Monthly Archives: April 2013

April Foodie Penpal Reveal


When I’m assigned a Foodie Penpal, I always ask if my recipient has any dietary restrictions and/or allergies and if there is anything they typically love or hate. This month, I learned that the person for whom I was shopping, follows the Paleo lifestyle. It was fun for me to learn more about the practice. Furthermore, I’ve been following a few blogs lately written by Paleo followers and those giving Whole30 a try. I stole some of their favorites and ideas to send her. 😉 Check back tomorrow to see what I shipped!


The Foodie Penpal shipping to me this month, sent me a whole list of questions! I loved it so much that I may even send it to my Foodie Penpal next month:

Do you have any dietary restrictions?
Do you like to receive homemade goodies?
Is there anything you absolutely love or absolutely hate?
Do you prefer healthy or are you open to all kinds of stuff?
Are you a salty or sweet person?
Milk, dark or white chocolate?
Do you like spicy foods?
When it comes to new foods; do you like to play it safe or get crazy?
What is your favorite cocktail?
Coffee, tea or soda?
What is your favorite & least favorite cuisine?
Favorite Snacks?
Do you like to bake?
Whoa! Talk about thorough! My goodie box was courtesy of Alex in Iowa of Alex Tries It Out. And now I’m a huge fan of her blog. I mean, she reviews beers, for one. Be still my heart. Check out her IPA cupcake recipe!

Each Foodie Penpal box must include something written. Here’s a nice note from Alex, empathizing in the overabundance of snow we had here in MN so late in the season. 😉

You can probably guess how I answered her questions, when you see what she put in the box!

April Foodie Penpal Box

April Foodie Penpal Box from Alex!

Of course, all of the chocolate has been consumed! {Don’t worry, it wasn’t in one sitting. I’ve learned the art of enjoying a little bit of chocolate every day.}

I considered using the marinara sauce for dipping when I made my Award Winning Poker Meatballs. However, I got greedy and decided to keep it for myself. It is the local item she mentioned in the box. So I’m saving it for lata. Actually, the marinara sauce, turtle sundae coffee and Cheddar Popchips are the only items left. But, I’ve already divvied up the Popchips into single servings to enjoy in my lunches this week. I am a fan of Popchips. I am a fan of cheese. Win-win.

Thanks, Alex, for a fantastic box with such great variety. I felt like you knew me!


You, too, can become a Foodie Penpal. You don’t need to be a blogger. You don’t need to do it every month. All you have to do is sign up by the 5th of any month, contact your penpal within 48 hours and ship a package of goodies worth $15 by the 15th! So easy and so fun. Click here if you are interested.

Do you have a favorite canned or jarred tomato sauce?

If you make your own, feel free to share the recipe!


Noodles Spring (Asparagus) Dishes


Last week, I got an email in my inbox offering me to try one of Noodles and Company‘s Limited Time Spring {read: asparagus} Dishes for free. I absolutely love Noodles and company. I adore asparagus. And I just couldn’t pass up FREE, so I went for lunch. My choices from the Limited Time Spring Menu included:

  • Springtime Flatbread“Crispy flatbread appetizer topped with fresh asparagus, mushrooms, melted parmesan cheese and bacon.”
  • Garden Pesto Sauté “Fresh spring asparagus in a light lemon Genovese pesto tossed with our delicious gluten-free fusilli noodles, red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, pecans, feta and spinach.”
  • Asparagus Stack“Side of fresh asparagus spears, feta cheese, bacon crumbles and a wedge of fresh lemon.”

I chose the Garden Pesto Sauté. The Noodles employee asked if I wanted the small or regular-sized bowl. I think either would have been free; there wasn’t a size restriction on the voucher. However, I thought better and chose the small. I knew if I chose the large, I’d probably eat the entire large serving, walking away stuffed. I also added some Parmesan-Crusted Chicken and a small drink. With those additions, my meal came just over $2.

Noodles & Company sauté with Parmesan Crusted Chicken

Noodles & Company –  Garden Pesto Sauté with Parmesan Crusted Chicken (Small)

I was also asked if I wanted the fusilli noodles or the penne. I chose penne, not knowing that the reason why she asked was that the fusilli noodles are gluten-free. I don’t follow a gluten-free diet, but it’s good to know that options exist for my friends that do!

