Momma Told Me: July 2012

Blog Archive

Foodie PenPal: My First Month's Goodie Box

The Lean Green Bean
Hi there! If you're coming from Momma Told Me, then you're already a little aware of the Foodie PenPal program, but for those new, let me tell you what this post is all about. Started by Lindsay, of The Lean Green Bean, almost a year ago, this monthly (free) online social event is open to both bloggers and readers. Over 1000 participants signed up this month, in the US alone, committing to send a box of foodie goodies ($15 value cap) to a complete stranger; in the name of sharing great food, and meeting new people. Every month, on the 5th of the month, Julie sends out a spreadsheet with your randomly assigned match. The person you will be sending a box to is NOT the person you will receive a box from; so you get to meet 2 new people each month!

Once you have your contact information, it is up to you to reach out to your Foodie PenPal and request their mailing information, in addition to any food allergies/preferences. Then, you have until the 15th of the month to put together an array of store bought and/or home cooked goodies. Julie requires that each box contains something hand written, from an actual penpal letter to a simple explanation of what's inside. When you receive your box you're welcome to dig in and start enjoying all the wonderful treats. Then, on the last day of each month, all of the Foodie PenPals post a reveal of what they received. If your recipient doesn't own a blog, they can elect to write a guest post for your site and vice versa. This program was the inspiration for Time Out For Truffles new PetPals PenPal program, ran along a similar set-up, for pet owners. I highly suggest checking them BOTH out, they're great ways to take your social network offline, and even encourage social skills within families. Why not sign up the family and make it a monthly project?

This month my match was Julie from ROJ Running, active lifestyle blog. Just reading a single post on her blog is incredibly motivating; I don't know how she has such wonderful drive to complete some of the events I read about her training for. Her site is definitely a great resource for any runner or even the closet foodie (with her Friday Food posts). Just drooling over the Chicken Cacciatore with Creamy Mashed Potatoes recipe in her archives, I knew I was in for a treat with her as my Foodie PenPal. When her box arrived I couldn't wait to slice into it; it was substantial in weight. On top of a pile of peanuts was a nestled blue envelope, and some Emergen-C Blueberry Acai Single Serve Packets. I was in love with Julie already- as we are huge fans of Emergen-C, and this was a new flavor to me. These immune boosting supplements are easy on the tastebuds, and have gotten me through some sketchy times. The Blueberry Acai flavor is surprisingly tart, with a touch of sweet, for a flavor that reminds me of a berry lemonade.

Julie's note revealed that she was an ambassador for Marathon (energy bars), and she has included some bite sized samples for me. It's hard to imagine these little guys are chocked full of energy and protein, the Snickers inspired one eats just like a candy bar. Best of all, Marathon bars don't have that artificial aftertaste or cardboard chewy texture some other brands can have. In the middle of the peanuts was a bag of Sahale nuts; which we've reviewed on Momma Told Me before, to much praise. I'd never seen this flavor before, however, and was thrilled to try out the new to me Barbeque flavor, spiced with a hint of chipotle. These almonds have a very mellow build that isn't too salty, nor hot. There is a light heat that builds after a while, yet is intense in flavor, not palette. Also included was a package of Whole Wheat gnocchi, made from sweet potatoes. I love to switch up our pasta with gnocchi from time to time (it is so easy to prepare), and this potato based dish will certainly find it's way to our plates soon. Equally tempting visually was the jar of Chunky Ginger Preserves, with a golden apricot hue that begs to be spread across a layer of cream cheese on my morning bagel.

Perhaps the most unique, and pure fun, item from our box was Dr.Oetker's Mug Cake (chocolate). I've seen various versions of mug cakes on the Food Network, but never in box form at the stores. I was quite excited to try this out, though I substituted the suggested 1/4 cup milk for Rice Milk. It was as easy as pour and mix, then microwave for about 1 minute (our microwave took longer than suggested). In no time my boring coffee mug was transformed into a decadent desert. I'll admit- I burnt my tongue scarfing it down, it was that good! This particular flavor was very rich, yet had a malt flavor that reminded me of a dark chocolate malt or meal. The texture was fluffy, yet quick to moisten into a brownie texture when chewed. I intend on hunting this down and adding it to stocking this year!

I hope you've enjoyed reading about my first month with the Foodie PenPal program. Thank you to Julie of ROJ Running for the wonderful box of goodies, and Lindsay of the Lean Green Bean for organizing this month's event!

