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Friday, August 30, 2013

Foodie Pen Pals August Reveal: I didn't even get a rock...

Today is the day for the Foodie Pen Pal Reveals.  I should have realized there was a snaffu again this month, when I didn't get much of, in any, communications and information, let alone responses, to my emails, from the person who was SUPPOSED to send me a box.  Now, this is my 3rd foodie pen pal swap, and the first two were great - especially the first! It's been a mostly good experience but I long to see a post back from a person to whom I send the care packages.  My first two matches (well, 2 out of 3, as the very first person never responded, so I got re-matched) don't have blogs and as far as I can tell, didn't tweet or post a photo of what I sent.  There's not much to say about this month's experience that's positive, except that I'll try this again next month and hope I meet some swell people and get introduced to cool new products and great new blogs!

I sent a box of what I thought was inspired goodies to Mabel, in New York City. It was a challenge for me, working me out of my comfort zone! She's a much healthier, cleaner eater than I am (and wish I was...) so I had to think hard about what to send.  I sent Snap Pea Crisps (a "healthy" alternative to chips); Red Quinoa from my favorite store, Wegmans; Next Organic Dark Chocolate Covered Walnuts; Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Spread; Justin's Almond Nut Butter packets (portable and delicious!); and two packets of my spice blends - Italian and Mexican (salt & additive free!)  I included a porridge recipe for the quinoa, along with one of my food photos for a card. 

I've enjoyed the experience and I think you will too - so why not give it a go? Check out The Lean Green Bean's website for how to get involved.   Overall, it's a great thing to try, allowing you to expand your foodie horizons, meet new people and find other blogs and bloggers (and even get some new readers!)

Here's Lindsay, of the Lean Green Bean's details on what the Foodie Pen Pal Exchange is all about:

Foodie Penpal Sign Up Form

Sound like fun? If you’re a US or Canadian resident please click the link below to fill out the form:


You must submit this form by 9pm EST on the 4th of the month to be guaranteed a spot. If you fill it out between 9pm and 11:59pm EST, you may or may not be included depending on when I have time to start working on matchups. If you fill it out on the 5th of the month, you won’t be able to start until the next month.

***If you don’t hear from me within 48, please let me know through my contact page, or tweet me! If you submit your info via the form, you WILL get a response if I receive it. If you don’t get a response, please follow up as there may have been a technical glitch**

Foodie Penpals Terms & Conditions
“By signing up to participate in Foodie Penpals, you are hereby agreeing to the following terms and conditions:
-Condition 1: You will contact the person you are matched with withing 72 hours of receiving your match to discuss dietary needs, allergies and food preferences.
-Condition 2: You will make an effort to meet the dietary needs of your pen pal- ie not sending animal products to vegans, dairy products if your match tries to avoid dairy or junk food if they ask for healthy snacks.
-Condition 3: You will mail your box by the 15th of the month. It is HIGHLY recommended that you purchase delivery confirmation/get a tracking number for your package. It is very inexpensive and can be used to prove that you sent your package in the event that it gets lost.
If your match does not receive a package for the month, you will receive a warning. If it happens two months in a row, you will no longer be able to participate in the program
-Condition 4: In the event that you do not receive a package, Lindsay and The Lean Green Bean blog cannot be held accountable. By agreeing to participate in FPP, we cannot 100% guarantee that you will receive a package. The mail gets lost occasionally and your partner may fail to deliver.
-Condition 5: Using the foodie penpals email list to send out personal or spam emails promoting your blog, giveaways, etc is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Doing so is grounds for immediate dismissal from the program as it is a violation of the other participants’ privacy.
Failure to comply with these terms and conditions is grounds for dismissal from the Foodie Penpals Program.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Walkabout Wednesdays: Horses