I find that most Noodles dishes are skimpy on the veg. I totally get it. The pasta is where they make their money. But this dish was actually heavy on the veggies! You can’t tell by my photo above, with the parmesan-crusted chicken plopped on top and sprinkled with feta. So I cut up the chicken and mixed up my bowl for you:

Veggies in this dish included red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and spinach.

Veggies in this dish included asparagus as well as red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and spinach.

It was a great combo of veggies. And while the pecans and feta were a nice touch, the pesto was pretty light in flavor. I am glad I added the chicken.

The Verdict? It was good, but not great. I have other dishes I love at Noodles and company, that I’d rather order. But here are a few pluses to this dish’s appearance:

  • Awareness of gluten-free pasta at Noodles & Company. (You can sub any dish with this pasta.)
  • Asparagus served at Noodles & Company while in season. (You can add or sub asparagus in any dish!)

What is your favorite pasta dish and why?

Recipe-sharing encouraged!




I had my six-week post-op appointment last week. It’s all good news, yet still a little like Punxutawney Phil told me that I have six more weeks of winter. Which isn’t fair, because he already lied this year with the promise of an early spring!

So yes, things are looking good, but I have six more weeks of healing. It’s just nice to have answers with timing to get on with my life. My intent is not to whine about how I’m feeling, but rather to update those of you who have been asking. How can I when my husband sent me this article yesterday about a Boston Marathon victim?! My heart goes out to her.

The Surgery:

Doc says that my surgery involved one of the two biggest pieces of disks that he’s ever removed. When the surgical team got in there and moved over the nerve, the mass just popped right out. I’d like to try to figure out how to get a pic of my MRI online. When I first saw it, I was floored. I wanted to show my husband to give him an idea, but as I looked around the web for an L5/S1 herniated disk, NONE of them looked like mine! All of the others showed a slightly protuding disk. The best way to describe mine is that the disk cavity looked flattened and the majority of the disk squished out into the spinal canal.

For the next six weeks I still can’t:

  • Do any heavy lifting or lots of bending. (I think I’ve been taking some of this too far, as of late. I don’t lift anything heavy, but I’ve been bending more.)
  • Golf. Bye-bye summer couples golf league. He said that I can see where I’m at about 3 to 4 months post-op mark.
  • Run. I can walk briskly for now. After six weeks of physical therapy, I can slowly get back into running again.

Here’s what I can do:

I can walk, swim and I think he said biking… but from experience, when I have back issues, biking makes it worse. Actually, every time my back has acted up was after I spent a lot of my workouts on the recumbent bike! So I’m just going to stay away from that.

Physical Therapy:

I’ve been prescribed physical therapy for the next six weeks, three times per week. I am looking forward to this as I am anxious to have instructions and homework to increase stabilization, regain my strength and strengthen my core.

Yesterday was my first/evaluation appointment. I am told to being a walking program. It’s going to start out very basic – just tracking steps. This is the single most important exercise proven to strengthen and heal patients after back surgery. I’ve also been given a few simple daily exercises to start.

What does this mean?

It means that there are going to be some changes going on around here! I’m learning how to adapt. This list that I wrote on my birthday of things I wanted to accomplish over the coming year, will need to be revised. I won’t be able to complete the 13 Races in 2013 that I thought. I’ll need to revise that as well.

However, after the six weeks of PT and I get clearance to begin running, I’m going to start the Couch to 5k program again! Doc said that I can slowly get back into running again. So why not start here? My husband has declared that he is going to join me. I hope you will, too! I’ll actually be posting my Couch to 5k progress so those of you who many be new to running can follow along. I’m anticipating that will start at the beginning of June and that I’ll run my first post-op 5k in August. That is, if all goes well with therapy!

It’s great to have a starting point, a timeline and a plan. Not everyone gets second chances. For that, I am grateful.

Name a time in your life when you hard to start over at the beginning.


