As I write this, we are a few days into December and Christmas preparations are … well, a little less than organized. The lights have been hung on the outside of the house and are working (the solar sensor isn’t but at least they turn on and off … by hand). We have our tree in the stand and half of the lights on it. Christmas music is streaming and my cards will arrive in time to be stamped and mailed.

From Thanksgiving through Christmas and into the New Year, it is always nice to have some options on hand for those last-minute guests, party invitations, and gifts. Homemade cookies, jams or jellies, quick breads, and candies are always appreciated. Sometimes though I like to go with a savory option and I thank my cousin, Brenda, for my obsession with these amazingly simple pretzels.

It was probably 15 years ago, at a family reunion, that I grabbed a handful of what I thought were regular pretzels from a bowl on our table. One bite told me that they definitely weren’t “regular” pretzels; they had been given some TLC. When I figured out which one of my cousins had made them, she said her family called them “Seasoned Pretzels” and laughed when I asked for the recipe. She said it was too easy for a recipe.


No baking. Simple ingredients. And addictive as …

Well, that’s the story of how these pretzels got a new name. I started taking these pretzels with us to baseball tournaments and tailgates. Once, when they were passed around, one of the dad’s said “Hey! Are these the Crack Pretzels?”


“They’re so good! Once I start eating them, I can’t stop!”

It is true that it is hard to show restraint when it comes to this snack; but, I just wasn’t comfortable introducing them with a drug reference. Call me old-fashioned. I turned to my social-media-wordsmith son who immediately determined the name had to convey the addictive nature of the flavor. It took him about 30 minutes to come up with …


I knew he was on to something when I looked at my picture (which he could not see at the time) and saw the stick pretzels, the round pretzels, and the traditional pretzels. Not that you have to use all three shapes … use what you want … they’ll still make people want to stick around.

You select the shapes, you choose the name, AND you are responsible for how many you eat!

Print Recipe
These highly addictive seasoned pretzels will have all your family and guests "sticking around" the bowl until it's empty. Ranch, dill, and lemon pepper combine in this no bake recipe to make a perfect snack for tailgates, parties, and movie-night.
  1. Pour each bag of pretzels into a resealable plastic bag.
  2. Pour popping oil in a large measuring cup or small bowl and add lemon pepper, ranch mix, and dill weed: whisk to combine.
  3. Drizzle one-third of the oil mixture into each of the three plastic bags of pretzels.
  4. Seal the bags and gently turn the bags over and over to distribute the oil throughout the pretzels. Lay the bags on the counter and turn over every 15-30 minutes until all of the oil has been absorbed (no oil will be left on the inside of the bag).
  5. Wait one day to start munching for best flavor ... or dig in right away if you can't help yourself.
Recipe Notes

These pretzels will stay fresh for months if frozen.

As you can see in the pictures, when I made this batch I used three different kinds of pretzels. I also chose to use a big bowl for mixing and then divided them between the bags. The only reason to do this is to take pictures ... it only creates dishes so save yourself the work!

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I am happy to say that I have a bag of these safely stashed in my freezer. I may not be fully prepared for Christmas but I feel less pressure knowing I have a quick hostess gift or party contribution ready.

If I can maintain self-control. They go perfectly with Christmas movies, you know!


Foodventurous: Rome

Just how exactly does one put Rome into words?

Even if I narrow it down to “food in Rome”, it is still an overwhelming task.

Having just returned from a week in Italy and placing a magnificent check-mark next to one of my upper-tier bucket list items, I find myself trying to pick just the perfect pictures and words to do it justice. The story could be told chronologically, or by food type, or even through recommendations and reviews. But it has to be so much more than just a retelling of what we did … it needs to be a collection of food related experiences and lessons. I have more than enough material because I took advantage of every opportunity to ask questions, sample the unfamiliar, and learn from “mistakes” made along the way.

The first thing you need to know is my new favorite word: Mangia!

It means, “Let’s Eat!” 


Photo Credit: McVey/Reynolds


LESSON: Carbonara is the new pasta dish-of-choice in our family.