You can find a lot of decorative horses all around Philadelphia.  Some things are left over from the days of the horse and buggy - honest! The above, which I think I may have posted once before, are decorative reminders of when horses were tied up to a post, outside of a building.  We have have marble stage coach stands or lifts, at curb-side remaining around town too - I'll have to start snapping photos of those sometime! 
This bas relief horse head is on Delancey Street, around 20th Street.  It's above what is now a parking garage.  My suspicion is that the building was once a very large horse barn, probably owned by the gentry. A home for their horses and carriages. I'll have to do some digging to find out more about this building.
Another horse hitching post.  Found this guy in an alley street, behind Pine Street, along 18th in the Rittenhouse Square area.  The main streets here in Philadelphia, in this part of town, were the homes for the very wealthy.  The smaller side streets and alleyways housed the poorer folks, the workers and help of the main houses, and the livestock - such as the horses.  I find many places around town, especially down side streets that were former carriage houses and barns.
 A decorative window support - found on  another part of a Delancey Street. Perhaps this large home/building was the residence of a horse lover? I remember the first time I actually spotted this fella, a few years ago.  This is a street where I've spent a lot of time and I couldn't believe I had never seen this before. Just proves my point of you never know what you'll find even in areas where you think you know the place well!

And another horse hitching post - found, again, in Center City Philadelphia, in the Rittenhouse Square area.  Must have been a lot of horse trotting up our streets in the 1800 and early 1900' say nothing of the manure covering the streets. Phew!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lobster Rolls at Rock bottom Prices

The thought of paying upwards of $10 to $25 for a Lobster Roll Sandwich is galling to me.  That much money and no sides? Fuddegabdit.  It's my inner cheapskate that stops me from indulging in this summer favorite sandwich.  That and knowing that the sandwich is so high in fat. I figure for 10 to 20 bucks, I could have hamburgers and fries or a steak and baked potato along with a salad and vegetable.

Lobsters are not that expensive and that I can make almost anything lower-fat and healthier, I decided to make my own lobster rolls for dinner.  It was also inspiration from my friend, Barbara Hammond (, as she made an awesome lobster salad for us this summer at the Blogstress Summer Get-Together. Her salad looked like a bowl of confetti - colorful and festive. I haven't been able to satisfy my craving for lobster salad since July!

Wegmans, one of the best things about living in South Jersey, had lobsters on sale for $9.99 per pound.   It's not as good of a buy as it was down the shore at ShopRite where they were $5.99 a pound, then again, I don't want to spend over an hour and a quarter tank of gas just so I can "save" $4!  A freshly steamed lobster, some bell peppers, celery, carrots, Greek Yogurt, Rice Vinegar, seasonings and a dash of low-fat mayonnaise and my summer food craving is sated.
If you are able to find "New England-style"Rolls - squared hot dog buns that are split open at the top, buy them! They add to the "authenticity" of the sandwich.  If you are skipping the bread and carbs, then serve the salad in Bibb or Boston Lettuce Leaves.  We found the rolls and splurged on the squishy white-bread goodness.  The cost per serving for us to have these at home came down to about $3.50 per serving - and I know the fat and sodium content was definitely better for me. Plus, I could have all the sides of healthy salads and vegetables that I wanted and not feel like I broke my zipper and the bank at the same time!

Lobster Salad or Lobster Rolls Ingredients (Serves 2 to 4)

  • 1 Pound Lobster - Steamed and Lobster Meat removed from shell
  • 1/4 Each - Red and Green Bell Peppers - small dice (about 1 cup total)
  • 1 Large Celery Stalk - small dice
  • 1 Medium Carrot - small dice or shredded
  • 1/2 Cup Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar OR White Wine Vinegar  and a pinch of sugar added to the white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Low-Fat Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons (Total) Mixture of Dried Dill, Parsley, Tarragon and Thyme
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Hot Dog or New England Style Buns - toasted
  • Bibb or Boston Lettuce Leaves - washed and dried


  1. Remove lobster meat from the shell and roughly chop into small pieces.  Add to a mixing bowl and set aside.
  2. Dice the red and green bell peppers, celery and dice or shred the carrots.  Add all the vegetables to the lobster.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the non-fat Greek yogurt, vinegar, mayonnaise, and dried herbs.  Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.  Hold off on seasoning with salt until you dress the lobster. Whisk thoroughly to combine, then pour the dressing over the lobster and vegetables.  Fold to combine.
  4. Refrigerate, cover and chill the salad until ready to serve. 
  5. When ready to server, toast the buns or have the lettuce leaves ready to fill with the lobster salad.
  6. Serves 2 to 4; 2 generous servings or 4 moderately filled sandwiches. Will hold for up to 2 days.  Best used within one day.  Stir before serving.
  7. To make in larger amounts, increase the proportions - the dressing base is enough to serve up to 6. Add in more lobster meat and vegetables as needed. A few more handfuls of diced veggies will go a long way!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Walkabout Wednesdays: Secret Gardens and Roof Top Decks