Our Absolute Favorite Wines


Today is our 3rd anniversary – Rob’s and mine, that is. Of course, we’ll be celebrating at one our favorite special occasion restaurants – Perron’s Sul Lago. I just may order a steak – they have the best filet mignon in the entire Twin Cities {and, yes, I have been to Manny’s and Murray’s}.

But it’s Wine Wednesday, so I thought I’d share our absolute favorite wines! These are wines that are so pleasing to us that we will never turn them down. They are ones that are more expensive than you average wine, so we don’t drink them every day. They are not in order of love, but in order of discovery. Enjoy!


In 2005, I earned my first trip with The Traveling Vineyard. It was to the wine country of Sonoma and I remember thinking about all the times I had been to Europe, but this was my fist ever to California! On this trip, we made a visit the Davis Family Vineyards tasting room. Guy Davis was one of the winemakers and collaborators of many TTV wines. It was in his tasting room that I first fell in love with Pinot Noir. I hadn’t liked the varietal prior to that. And this was also before the big Sideways anit-Merlot and pro-Pinot Noir craze.

Davis Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

(Approx. $40 – $45/bottle)

Davis Pino

At that tasting, I learned why I adored this Pinot Noir more than any other I tasted. Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape. It’s fickle and a hard grape to grow. It’s hard to do it right. Guy has 5 rules to crafting a great Pinot… and I love # 3. So what makes it so great? The best way for me to describe it?

It tastes like velvet.

It has just the right balance of tannins and acidity to feel like velvet on your tongue. That is, a velvet made of fruit and warm spices!

Now, Rob likes to describe Pinot Noir as having a waxy characteristic. Well, for me, that would be the cheap-cheap Pinot Noirs. {In fact, I still have a tough time with some South African red wines that taste like lipstick to me.} I like to describe Guy’s Pinots as dusty. Just the perfect amount of dry. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I truly believe that this wine has made me a Pinot Noir snob.

Guy makes fantastic other wines, but in my opinion, his Pinot Noirs outshine them all. He wins awards year after year after year. And rightly so. But the wines don’t come cheap. That’s the price you pay for expert craftsmanship. Would you pay an Ikea price for a handmade mahogany chest? I walked away from the tasting room that day having joined the Davis Family Vineyards Friends of the Family Wine Club. A year later, I had to cancel because we needed to save all the money we could to buy a house. Sometimes you just have to make those sacrifices!

But, Rob, if you are reading this… A membership to the Davis Family Vineyards Friends and Family club again would make a perfect anniversary, birthday or Christmas gift any year. You know that you will reap the benefits of that gift as well! 😉

P.S. You can’t find this one in stores, so you’ll have to order them from their website.


Another wine I discovered with my fellow Traveling Vineyard friend, Madeline from Colorado, who was visiting family in town with her husband. We met up at a wine bar and they treated me to this phenomenal wine.

Opolo Mountain Zinfandel – Paso Robles, California

(Approx $25 – $30/bottle)


Months later my friend Sally took me out to dinner. When I saw this wine on the menu, I pointed it out. The main reason? My friend Sally is the one who got me into Zinfandel! {This ain’t the pink stuff, folks! It’s a hard core red.} I finally found it in a store across the street from the wine bar where Madeline and I had tried it. I just had to introduce it to Rob. I knew he’d fall in love. And I was right.

Months later, Rob and I were invited to Sally and her husband Ryan’s place for dinner. On the way, we stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of the Opolo Mountain Zinfandel as a gift. The clerk there said, “You are lucky this! A lady came in here a day to buy a case, so this is our last bottle!” Whew. Upon presenting the bottle to Sally, she giggled. She was the one who had just bought the case at the wine shop. Yeah. That’s how good this stuff is.

This wine is big, bold and a bit spicy. You’d think it’d hit you in the face with its high alcohol content; but it really is just complex. I love the jamminess, followed by warm spices. It’s exactly how I like my zins. And while the “Summit” version of the Opolo Sin is still good, it’s just not as good at the Mountain!


And Lastly, is a wine that is very dear to our hearts:

Dievole Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy

(Approx. $20/bottle)

This wine hails from the Vineyard where Rob proposed in 2008, thus very appropriate for our anniversary. It was another trip I earned through The Traveling Vineyard and, actually, Rob’s first trip abroad. I was completely clueless about his proposal. It was the ultimate surprise.