Our youngest son has been in Rome since August, spending a semester studying Graphic Design. He “discovered” carbonara soon after the semester began and quickly started making it for himself. Wanting to try something new but not taking too much of a risk, four out of six of us followed him in ordering it and the two of us that didn’t, wished we had. What we ordered was delicious, but the carbonara was just that good! It’s a simple dish made with pasta similar (and yet not) to spaghetti, guanciale (pork cheek), eggs, Romano and Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Simple … but impressive.

I’m not sure if it was the third or fourth time we had carbonara on the trip when an important tip was revealed to us: more egg yolk (4) than egg white (1). If the recipe you decide to try doesn’t follow this tip, look for another one.

We left our son at the end of the week and that very night he made … you guessed it … carbonara with the egg adjustment.

Photo Credit: McVey/Reynolds

If you are lucky enough to be invited to the kitchen to see a wood-fire oven and pasta being made by hand, you have found authenticity.



Chicago has deep dish. New York has giant, thin slices you fold in half lengthwise. Pepperoni is a staple for pizza everywhere … well, not EVERYwhere. Certainly not in Rome … blew my husband’s pepperoni-with-tomato-sauce-and-mozzarella-lovin’-mind. If you ask for pepperoni pizza in Italy, do not be surprised when you get a pizza LOADED with peppers … like bell peppers. So what is pizza like in Rome?

I am a researcher at heart and I know that the results are only as good as the sample size. I couldn’t come back and report to you on pizza after only trying one or two slices … or one or two pizzerias. I’m devoted like that.

We ate pizza all week … breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert … by the slice and whole pizzas … square, round, “sandwiched”. In my extensive research, I found two types of crust: thin, crispy, wood-fired and a slightly thicker, but not dense, focaccia-style. Toppings are kept simple and feature a lot of vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, artichokes, tomatoes, fennel, and potatoes). Sauce and cheese are minimal but of high quality and flavor.

My personal favorite was tomato and green olive pizza on the focaccia-style crust. I should say that was my favorite non-dessert pizza. You can’t put dessert pizza in the same competition with non-dessert pizza … especially when that dessert pizza involves gooey Nutella and powdered sugar!


Photo Credit: McVey/Reynolds


Technically, this section should have been placed before the PASTA section as that is what antipasti means: before the pasta. The best way I can describe this is to ask you to imagine an appetizer party: a party where everyone brings one appetizer and you put them all together and graze on the variety instead of having a meal. But that doesn’t work either because antipasti is just what’s before the meal.

We experienced this phenomenon twice on our trip: a parade of small plates filled with marinated and/or roasted vegetables, cheeses, prosciutto and salumi, meatballs, beans, breads, and olives. I appropriately call it a “phenomenon” because they actually expect you to eat a main course (or two) and dessert afterwards.

LESSON: Let’s say there are four of you at a table and you manage to order antipasti. If the waiter asks if you want antipasti for 4? Or for 2? Go with 2. If, after you have given the antipasti your best effort, he/she asks if you are ready for pasta, and you say “a little”, you will still get more than you can eat. True story.


Photo Credit: McVey/Reynolds


This is a good time to introduce the equivalent of to go: “take away”. When I ordered my first morning caffe latte, it didn’t even occur to me that it might not come in a disposable cup … and it didn’t.

LESSON: The proper way to order something “to go” is to say “take away”.

Apparently the only thing more eye-roll worthy than forgetting to mention that you wanted “take away” is to then not care if they pour your latte from the ceramic cup into the disposable cup, completely disturbing the froth factor.

I would have thought it was quite apparent I just needed some caffeine!

If “to go” is replaced by “take away”, what’s the equivalent for “doggie bag”? Would you be brave/stupid enough to ask?

Awww, you know me so well!