Behind 18th and Spruce Street on Manning - a fire escape becomes
an escape from a small apartment in the city
I was walking into work the other day and I took a slightly different direction.  I'll do this - walk somewhere I always go but letting my instincts direct me down side streets or other routes.  More often that not my instincts lead me to great finds. Money, street art, interesting houses, what have you.  On this morning, I cut down a side alley street off of 18th and Locust, next to the Curtis School of Music. As I came up another in-between street and parking lot.  I happen to look up and I saw two or three balconies, decks and upper level roof top retreats. I snapped a few photos, tucking the photo ideas into my brain-files. It didn't take me but a moment to realize that already had the makings of a series of photos of "secret gardens" or city retreats.  Little pockets of surprise and serenity behind the busy main streets of Philadelphia.
High up and feeling superior!
 Some places are pretty, well-maintained and lush within the small confines of the space available.  Other spots are whatever peace and pretty the home dweller can cobble out.  Pretty, practical, useful or just  a spot to "veg" and grill, all of these Rittenhouse Square locales are not your typical tony garden.   When we lived in Philadelphia, two of my three South Philly homes had outdoor spaces.  We made the most of the spaces.  You'd be amazed at what you could do with a 5 by 10 spot! We felt like we hit the big time when our 2nd house had a 16 x 16 patio! Of course, now that I live in bucolic New Jersey, my perception of yards, gardens, and lawns has changed dramatically.  I still appreciate a small tucked away yard though.

Add color, prayer flags, and ivy and your cement and brick patio feels like a tiny oasis.

 This yard/garden was down a long narrow alley way. I love how the dwellers here added a large statue and nice lounge chairs.  Small doesn't mean it can't be used.  I've seen breeze ways and trash areas utilized to maximum pleasure!
 This house clearly has owners with some money and good taste.  Fancy sports car, grape vines and well maintained back area.  There are twinkle lights and some other amenities. Pull the car out, add in a few tables and chairs and I could make this a happening alfresco dining spot!
Not so much a garden, but I was intrigued by the climbing trumpet vines and the barn-like doors.  Even this little entry way or garage could be a fun party spot if you put a cafe table and two small chairs out here.
And then there's this over-grown spot.  I pass by here often and NEVER realized that the over-grown weeds are over-taking a car AND a pick up truck!  Hidden and reclaimed by nature.  It's really too bad this has happened. On either side of this lot/driveway/potential garden of delights are two very nicely appointed back yards.  The pick up and the car don't look to be in bad shape either.  Knowing how fast weeds grow, my guess is this is only a summer's season's worth of growth.  The ghetto palm tree may be a few years old.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

I'm still working on zucchini recipes.  I think it's my favorite vegetable.  It's so versatile and I find I can add zucs to so many recipes.  As I said in my last post about the summer perennial favorite, I had two enormous zucchini that my boss gave to me from her garden.  They are way too woody in the center to enjoy as a salad or cooked veg. I knew I wanted to make a zucchini quick bread.  I did a quick google search for low-fat zucchini recipes and found a decent one from Cooking Light.  With a few tweaks, recommended by some of the reviewers on the recipe page, I knew that the recipe would work well.  I wasn't disappointed.  Since I've had such great luck with my banana quick bread recipe I knew that a few simple swap outs wouldn't make too much of a difference in the over-all taste of the bread.  Substitute applesauce for the oil; reduce the amount of sugar; trade some whole wheat flour for all purpose.  It's science, baking and some improvisation.  Keep the most of the proportions the same, and watch the baking time.  I'll be making this recipe again - maybe even this week with the other squash.  I need to use it up before it's fodder for the compost bin!