Vacation Files 2: Philadelphia Chinatown and Reading Terminal Market

Day 2 of our 7 day trip to Philadelphia began much smoother than the end of the prior. After several hours of 'scouting' potential room and board options, we had settled on the Philadelphia Airport Courtyard Marriott. As the name would suggest, this 4 story hotel is build to wrap around an appealing courtyard for guests to lounge in. If you'll recall, we had been left 'homeless', so to say by my prepaid reservations at a nearby Sheraton who had overbooked. In the end, we ended up paying a significant chunk more to book this particular hotel; that had won us over with their impeccably clean property and modern design. Their sleek and trendy lobby featured a 24/7 snack bar called The Market, complimentary high speed internet/print stations/airline check in assistance, and a posh (overpriced) breakfast and dinner bistro.`
The rooms were fairly ordinary, with a King bed, balcony (complete with it's own wasps nest), mini fridge, and fairly spacious full bathroom. I wish I could say we actually used the indoor pool/hot tub during our stay, but both times we visited the enclosure was more humid than the 98F/34% humidity outside. It was pretty unbearable, in my opinion. At least the staff was friendly, despite the oddly lacking room service and pay per view movies. For our first full day in Philly I decided to don my Wendy's "Where's The Beef?" tee, jeans, and my (not weather appropriate) Green leather jacket. I think the jacket survived to the train station- before becoming a casualty of Philadelphia humidity and heat.
When we had planned the vacation Momma had only been able to steal away 3 days (from Ohio), already driving almost 10 hours to our meeting point. Well, when I fork over $1000 for plane tickets, I'm getting my vacay's worth, so I had decided to add 3 days onto the end for the other half and I to explore Philly. Mind you, we had opted to forgo a rental car, having watched ample episodes of Parking Wars, we knew better than to mess with the infamous Philadelphia Parking Authority. This meant that we would be relying on public transportation, solely, once Momma returned home- a scary thought, I'll admit. So, I was glad to find that Momma had decided to spend the first half of our first day taking the train into downtown Philadelphia. The process actually was a lot more simple, and affordable, than I'd anticipated. In fact, visitors to Philly can enjoy a day pass for just $11, which enables them to hop on and off most major transit modes for 24 hours (buses, trolleys, trains, etc). We learned quickly that Philadelphia is HUGE, so I highly recommend bringing the provided maps, and a backup cell phone battery (just in case you get lost).

While we already had plans for that evening (to come in the next post), we had about 4 hours to kill wandering down Chinatown, grabbing a bite, then exploring the famous Reading Terminal Market. I never realized 2 things about Philadelphia prior to my visit; 1.) It is full of the arts, 2.) The architecture is gorgeous. One spot, in particular, the Philadelphia Friendship Gate, marks the beginning of almost 8 blocks of the Chinatown district. This unique, and stunning, structure is one of the first of it's kind in the United States; and represents the unity of all walks of life, supporting one another in Philly. Talented architect Sabrina Soong designed this work of wonders as a unique stacked structure that actually balances within itself, lacking traditional nails or bolts; through a unique Chinese practice of stacking interlocking pieces. Ironically enough, Philadelphia is also home to the first 'skyscraper' designed by a woman in the US- a piece of architecture known for it's functionality of even lighting, rather than it's visual appeal.

For lunch we chose a well reviewed little Chinese restaurant on the corner, at the end of the Friendship Gate. I ordered my traditional Orange Chicken, shown above, which seemed just as authentic as my favorite locale back home. Momma can be seen in the edge of this photo, likely grilling the (new to her) boyfriend of mine. From there we walked about 3 blocks, around the Reading Terminal Mall to the Reading Terminal Marketplace, featured in countless films and on numerous Foodie favorite TV shows. Inside the overwhelming marketplace are hundreds of unique vendors selling specialty, fresh, foods, ingredients, and gifts. I have to say I am officially jealous of the locals who live there! We happened to discover a wonderful Amish Cheese vendor, the candy shop where Bizarre Foods featured Chocolate Covered Onions, and By George's Famous Cheesesteaks and Brick Oven Pizza. I daresay I could spend a year eating there every day and never duplicate a meal!

I'm surprised I walked out with my pocketbook in tact- I had to pick up some Wasabi Coated Peanuts and Soybeans for Pop, and some Strawberry Champagne Cheese for moi, though. And that Amish cheese- well, outside of enjoying it with a glass of champagne, it was delectable. Slightly sweet, and candied bits of real strawberries in this soft, creamy cheese, brick. Luckily, we were still stuffed from our Chinese lunch, or I'd been buying everything in sight. I can only imagine what it would be like to travel into town and stock up on ingredients to cook with. My amateur chef's heart flutters at the thought, and my doctor shudders, equally.
Before we left downtown Philadelphia, to catch our train in time for our evening plans on the other side of the city, we had a chance to take one more walk around Reading Terminal. The architecture, again, is stunning- something I was glad to delve more into further in our trip. On the corner, we passed by a Hard Rock Cafe, and inside the actual terminal was some gorgeous artwork in the form of tile mosaics and hand painted murals. I wonder how often they fresh those murals up, as the painting was wonderfully clear, and vibrantly realistic. Yes, the first half of this day was much more enjoyable than the previous, and our evening brought even more interesting sights as we set sail on a 3 hour cruise with singing waitresses'. Dont' miss our next entry!