And even for Rob, this trip was Un. For. Get. Able. and In. Cred. Ible. Barbara MacDonald, who orchestrated the entire trip, could not have done any better. We are forever in her debt. I mean, LOOK at this place! That’s just where we stayed…

In any case, Rob never liked Italian wines before arriving in Tuscany and now he is a life-long fan. I will say that we ultimately agreed that the Italians keep the good stuff for themselves and send the leftovers abroad. 😉

Here’s a bottle we enjoyed at Sul Lago. We can’t find Dievole wines anywhere. So it was a treat that the very first time we happened upon Sul Lago, it was on their menu! Currently, they have this baby Chianti, but the Classico is even better!


Yeah, these are some of the higher end wines we drink, but because tonight is a special night, we found it important to share.

What is your absolute favorite go-to wine when celebrating a special occasion?


Challenge Obesity 5k – “Race” recap


Last year, I ran my first 5k race around Lake Como in St. Paul. I was so nervous and anxious the few days leading up to the event. But after I completed it, I felt so good! It started a string of 5k events through the rest of 2012! You can check out my last race in November as well as links to all the other races I completed here.

On my birthday, I made a list of things that I wanted to accomplish over the coming year. One important item on that list was to run the Challenge Obesity 5k again. It would be my one-year anniversary since my first and I could compare my progress. I wanted to encourage others to join me, too. The Challenge Obesity 5K race in St. Paul is one of the least intimidating races for beginner runners. When I was looking for a beginner runner 5k to run, this was the one recommended to me by Jen, a priorfatgirl. Many of the people running it have lost weight or are in the process of losing weight – from 20 to over 200 pounds! It’s actually very inspiring.

While my recent back surgery is forcing me to revise that list, I knew that I still wanted to participate in the Challenge Obesity event. And on Sunday, although I couldn’t run, I was reminded of this inspiration and vowed that I would be running this race every year as a re-commitment and reminder of a healthy lifestyle, while kicking off the beginning of the outdoor running season in Minnesota.

However, it wasn’t exactly ideal weather!

The results page describes last year’s weather as 45 degrees, overcast and breezy. You can check out the photos from that race recap post to see for yourself and compare to this year. I also re-read my recount of being a little warm in the lightweight jacket after I had started running. Back then, I was worried about being cold and wet that day. However, the rain held off until afternoon. This picture posted on the Challenge Obesity website depicts the beautiful spring day it actually was on Saturday, April 21st, 2012:

Weather at Lake Como on April 21, 2012 - source

Weather Conditions at Lake Como on April 21, 2012 – (Source:

This year, all week, I was checking the weather forecast for race day. We’ve had some pretty unstable weather this spring including numerous SNOWstorms, one of which occurred last night:

April 22 2013 - Weather in MN, early evening.

April 22, 2013 – Weather Conditions in MN, early evening.

That was just the light dusting in the early evening! This morning, I woke up to this:

Tuesday morning, April 23, 2013

Tuesday morning, April 23, 2013 – Notice the additional snow on the trees, chairs and railings!

But I digress… Back to the race…

The week prior to race day, many forecasts showed 40 degrees and overcast with possible rain later in the morning. “Not so bad!” I thought. “Just a little cooler than last year!” …despite the fact that some snow remained on the ground.

But as the weekend drew closer, the weather predictions changed… including lower temperatures and possible rain and snow. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “I ran in 32 degree weather once and it was beautiful. I can handle this.” But on that particular day that I was remembering, the sun was out. So I just imagined it to be a little chillier and to adjust my race attire, accordingly.

And I use the term “race” loosely… Why?

Because I have not been cleared to run yet.

I would be walking this entire race.

Yeah, I was bummed when my surgeon told me that it would be six more weeks before I could slowly get back into running again. (More on that later this week.) But I also knew that since the surgery, walking on the treadmill a couple of times was the most exercise I’d done. And the furthest I’d gone is 1.5 miles. And even that took me 30 minutes. Obviously, I’m still healing.