This recipe is low-fat, low-sugar, high fiber, moist and delicious.  Slice it and wrap the slices in plastic wrap; freeze to save and serve later.  Makes 1 9 x 5 inch loaf. It can be made as muffins or as smaller , mini breads too.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread Ingredients:

  • 1/2  cup light brown sugar 
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce (or 1 individual serving)
  • 2 Large Eggs 
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Cups All-Purpose Flour - or 2 Cups Whole or White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa
  • 1 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Cups Finely Shredded Zucchini (about 1 medium/large)
  • 1/2 Cup Semisweet Chocolate Chips
  • Cooking spray 

  • Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Shred/grate the zucchini.  Add it to a sieve or colander and drain the water off of the grated zucchini.  If necessary, squeeze out some of the excess water and discard it
  • Put the light brown sugar, applesauce and eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk or beat with a hand mixer until frothy and thoroughly incorporated; beat for 2-3 minutes.  Whisk in the vanilla extract.  Set aside
  • Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and the next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating just until moist. The mixture will be stiff.
  • Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips. The moisture of the grated zucchini will loosen up the batter.  fold to combine.
  • Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. 
  • Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack, and remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.
  • The original recipe states it makes 16 slices.  I think you can get 12 slices out of it. Once cool, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  You can keep it out for 1 day, but after that, the moisture in this quick bread can start to turn and the bread can get moldy quickly.  Wrap tightly and freeze in freezer bags for up to 3 months.
  • Original recipe:Elizabeth Alcorn,   JULY 2004

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Collingswood Food Swappers - Beer and Food Swap August Event

Loaded up my "Granny" Beach Cart to take to the swap
The 3rd Collingswood Food Swappers event was held on Tuesday, August 13th.  Officially, it was the 2nd event under our moniker - but my 3rd swap that I organized.  To say it was fun and successful is an understatement.  Add beer, bring in people from all over the Tri-State Area, and have men participate and you definitely have a great party.  The guys in attendance (I think we had 7 or 8 guys!) all agreed that including beer as part of the event made all the difference in wanting to join in on the fun.

I brought 3 kinds of beverages - a 12% beer; hard cider; and my favorite summer ale.
For this swap, I borrowed an idea from Casey at Salted Plates.  She had posted about attending a beer swap back in June, shortly after she attend my last swap at The American Table.  I've been wanting to find a way to do beer events, along the lines of my friends, Colleen and Brooke's Beer Ladies Societies (West Chester Beer Ladies and Media Beer Ladies).  I can't quite take on another foodie/beer project so this seemed like a great way to incorporate beer events into my food swapping events.    Much like the lightening in the bottle that I found with the food swapping in Collingswood, I've hit on something that people LOVE with adding the beer component to the swaps.  

Our swap registrations hit the max of 30 participants very quickly.  There were a few cancellations and a few last minute rsvps.  I lost count of the actual number of people who joined us - I think we had over 25 people altogether, maybe close to the 30 I was hoping!  
My versatile banana bread and the recipe
Jellies, Jams, Fruit Ketchups and Beer!
Ladies from the suburbs of Delaware County, PA, who are friends with, Casey, of Salted Plates, drove over.  The South Jersey Swappers, another food swap group, drove up from Mays Landing.  Ed, a young man from, Clementon, NJ, found us by googling food swaps and saw we were having our event this past week.  He brought gorgeous Eggs from his farm.  Local Collingswood dwellers, people I've met before, new folks and people from one or two towns over all came out to enjoy a perfect, humid-free, cool summer night at my friends' and neighbors', Robb and Eric, in their home.  

WHOOPIE! Pies and homemade chocolate bark bars
Blueberry Jam by Elizabeth
Among the many wonderful, kind, funny, and talented people I met, it turns out that one participant happens to be friends with a friend of mine from the Easton Area - connected to my Liz's family.  It's a small world!
Ed's beautiful Eggs and great signage
Banana Bread Beer - not too sweet and very tasty

Sweet, spicy and delicious - with beautiful labeling - tomato conserves.
Robb B's home-brewed Irish Red Ale.  I made a bee-line over to him and traded my big bottle of 12% alcohol beer for a bottle of this.  Can't wait to crack it open!
Our hosts, Robb and Eric - gracious, funny and perfect hosts - 
Collingswood's premier "power couple"!

