Friday, 30 November 2012

November Foodie Pen Pals

FPP post Foodie Penpals

I can't believe this is my fourth month as a Foodie Pen Pal! So far my experience has be amazing. I've loved putting together packages for other people and getting to know people through their favourite foods, all while tasting some delicious treats from all across the country! I know you all want to sign up now, so go here! (Please note: FPP is doing things a little differently for December and focusing on charity, so no pen pal matches will be made for the month. Things resume as usual for January.)

This month I was paired with Kendall from TheGreenCat. From the very first email she sent me I was extra excited about the match. In her words "we are crazy similar" and she has such a warm, welcoming personality, so we connected right off the bat. I just knew my fellow Crazy Cat Lady would send something amazing.

Kendall sent me this great box of goodies! Look at all that good stuff!

First up, are some cocoa nibs!

Next, a sweet and salty bar with peanuts (my favourite!!) and sesame snaps, which I can't eat, but my brother was super excited to get his hands on!


She also sent a Camino hazelnut butter bar (so, so good) and raspberry licorice. She also sent low-sodium miso soup, which I forgot to take a picture of because I ate it for lunch right away (soup is so good when you're under the weather!).


Finally, there were some homemade brownies, which are delicious and vegan crumble, complete with the recipe so I can make more when I eat this all up.

Thanks, Kendall! I loved, loved, loved everything you sent! And getting to know you was an extra special bonus!

Still not convinced you should join? Here's more information about the program straight from The Lean Green Bean herself:

Here’s a detailed explanation of the program:
-On the 5th of the 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!
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treatsThe spending limit is $15The 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!
-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 can choose 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 residents & UK residents.  Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. 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. So, I’m going to keep two separate lists and match US w/ US and Canada w/ Canada!

***If you’re in the UK, please contact Carol Anne from This Is Rock Salt at to get involved!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Holiday Treat Packaging

I know, I know, I'm a little bit early for a Christmas post. But if you're a baker like me, you're already thinking about what you're going to bake for the holidays and who you'll be honouring with a gift of your treats. We all know holidays and food go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and it's never too early to start thinking about making your loved ones happy. So here are some tips for packaging your heartfelt food gifts this season.

Traditional Packaging 

Dressed up dollar store packages
It's easy to find holiday treat boxes to package up your goodies. Some even come with paper for lining the box, ribbon for tying and labels for gifting. The only downside to these festive packages is the price. If you're on a budget, purchase plain white bakery boxes or cellophane bags and dress them up yourself. Add ribbon, foam cutouts, small bells, and other festive ornaments - the dollar store is a great source for these items. Dollar stores are also stocking treat boxes and bags more and more often now. Dress these up to make them look extra special.

Packaging that Doubles as a Gift

Pretty pink and purple holiday trees on martinis with lots of jewels...set of 4
Holiday martini glasses from CCCGLASS
make nice wrapping for cookies, candy
or chocolates

If you don't want to stick to a traditional cardboard treat box, there are lots of options for packaging that becomes part of the gift. This can be as simple as buying some holiday-themed glasses, like the ones pictured to the left, and filling them with homemade goodies. Gift just one or give a set with a different kind of treat in each glass. An idea I really like is putting your treats in a travel mug wrapped in a cute Christmas cozy like the one pictured below. If you're looking to up the gift factor, add a gift card to their favourite coffee shop, a small package of gourmet coffee, a few sachets of special tea or hot chocolate, some gourmet marshmallows, or peppermint sticks and chocolate spoons for stirring their holiday drink of choice. If you're crafty, you can even try your hand at making your own packaging with card stock, parchment paper, or your personal favourite craft medium.

Santa Claus Coffee Cozy
This coffee cozy from Lulu's Little Shop
will dress up any homemade gift
Mailing your Treats

Your friends and family don't have to go without your baked goods just because they're far away. Check out my Care Package Special Feature: Going the Distance for tips on mailing. If you're sending goodies in the mail, it's nice to include a copy of the recipes so your loved ones can make their favourites again and again.

