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Foodie Pen Pals for October

I love getting things in the mail. While online shopping is fun, receiving packages from friends is much more exciting. While perusing a selection of food blogs, I found The Lean Green Bean. Lindsay created the Foodie Pen Pals in which participants send boxes full of goodies to each other once a month. It seemed like a neat way to connect with other bloggers and try out their favorite foods and treats.

Foodie Pen Pals

The Foodie Penpals have a few rules including deadlines for contacting your pen pal, sending your treat box and posting your reveal blog. The rules make sense and are easy to follow. Another part of the program is while you send your pen pal something, someone else has your name so you connect with TWO people each month you participate.

My October box came care of Seth. He doesn’t have a blog but he does have a Twitter account and his photos of his culinary adventures around Chicago can be found @ChiCityFoodie. Give him a follow! Seth sent me 2 jars of Biscoff spread. Biscoff cookies are THE airline cookie. I had never heard of it being used to create a spread before and can’t wait to try it out on my English Muffins!

Biscoff Spread

If you’re interested to see who my pen pal was, you can check out Shaunna’s blog Tempting Thyme! All in all, I think it’s a great program. I’ll be participating again in November!

Start Canning – In The Fall!

Last year was the first year I had ever canned. Canning is preserving food in glass jars (so why is it called canning and not jarring?). I had received a copy of Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen from my good friend Sara for the holidays and my life has never been the same. Tart and Sweet is different from most canning cookbooks. Instead of separating chapters by food type: pickles, jams, jellies, relishes; Tart and Sweet is organized by season. So it’s easy to start canning items available now and save the fruit preserves for the spring and summer once you have more experience. It’s also small batch canning. My favorite recipe makes a whopping 2 pints of pickled garlic.

Tart and Sweet

Fall is the perfect time to start canning. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but stick with me here. Canning can seem daunting with buying supplies, hot and steamy kitchens, worrying if you’re going to kill your family and friends with botulism, and setting jams. Fall negates most of these perceived problems for you.

Canning supplies are on sale in autumn months. Right now I’m finding canning starter kits on sale, deals on jars and lids, and clearance prices on food mills, labels and more. You can give canning a try with minimum investment. A big canning pot is not necessary. I started canning using my stockpot with the Ball Canning Discovery Kit which comes with 3 jars and Ball Canning Utensil Set. Reading through Ball’s Getting Started site and canning blogs are a huge resource. There’s also the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. In addition to recipes, it has every question answered and a great FAQ section on what to do in situations where things to awry. Once I was convinced I wouldn’t be poisoning my family I was ready to go. If the jar didn’t seal? Refrigerate it and eat the contents within a few weeks. I started my canning journey with an investment of $38.00!

Canning set up

I have major aversions to canning in the summer. My kitchen gets hot and steamy while canning. I don’t like standing over a stove stirring jam when the rest of my family is out running through the sprinkler. Fall is the perfect time to can in the evenings with a mug of hot cider while making apple butter. You stay nice and warm without cranking up your thermostat.

The very first recipe I tried out of Tart and Sweet was Lemon Herb Pickled Garlic. I adore garlic and this makes such a beautiful gift. All of the herbs, lemon slices and garlic cloves. Yum! The recipe only makes 2 pints which fit perfectly with the Ball Canning Discovery Kit since it came with 3 jars.


Pickling foods is much easier than making jam. After your jars are sterilized, you fill them with the food, then fill the jar with a vinegar solution. No pectin, no sugar content, no setting. Processing the jars consists of lowering them into boiling water and setting a timer. Pull them out, let them cool and listen for the POP of the lids creating a seal. That POP is extremely satisfying.

Lemon Herb Pickled Garlic

This might seem like a huge advertisement for Ball, but they truly know their stuff. They’ve been around for 125 years. The equipment is high quality and the resources they provide to home canners is unbeatable. Investing in the right equipment the first time is much better than replacing cheap stuff as it breaks. After a year of canning, I now teach my friends how to can. I host canning workshops with Sara. I give gifts for birthdays and the holidays or just because. If canning is something you’ve been interested in but haven’t started, now is a great time to try it out.

The Care Kit

Ever feel like life just threw you a huge curve ball? Whether it’s a call from your husband’s teammate: “Can you come pick him up?” (torn MCL’s and lacerated kidneys, HOLLA) to a child having a serious accident, sometimes life isn’t fair. It’s times like those that The Mullins family jumps to action for a simple home cooked meal in disposable pans, accompanied by treats for both kids and parents. We call it The Care Kit.

