currently, memberships with Twin Cities Local Food are $10 for one month, $35 for six months and $50 for a year. You can even place two orders without a membership just to give it a try. But really, $50 a year? If you go once a week, that’s less than a $1 to have fresh, local produce of your choosing delivered to one location? Or, look at it this way: It’s less than $4 a month. You’d pay more for shipping on anything you order online!

Why don’t I just give it try and let you know what I think…

Where is your favorite place to shop for fresh, local produce?