Some people brought multiple goods - seasonings, dips, infused vodkas, hydroponic basil.  The choices were astounding and the packaging was top notch too!
A lovely selection of ales and beers.  I was lucky to trade for both of these brews!

Pickles!  Garlicky and spicy - I told Jodi, who made them that she needs to start a business!
I met Kate S., a woman who lives here in Collingswood.  She'll be joining us this week at Diner en Blanc (I'm sure I'll be writing lots more about her!).  She's fun, as chatty as me, and we hit it off immediately.  She bakes amazing treats and brought a bakeries worth of pastries and cakes, along with ginger and black pepper infused simple syrup, beers, and probably several other things that I can't even remember.  I can't wait to taste what she brings to Diner en Blanc 2013 for our desserts.
It was a great night to meet new people, socialize and share in each others' offerings.  So many people said they couldn't wait to join the event, but many were anxious about what to bring, how to package it or that they were nervous about sharing their goods.  My feeling is do what you do best and keep it simple.  What I took away from this swap was that if it becomes a competition, if people try to out do one another, I'm not interested in hosting or holding a swap.  There are way too many foodie competitions all around us.  To have this become a sport instead of fun would ruin the joy of these events.  Its' about sharing, having fun, meeting new people and getting new ideas.  

Food find! Husk Cherries aka ground cherries.  Like a sweet and sour cherry crossed with pineapple.  Brought by Shannon of Cheyenne Farms.
New friend, Lori, who came to my first swap, brought these jars of great vegetarian chili.  The jars reminded me of edible terrariums.  I pulled the jalapenos out of my chili so it wasn't too hot.  Had a very good lunch on Wednesday thanks to her!
South Jersey Food Swappers - Connie, and her daughter, Larissa, brought a lot of great things, in addition to beers.  Homemade pretzels, basil, farm fresh eggs and two kinds of homemade bug repellent.  These pretzels were even tastier than the photo makes them look.  I see another business in the making!
Beers, ginger punch, infused simple syrups - we had a huge variety of great food stuffs.

Here are the beers that I got to bring home after my trades.  I enjoyed the Hawaiian beer a lot - another great one for summer thirst quenching.
And a view of my food goodies.  So far we've devoured the eggs, husk cherries, Bon Temps bread pudding, whoopie pies and chocolate bark.  The canned goods that were put up for keeping are in the pantry.

Stay tuned, follow us on Facebook, ( and start canning your summer best for our next swap - to be announced for a September date!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Walkabout Wednesdays - Sprinklers

It's no surprise I find beauty and interesting things in the oddest of places.  Along my wanderings around Center City Philadelphia, I love to see how many unusual old building features still exist.  Throughout the past year and a half, I've begun to notice NIGHT DEPOSIT Drop Boxes and signs, interesting sprinkler systems and stand pipes as well as other forgotten or seemingly dull architectural details.  It started with noticing hearts on sprinkler stand pipes - a quirky emblem stamped on the top of some of the pipes.  Then I began to notice things placed in or on the sprinklers.  When you start paying attention you can find all sorts of similar stuff everywhere.  

This little series of sprinkler and stand pipes is a photographic case study in point - the outdoor sprinkler and stand pipe as table, trash receptacle or just plain INTERESTING.  This series of photos was mostly taken in one day, in a walk from 16th and Locust to 18th and Spruce, less than a 4 block walk.  It started with the 1st photo, from a week ago; I added four more with similar thematic ideas.  If I walked around a bit more I could add another dozen to the essay.

Who leaves fruit on top of a sprinkler? Apparently a few people see fit to leave their produce behind.  Or stuff trash into the open holes. Or use the top as an outdoor cafe table...
Is that a banana or is it wet in here?
Cherry Coke is da bomb!

No more Iced Coffee

Moss Mouth
This sprinkler is actually one of my favorite finds - not for the sprinkler but for the mossy pipe underneath.  I have a photo of it from a year ago.  The mossy pipe caught my eye - it was vibrant green, dripping water and it seemed writhing and alive.  Kind of scary but also truly beautiful.