Our version of The Care Kit includes a baked pasta dish, cookies, a bottle of wine or beer for mom and dad, and flavored milk straws for the kids. I can assemble the baked pasta, cover it with foil, and write the baking instructions in about twenty minutes. My local grocery store has a sweet selection of aluminum foil pans so I keep a few on hand. I don’t lend out my glass bake ware after someone took eight months to return a dish.

Buttering a baking dish

The point isn’t that we made some big gourmet meal or really wowed anyone. If we were able to relieve just one stress off of some friends, then the mission was accomplished.

Care Kit Ingredients

1 box cool shaped pasta (rigatoni, fusili, stellina, etc)
1 jar pasta sauce (I use Classico Tomato Basil)
2 cups shredded mozzarella (that’s a standard bag of shredded cheese)

How To

Boil pasta to al dente per box instructions. While water comes to a boil, combine your pasta sauce and 1 cup of shredded cheese in a bowl large enough to mix in the pasta. Once pasta is cooked, drain in a colander and add to the pasta sauce/cheese mixture. Spread into a 9×13 casserole pan, aluminum foil pan or 2 quart baking dish. Whatever you have or like best. Top with remaining cheese and it’s ready to go! Cover the pan with a lid or foil, and you’re done! Include baking instructions: 350 for 20-30 minutes until heated throughout and top is brown and bubbly.

Add Ins are where you can get all fancy but honestly, keeping it simple is okay too.

4 oz of cream cheese or Philadelphia Cooking Creme
Sauteed vegetables
Fresh herbs
Cooked protein – chicken, ground beef, ground turkey, cubed ham, tofu

In addition to the baked pasta, we throw in some cookies*. Holly and I make pumpkin cookies filled with oats and dried cranberries. The recipe is out of the Sesame Street Yummy Cookies: Baking With Kids book. It’s a board book full of recipes for healthy and not so healthy cookies featuring Sesame Street characters. The book holds up great to some spilled brown sugar and vanilla extract. Holly can flip through the pages and it stays open on the counter. It’s a cookbook to share with kids to foster a love of cooking. I recommend it. Spending the time with Holly in the kitchen is so special to me and explaining to her this meal isn’t for us is interesting. She picks up on the idea of helping others. I hope these lessons stick.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

*If we’re on a time crunch and homemade cookies aren’t going to make it into Care Kit, we throw in a few sleeves of Oreos.

Farmers Markets: Navigating with a Toddler

Saturday mornings are special for the Mullins Girls. We leave Daddy at home and hit up our local farmers market with our good friend Sara from Solid Gold Eats. Part of the charm of the farmers market is teaching Holly about food. There is also the routine and connecting with the community. It feels good to buy real food from real people. 

Each week, I see general complaints on Twitter and Facebook that the market is too crowded, there are too many kids in strollers, or the selection is sub par. Of course, those complaints roll in hours after the market has been open. Here are my tips for a successful trip to your local farmers market.

Be Prepared
Use this handy dandy calendar to know what’s in season. Strawberries are gone. Tomatoes are taking over the world. Have an idea of what recipes you’ll be making and shop accordingly. 


Setting an alarm on a Saturday morning isn’t fun. I know. What is fun? Snagging the small first offering of heirloom tomatoes from the Amish produce stand. Trying to push a stroller through throngs of people AND getting produce isn’t my idea of a good time. So we go right when the market opens with no hassles.

Entertain the Kid
Holly and I have a routine. We get to the market and hit up A Taste of Philly for a pretzel. This keeps her happy, munching, and occupied while we shop.


The Stroller
Some people’s aversion to the stroller is only rivaled by their primordial fear of Brussels Sprouts. In the case of the farmers market, a stroller can be your best friend. I have a cup holder for coffee, cargo space for sweet corn and whatever else we pick up. So in this case, go with the stroller.

The farmers markets are a great way for Holly and I to spend some one on one time together and treat ourselves without feeling guilty about it. I love seeing her point out food and interact with those around us. 

Spa Infused Herbal Water

For whatever reason, the water served to clients at the spa is always amazing. A hint of herbal something. Sometimes it’s mint and rosemary, or lemon and thyme or some weird herb that I can’t put my finger on.

Lately I’ve come across infusion pitchers all over the place. The last thing I need is another item for my kitchen. So I took the idea and did it in a mason jar with the oddest herb I had in my garden. Lemon Verbena. I haven’t done anything with this herb other than spa infused herbal water.

Spa Infused Herbal Water

Spa Infused Herbal Water

1 clean mason jar

distilled or purified water

herb combo of your choosing
(rosemary/mint, lemon/thyme, basil, lemon verbena)

Fill your mason jar with the distilled or purified water and add the herbs.

Secure the lid and place in a sunny spot for the day. The longer the jar sits out, the stronger the infusion.

Strain the water into a glass with ice and enjoy*.

*exfoliating facial and kid free time not included

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