The Night Before…

My friend Stacy came to town to join me in the race. The two of us went out to dinner with Rob to Forepaughs, a perfect suggestion on his part! The two of us girls split a small cheese plate, a piece of truffle toast and some po ping pork and even finished with some dessert. I did imbibe – two glasses of cabernet sauvignon. That’s not something I tend to do the night before a race.

Sure, I wasn’t running the thing this year, but I was still nervous. I didn’t know if I could make it the full 3.1 miles or if I’d come in last and hold up the entire working crew. So it was nice to have a night out with Stacy. {And I think it was nice for her to dine somewhere where she wouldn’t normally take her 5-year-old!} And although she and I have a tendency to chat for hours, we didn’t make it to bed too late. 😉

Race Day…

I didn’t get up immediately when the alarm went off, but I think I got ready in record time. I was debating whether to wear just a t-shirt or a fleece vest over my Cuddl Dud and under my lightweight jacket. At the advice of both my husband and Stacy, I went with the fleece vest, knowing I could remove it when I arrived.

Breakfast included the usual piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana. When my friend Jen arrived at my place at 7am, I grabbed a fleece scarf at the very last second (knowing it was one I could discard if I got hot) and we scurried out the door, stopping at Caribou Coffee on the way. I needed my race morning caffeine fix with my usual Americano!

Upon arrival…

It was colder than we could have ever imagined! 

The wind was whipping across the lake and the sky was more than overcast, with rain, sleet and snow seeming to be inevitable within minutes.

I had definitely under-dressed!

I hadn’t even brought gloves! I remembered the one time I wore gloves during a race that I got so hot and regretted it. So I just didn’t bring them this time. As we stood in line to pick up our bibs and t-shirts, my hands started to get numb. I jokingly said, “Hey, guys. Do you want to just go straight to brunch instead?” Stacy gave me a look like, “Don’t tempt me! You just might talk me into that!” But instead, she offered me an extra pair of stretchy gloves she just happened to have with her. I am so grateful she had those!


Stacy, Jen & I pre-race. Believe it or not, that is a lake in the background.

Last year, I loved checking out pictures or signs on the backs of those people who had worked so hard to lose massive amounts of weight. It was so inspiring! This year, a guy was passing out signs and pins so that anyone could write in their accomplishments and display them as well!

Notice how windy it is with our ponytails blown...

Notice how windy it is with our ponytails blown to one side… as I cuddle up to Jen!

I made Stacy and Jen pat the bear's belly for good luck like I did last year. ;-)

I made Stacy & Jen pat the bear’s belly for good luck like I did last year.

The Race:

While this race wasn’t chip-timed last year, it was advertised as such this year. However, we did not receive any chip, nor did it seem like the bib was equipped with anything. And now that I think of it, I don’t remember seeing any start or finish mats either. Perhaps this had something to do with the weather?

In any case, we lined up at the back, knowing that we all planned to walk it. I’m not sure where the actual start line was, but I’m sure it took us a few minutes to cross it after the race began. So if the race wasn’t chip-timed, I’m pretty sure I can shave at least a minute or two off my final “race” time. 😉

And after we got moving, it really wasn’t half bad being out there! Of course, I didn’t become hot nor need to shed any clothing. We felt some sleet on a couple of occasions, although my hat helped with that. And the wind whipped each time we turned a particular corner, but it didn’t last long. Still, the view along the route looked a little bleak compared to last year!

I urged the girls to go on ahead of me, as I knew I’d be slow. I also knew that if I needed to, I’d stop after the first lap around the lake. When Jen finished the first lap, she called me to find out if I had intended to do the second one. I was feeling up to it, so she pressed on, too. Stacy walked with me and as we saw that the clock at the first lap was at just over 30 minutes, I told her that I wanted to finish this thing in under an hour. Not a good pace, by any means, but it was an accomplishment for me just to have walked this far. It was hard to believe that just six-months ago, I had finished running my first 5-mile race in just under 1:10. Now I was hoping to do a little over 3 miles in about that time.

However, when Stacy and I crossed the finish line, the clock was no longer showing a time. I guessed we would just have to wait to see the results later that day…

Jen, Stacy and Carrie post race with hot beverages!