However you package your baked gifts, pick out some special tags for the finishing touch.  And remember: no matter what the finished product looks like, your friends, family, coworkers, neighbours, mail carrier, teacher, adopted soldier, and all the other special people in your life will enjoy getting your gift as much as you enjoy making it.

Favor tag - Gift tag - Cupcake tag - QTY 10
These Cupcake Favour Tags by LouTinenEvents
are a beautiful addition your food packages

FYI: The products featured in this post are all from Etsy shops owned by someone in the military or a military family member!

Giveaway: Boys Oh Boys has 300 Followers!

Fellow blogger Jessica over at Boys Oh Boys is celebrating a milestone: 300 Followers! In honour of her awesome achievement, she's put together a giveaway and you're all invited to enter! Here are the details:

Boys of Boys
300+ Follower Giveaway!
Over $200 in Prizes and 

Plus Boys Oh Boys is giving away a Premade Blogger Template from her Etsy Shop Lilipop Designs! Or if you don't need a complete makeover, maybe just a little "work" done, you can have a $30 shop credit instead! PLUS 2 months of Featured Ad Space on Boys Oh Boys! (Note: templates are currently designing for Blogger. If you have a Wordpress Blog, a different winner will be selected for the Premade Template/Shop Credit, but you will still get the featured Ad Space!)

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Good luck everyone!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Care Package Special Feature Part 3: Creative Treats

This final part of my care package feature is all about sending creative treats. Keep reading for a cookie that doubles as a letter and instructions for the best birthday-in-a-box your loved one will ever get.
Cookie Letters
This is a really easy way to put a smile on somebody's face. Bake up a shortbread or sugar cookie. Roll out the dough and cut out a large rectangle. Bake it as per recipe's instructions. If you notice it's getting a little too brown before it's fully baked, cover it with foil.
Once the cookie is cooled, use food colouring markers to write a letter on it. If you seal the cookie with a vacuum sealer and wrap it in lots of bubble wrap, this special cookie will survive a trip anywhere in the world.

Not being able to see your loved one on their birthday sucks, but you can still help them celebrate! Put together a care package with the following items:

Balloon Messages
Blow up 6-12 balloons. Carefully write a heartfelt message to your loved one on each balloon. Deflate the balloons and tie them together with pretty ribbon. Attach a note with instructions to blow up the balloons for some birthday love.

Lemon Birthday Cake
Using a 9x13 inch pan and a round cookie cutter, you can make a pretty cake in a jar to send your loved one.
First, grease and line your pan with parchment then preheat your oven to 325F.
Next, mix 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons of flour, 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of milk, 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, and the juice and zest from one lemon.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
Pour into your prepared pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Let it cool completely then use a round cookie cutter (about the size of the jar you're going to assemble the cake in) to cut 4-6 circles out of the cake.
Layer cake circles with lemon icing and top with sprinkles.

Brownie Cake
If your loved one is far away and you don't think the cake in a jar above will last, bake up a brownie (like Nestle's desert safe brownie from Part 1) in a cake pan. Cool it completely, seal it using the tips from Part 2, and send it with some canned icing (this is absolutely the only time canned icing will ever be okay to use. Ever.). It's a good idea to put the icing in a separate freezer bag just in case it pops open in the mail.

Add a final touch to your package with some decorations like a personalized birthday banner, some streamers, and coloured paper plates and plastic cutlery (especially if you're sending a big birthday brownie overseas).

Top the package off with a birthday card, and it's ready to go!

Now that the Care Package Special Feature is over, what would you send to loved ones? What tips do you have for mailing homemade goodies?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Care Package Special Feature Part 2: Going the Distance

Part 2 of my Care Package series is all about homemade treats that will still be delicious after they sit around in a box for awhile. Nestle has a few recipes on for desert safe treats here. These recipes don't include butter (so the treats won't go rancid if the package takes a couple months to get where it's going) or other ingredients that shouldn't be sent to the Middle East, which makes them perfect for deployment care packages. I've made their desert safe brownies and they turned out pretty well. The soldiers I sent them to really liked them. But don't feel obligated to stick to recipes like these. If your soldier has a favourite goodie that you make, go ahead and send it. As long as you follow the tips below, almost anything is mailable.