Toilet Tree: Toiletry Travel Bag Giveaway and Review~ 8/7

Momma Told Me: Don't forget your toothbrush!

I still recall the first time my father's parents came to stay with us, from Massachusetts. No older than 4, the thing I found most intriguing was their toiletry case. And, calling it a case, seems quite deceiving looking back- for this was literally a case, within their main suitcase. A well worn leather briefcase, complete with circa 60's floral lining, chocked with bag upon bag of amenities, prescriptions, and powders. This was, of course, back before airline regulations had been anywhere near what they were today. A couple could fly with a case of Aquanet, if they pleased; and with little exaggeration, it seemed like my grandparents did. In fact, if I had more of an affinity for hygiene at the time I might have thought it Mary Poppins of bags. Whenever I was told to fetch something for dear grandma, it was always in that briefcase.

Many would argue traveling today is much more harder- balderdash! Yes, we have to take some extra considerations into mind when packing for a flight, but it's hardly the inconvenience of taking a 15 day train ride across country to see relatives. The simple truth is, with the convenience of shopping online, and modern innovations, traveling is simpler than ever. Even for those who insist on an in-flight refresher, via toiletry carry on, can breathe easy knowing the guesswork has been taken out of liquid cleansers. It may not be the most glamorous of products, but a reliable toiletry bag is an essential for any individual- male or female, seasoned or infrequent traveler. And a good toiletry bag can transcend long vacations, and even find use in the day to day as a back up, or emergency bag. If I had a dollar for every time I've wished I had a toothbrush at an important meeting, or a dollop of antiperspirant after the gym, I'd be a rich gal.

ToiletTree Products is no stranger to Momma Told Me; a brand that first launched with their revolutionary Fogless Mirror, has now blossomed into a full fledged, well, toiletry company. Ironically enough, only recently did they introduce their ToiletTree Toiletry Travel Bag, complete with TSA approved accessories. Currently only sold in a chic black, imitation leather, doule-zipper format, this carry-on approved bag is spacious and easy to organize. While I feel the large boxy footprint, and visual design will appeal most to male consumers, I've recently fallen in love with it's large capacity and water resistant interior. Yes, this toiletry bag is not only entirely washable, but will protect your belongings far better than any plastic ziploc, in case of leaks and exploding bottles.

The top chamber of the bag is held in place with a simple velcro strip, and double zipper trim. Because the toiletry bag offers a zippable flap, rather than seam based zipper, the bag is much easier to organize and pack. I can easily pull the top back and neatly organize my necessities, then zip the top back into place. This is especially nice, because the interior is lacking various pockets or straps (frills) I would normally find in bags geared towards women. There is, however, a mesh pocket running along the bottom of the top chamber, which easily unzips (along the base) to reveal a storage spot for liquids. You'll find ToiletTree has included 3, airline approved, travel bottles for Shampoo, Body Wash, and Conditioner, as well as a collapsible cup and toothbrush holder. As unique as the collapsible cup is, for those who take regular medication, or rinse with mouthwash daily, I opted to remove it for extra space. The bottom compartment doesn't expand, so it's fairly snug already with the provided containers. I was, however, happy to find I could store 2 manual toothbrushes comfortably in the provided case.

In fact, the only 'true' area for improvement I see with the ToiletTree Toiletry Bag is a call for an included clear window ID slot or tag. We always make sure to include our contact information in every piece of luggage, and the toiletry bag is no exception- in fact, it's one of my 'most likely to be left behind' pieces! To remedy this, I simply stuck a slip with our contact info into the mesh pocket (as mentioned) on the inside of the bottom pouch. I'd also like to see the bottom compartment remove from the unit entirely, for quick storage on overnight trips (where I may just want to grab some soap and a toothbrush). Otherwise, the other half loved having all of our 'necessities' in one space that was easy to access. I cannot stress enough the positives of having a top that zips back (rather than open). Thanks to this simple feature I no longer have to unpack the entire bag to find what I am looking for!

What Daughter Says: Keep all of your toiletries in one place, and eliminate the guesswork of TSA travel, with ToiletTree.