Jen, Stacy and Carrie post-race with hot beverages!

But by the time we got to the car and were making our way to brunch, we each got an email on our phones titled “results”:

Congratulations Carrie on finishing the Challenge Obesity 5k! 
Your Time of 59:34 with a pace of 19:11 per mile, put you in 119 Overall! 
In your Divison of F3539 your Division Place was 17 out of 19. 
Your Gender Place was 82 out of 89. 
Full race results can be found @

How cool is that?! This was the first time I’ve ever had race results emailed to me, not having to wait until later in the day when official race times were posted. And I did make that goal of completing the 5k in under an hour. Certainly nothing to be proud of normally, but having had back surgery just six weeks prior, I was just happy to be out and moving and able to complete it at all!

  • The Event: 2013 Challenge Obesity 5k
  • The Location: Lake Como – St. Paul, MN
  • The Date: Sunday, April 21, 2013
  • Night Before Dinner: Split with Stacy: Small cheese plate, truffle toast, po ping pork, dessert. Two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pre-race Breakfast: Peanut Butter toast and banana
  • My Time: 59:34
  • The Weather: Freakin’ Cold! Mid 30s (but who knows with wind chill), overcast, some sleet.
  • Attire: running pants, long sleeved Cuddl Dud shirt, fleece vest, hat, fleece scarf, magic gloves.
  • General Feeling: Sad to not be running, but happy to have walked the most I had since back surgery. Re-inspired by all the runners who’ve lost weight!
  • Uniqueness: Challenge Obesity – people of all shapes, sizes and abilities.
  • Size: Approx 125
  • The Goods: t-shirt
  • The Grub: Water, hot chocolate, hot cider, bananas, apples, cinnamon raisin rolls.

Have you ever under-dressed for a race or other event before?

Have you done repeat races to check your progress?


“Weird, Wild & Wonderful Foods”


Subscription Box Saturday – Love with Food Edition


Subscription Box: Love with Food

Premise:Sample the best gourmet food products delivered to your door!”

Cost: $10/month + $2 shipping. (Special deals if you purchase more than one month at a time)

Extra Benefits: Review products, share recipes and refer friends for points toward free products.

What’s Special: For each box shipped and each order placed, a meal is donated to a hungry child.

To Join: Click here.


This month’s theme was Weird, Wild & Wonderful Foods with Andrew Zimmern. As a Minnesota resident, I know that I should be a Zimmern fan, but I’m not. I’ve read some of his articles in Mpls St. Paul Magazine and I’m often offended. It’s his condescending tone to the average diner. {However, now that I think of it, maybe I sound the same way with my views as a beer snob.} In addition, my husband often asks how someone who eats bugs can be looked up to and considered an expert on food. I guess that just means he is open-minded, so maybe I should be a little more open-minded about Zimmern himself, too.

The contents:

April Love With Food Box - Weird, Wild & Wonderful with Andrew Zimmern

April Love With Food Box – Weird, Wild & Wonderful with Andrew Zimmern

Fennel Pollen from Pollen Ranch – This is the only item that I have not yet sampled. I’m curious what this spice will taste like when incorporated into a dish. I can imagine it has an anise aroma or flavor. Attached to the packet is a recipe for a fennel polled-rubbed pork tenderloin. However, LWF is currently encouraging people to create their own recipes and upload pictures!

The Good Bean Smoky Chili & Lime Chickpea Snacks – I was really excited to try these because I love chickpeas. But surprisingly, they didn’t have much flavor. I only at half the bag.

Creamy Buffalo Ranch Dip from Bufflo Dip – The jar reads to check out their website online for ingredients and nutrition facts. It took me a while to find it. Please note the spelling: It’s Buff Lo Dip. I think that’s pretty easy to miss. In addition, their website is pretty basic, so they must be a start-up company. It was suggested to dip crackers or veggies in this dip, but I decided to mix it with a can of chicken to make my own Buff Lo Chicken Dip. It tasted fine, but I think I’ll stick to the concoction I discovered on Jen, a priorfatgirl’s site. It’s easy enough to make without having an open jar of something to worry about finishing.