Tips for Freshness
1. If you can create and airtight seal, do it! If you have a vacuum sealer, put it to good use and seal your treats. No air means your goodies will last longer before they mold or start to taste stale. If you don't have one, there are a couple hand-held models on the market that are fairly cheap. Invest in one of those if you can.
2. Can't vacuum seal your goodies? That's okay. Wrap cookies two at a time, back to back, or squares in single servings. Start by wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap. Then wrap them in foil. Put them in a plastic freezer bag and squish out as much of the air as you can. Besides adding an extra layer of freshness protection, the freezer bag can be resealed once your soldier gets your treats. Otherwise they might just have to eat them all right away ;)
3. It's a good idea to put your goodies in a metal tin after you wrap them. This will help keep little critters from munching on your treats.

Tips for Packaging
1. Cushion your goodies. If you're placing your treats in a tin after you wrap and bag them, fill the tin with tissue paper. It will make everything look nice when your soldier opens it, but it will also help cushion cookies on the trip.
2. Pack your box tightly. Fill in an extra space with crumpled paper, bubble wrap, etc. This will keep things from moving around too much and help keep your goodies safe.
3. Fragile cookies generally don't ship as well as a nice sturdy cookie. That said, if you pack it properly, you can still send it. I've found that even delicate shortbread cutouts will make it if you vacuum seal them and cushion the package properly. And even if the cookies get there a little worse for the wear, your soldier will love them anyway.

Tips for Making it Extra Special
1. A tin and tissue paper go a long way to making your package look pretty.
2. Adding ribbon, gift tags, cards, or even wrapping your goodies up in wrapping paper (seasonal or just generic colourful paper), will all add an extra special touch.
3. Including handwritten letters always makes any package you send better. Adding a few pictures of yourself making the cookies is a good idea too. Your soldier will get to see you and feel even more connected to home.

Care Package Notes
These cute care package cards from OperationCare on Etsy
are a pretty way to label care package treats.

Stick around for Part 3: Creative Treats.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Care Package Special Feature Part 1: Big Batch Recipes

Baked goods can be a heartfelt gift, especially if you have loved ones living far away. Baked goods are also a big hit with deployed soldiers and with Remembrance Day upon us and my own care package for a soldier in the works, I've decided to dedicate three posts to the art of the baked care package. Today's post will cover big batch recipes - great for splitting up into smaller gifts or for sending to deployed soldiers.

Big Batch Care Package Recipe #1: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

2 cups butter
1.5 cups brown sugar
1.5 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
1.5 cups oats (any kind will work in this recipe)
4 cups raisins

Cream butter and sugars. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Set aside.
Combine dry ingredients, except oats and raisins. Mix into wet ingredients.
Fold in oats. Stir in raisins.
Form into 1" balls and bake at 350F for about 15 minutes or until cookies are golden brown but still slightly soft in the centre.

Yield: 4-5 dozen cookies.

To make these cookies look more festive, swap out the raisins for holiday M&Ms or substitute half of the raisins for candied fruit.

Big Batch Care Package Recipe #2: Holiday Shortbread with Cinnamon and Black Pepper

Normally, I wouldn't even think of posting holiday recipes before Remembrance Day, but if you're baking for a soldier overseas, you're going to want to get those holiday goodies out soon if you want them to get to your loved one in time.

3 cups butter
1.5 cups powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla
6 cups flour
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Beat butter until light and fluffy. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla. Set aside.
Sift together flour, cinnamon and black pepper. Stir into butter mixture until just combined.

Form dough into two disks. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Roll out chilled dough to about 1/8" thick and cut into desired shapes.
Bake at 350F for 8-12 minutes.

Yield: 5-6 dozen cookies

Come back for Part 2: Going the Distance, where I'll share recipes that ship well over time and in hot weather, and tips for keeping things fresh.