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Bucket List Tuesday: #49 Jamba Juice Secret Menu

Today marks the first post in a new series I hope to supplement a few times a month: Bucket List Tuesdays. For those unfamiliar with the term, you'd be correct in assuming this moniker comes from the somewhat morbid, tongue in cheek, 'kick the bucket' adage. A Bucket List is often associated with those who've recently come to terms with their mortality, facing their golden years with retirement on the way, or in unfortunate cases those who have received an ill prognosis. However, it is my belief that we all have a hidden bucket list inside us. Remember that time you heard your cousin went skydiving and thought 'Someday,' with a chuckle? Or perhaps the little whim that often arises when you get the itch to travel- 'I'd like to see the World's Largest Ball of Twine, someday.' Yes, these are often things accompanied by 'someday', and can range from pure absurdity to life altering experiences. Essentially the are goals for life, hopes for a lifetime of limited years, in a world of limitless experiences.

It's my hope that, in writing this series, I may inspire you to consider a Bucket List for yourself, and I may be motivated to slowly begin chipping away at my own. Each week (or every other week, as time allows), I'll give you a glimpse at a different spot on my ever-growing list. If I'm actively working on them, I'll share with you my experiences thus far, if I'm not quite there yet, perhaps you can help guide me down the right path.

This week, I'm going to start with something light, and arguably doable, that I'm slowly working on. It's unique in the sense that it has a list of it's own; the Jamba Juice Secret Menu. Secret Menu? Yes, and you just might be surprised how many of your favorite fast service restaurants actually have one! A secret menu, is typically a collection of highly requested product variations that have been ordered so many times by regular customers, it makes it's way to the company's recipe book. Often, these items will not be seen written on any company menu board, website, or advertised venue, and are exclusively known by past employees and hardcore brand consumers. One of the chains most known for their Secret Menu is my local In-N-Out; ironically also known for their incredibly simple menu. While the chain modeled it's menu after a classic Americana burger joint (with only fountain drinks, fries, burgers, and shakes), customers can order their meals in a variety of crazy ways. Would you believe you can actually order a 100x100 burger, consisting of 100 patties? Their Mustard Grilled Patty (exactly as it sounds), and the more well known Animal Style burgers are also quite delicious. Read more about Secret Menus at

But, today, I want to share with you one of my weakest points; Jamba Juice, and blended beverages. Next to boneless wings, a good smoothie is my favorite. And, while your local Jamba Juice already has an ever evolving menu of 20+ blended drinks, their extended menu contains 39 confirmed hidden drink recipes. And, while you may be furrowing your brow, in concern for my mental health, I assure you, if you walk into a Jamba Juice and request a Pink Starburst, they will make it. Of course, not ALL employees and demographics will know some of the ore obscure recipes; but any employee should be willing to mix up your heart's desire if you offer them the recipe (found online with a little bit of searching). In fact, as of yet, I've not run into a problem where my order couldn't be made.

Personally, I'd like to try all of the Secret Menu items at Jamba Juice- even over the course of several years. Below, you'll find a list of all 39 (beware there are 2-3 censored adult titles). Keep in mind, these are not created, named, or advertised by the company. In most cases they are offshoots of current recipes that employees or customers have created in store. So far, my absolute favorite is the Pink Starburst (my first secret menu order, years ago), Chocolate Covered Strawberries, and the Peanut Butter and Jelly. Curious what's in some of them? Most descriptions and recipes can easily be found on Google, or leave me a note and I'll drop your a description! (* denotes a recipe I have already tried) And, keep in mind, you can usually request a soy base, for the non-dairy crowd.

1. *Pink Starburst 2. Sourpatch Kid 3. *Blue Gummi Bear 4. *White Gummi Bear

5. *Skittles 6. *Chocolate Covered Strawberries 7. Push Pop 8. Red Gummi Bear

9. *Orange Dream Machine (Still On Some Menus) 10. Rainbow Sherbert

Green Gummi Bear 12. Fruity Pebbles 13. *Pink Gummi Bear 14. *Thank You Jesus

Dirty Org__m 16. Hello Jesus 7. *Strawberries Lightenin' 18. *Strawberry Shortcake

19. Sunny Delight 20. Raspberry Dreamin' 21. Melonade Wave 22. Chocolate Gummi Bear

23. Reese's Pieces 24. Butterfingers 25. Pineapple Dreamin' 26. Berry Depressing

27. P__s Shooter 28. Lemonade Lightinin' 29. Now and Later 30. San Diego 31. Tropical Tango

32. Apple Pie 33. Tootsie Roll 34. White Fruity Pebbles 35. Blue Topia 36. *Pacific Passion

Peanut Butter and Jelly 38. Andre's Surprise 39. Pink Fruity Pebbles

As Required By the FTC: This post was in no way solicited or sponsored. Opinions contained therin are mine, and mine alone. Any companies mentioned are for editorial purposes.