Somersaults Salty Pepper Nuggets – What are these? Well, take a look!

I adored the flavor of these! But I also love it when fresh baked bakery or restaurant bread has a bunch of different unique seeds and grains in it. I would eat these as a snack anytime!

Mini Pops Air Popped Sorghum Grain – Itty  Bitty Butter – These were like mini pieces of popcorn only made with the sorghum grain instead! Again, they’d be good if there was more flavor, though. This was supposed to be butter-flavored, but all I tasted was salt.

Oloves Lemony Lover Olives – These didn’t taste any more different than regular olives to me. Were they supposed to be lemon-flavored? The packaging was very convenient to bring some olives to work with me, though! It gave me the idea that I really should pack olives in my lunch more. I should just use them more in general!


Oloves Lemony Lover Olives – Ingredients & Nutrition Facts

However, there was another product hiding in the back of the box that was not pictured above:


JJ’s Sweets Cocomels – Original & Sea Salt flavors

I absolutely love caramels, but these made with coconut milk made them even better! …love, Love, LOVE! They are vegan, dairy free and gluten free; thus, they are great for folks following those sorts of diets. I would totally recommend these to anyone, especially as a unique gift. I can’t imagine anyone NOT loving these!

These were all new foods to me, so they were great to try. In my opinion, the most weird, wild or unique food in the box was the fennel pollen. If I come up with a good recipe, I’ll be sure to post!

What food do you eat that may be totally weird, wild or unfamiliar to others?


Award Winning Poker Meatballs


There’s a reason why I call these Poker Meatballs. You see, tonight, we had our monthly poker tournament. The theme for those who wanted to bring a dish to pass, was meatballs. I really needed all of the extra points I could get in order to make the Final Table of the season, so I found an easy recipe for meatballs that looked right up my alley…

Because they are CHEESE stuffed!

My meatballs took first place! This gave me an extra $200 in poker chips. Although, those extra chips didn’t help me win… But, they are so incredibly easy to make that I thought I’d share the recipe with you.

Award Winning Cheese-Stuffed Poker Meatballs

*Adapted from and inspired by Mr. Food


  • 1 lb grass-fed ground beef (I believe the #1 secret to a great meatball is high quality meat.)
  • 3/4 cup panko (Substitute plain bread crumbs if you wish.)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Yes, the stuff in the green can is fine!)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herb such as parsley, basil or rosemary
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp garlic salt (The #2 secret to a great meatball is proper seasoning! If you decide to use garlic powder, just be sure to add a little salt, too.)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz block of mozzarella cheese, cut into 20 cubed pieces


  • Preheat your over to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray or brush lightly with olive oil.
  • Combine all ingredients except for the mozzarella cheese in a large bowl and mix with your hands to evenly distribute the ingredients.
  • Divide the mixture into fourths. Each fourth will make 5 meatballs! Divide the meat into 5 pieces the same size, although forming it into a nice, completely uniform ball is not necessary quite yet. Do this until you have 20 pieces of meat approximately all of the same size.
  • Form a meatball around each piece of mozzarella cheese and place them on the baking sheet.
  • Bake 18 to 20  minutes or until cooked through.

Cheese may leak out, but that’s okay! They will still taste yummy. While these taste moist and fabulous on their own, you can serve your favorite pasta sauce for dipping as an appetizer. Or, make a meal by serving the meatballs and sauce over pasta or spaghetti squash. They reheat nicely, too.

Sorry, I have no photo because these were gobbled up too quickly. And quite frankly, I didn’t think about photographing these balls pre-poker. I had no idea that they would taste so good, nor that they would take first place! There is a photo on the website from which this recipe was adapted.

Variations: Make your own variation by changing the flavor profile. For example, make Mexican meatballs with taco seasoning and stuffing with Mexican cheese. I’m anxious to try to make these into blue cheese meatballs. Hey, maybe I’ll use hot sauce as my seasoning! Oh, all the options! And I still can’t get over how easy these were to make.

As Biz would say, these are AMAZEBALLS! (Tee hee. I love it when she says that!)

What is your favorite type of meatball?