On one of our day trips, we were treated to a private meal at a restaurant/bed and breakfast north of Rome. This beautiful place in the country is run by the most hospitable couple who happen to be in their 70’s but with energy that puts my day-to-day efforts to shame. This was the site of our first experience with the antipasti phenomenon, followed by savory crepes, ravioli, and a large platter of pasta. When we didn’t empty those plates/bowls/platters, we were asked if we were ready for the next main dish or if we wanted to move on to dessert. We opted for dessert as we were already quite satisfied (i.e. stuffed). What we didn’t know until later was that they had prepared a suckling pig for us and we were too full for it to even make an appearance. I could tell that Giuseppe (that absolutely was his name) was disappointed that we hadn’t even finished the pasta and afraid maybe we didn’t like it. The idea that we might leave this sweet couple with anything but appreciation and admiration was not something I could do.

So I asked our guide, if it was appropriate to ask for a “doggie bag”? I knew I was risking a faux pas … AGAIN … but I’m pretty sure Giuseppe understood immediately because his face brightened and his shoulders squared and off he went. We were soon on our way, after dessert and grappa (an after-dinner drink referred to as “rocket fuel”) and espresso, with a bag of “take away” containers that would serve us well back at the Airbnb later in the week.


Photo Credit: McVey/Reynolds


True or False: Italian Dessert = Tiramisu

Trick question. Yes it’s a traditional Italian dessert. Yes, it’s delicious. But it is far from the only option. I still had it three times in the week I was in Rome. Three times … three completely different versions … all amazing!

Let me introduce you to my new friends: gelato, chocolate salami, and ciambelline al vino.

Gelato is ice cream. It is not exactly the same as the ice cream I buy in the grocery store, just as grocery store ice cream is different from the ice cream I make at home. What I loved about gelato in Rome:

  1. Flavors: pistachio, chestnut, hazelnut, coffee, pomegranate, chocolate, dark chocolate, biscotti, mint, speculoos (ginger/cinnamon shortbread), lemon …
  2. Combinations: you can combine 2, 3 or even 4 flavors
  3. Location: you can’t walk one block without passing a Gelateria

LESSON: Be careful when choosing a Gelateria. If you look at the gelato display and you see colors not known to nature or big, billowy mounds of “gelato”, keep going. The best advice we received was to think about banana gelato: what color is an actual banana? Not the peel … the banana. Well made banana gelato should be almost white, not neon yellow.

I’m going to miss you, speculoos gelato!

Photo Credit: McVey/Reynolds


Photo Credit: McVey/Reynolds

Chocolate Salami sounds like an oxymoron or an evil trick but it is not. Imagine fudge, with nuts, dried fruit, and even cookie bits, rolled into a log, dusted with powdered sugar, and tied with kitchen string to look like a salami. It is then sliced for serving with whipped cream and, if you’re lucky, drizzled with more chocolate. This picture conveys how decadent this dessert is but to get the full effect, check out this website with the recipe that I will be trying in the near future!

Ciambelline al Vino, or sweet wine pretzels, grabbed my attention (and heart) when presented to us as part of our dessert with Giuseppe (mentioned previously in the take away/doggie bag incident). Beautiful, doughnut shaped cookies sprinkled with sugar were passed around and, luckily, before I could try to take an enthusiastic bite, I was warned that these are very hard and meant to be … wait for it … dunked in your wine! Not only are they made from wine, they are to be eaten with wine!

What could be wrong with that?

Apparently, for a number of the members of my family, it is the addition of anise seed. I am not a big fan of the flavor of anise (or anything close to black licorice) but it did not bother me one bit in these cookies. It was not something that they would choose to have again. But the beauty of trying these things and liking at least part of it is that you can adjust the recipe. Instead of anise, perhaps I will use cardamom … or nutmeg … or allspice.

LESSONIf you are going to try to make a cookie that is meant to be dunked in your wine, make sure you make it small enough to fit inside the glass!



Speaking of glasses … raise yours and say “salute” (sah-loot-teh). The equivalent of our “cheers” but  I love it because it translates to English as “health”. A glass of wine, a wish of good health, and time with simple food, good company, and in a comfortable place …

… my Italian picnic!

The Perfect Gift for the Foodie on Your List

Do you have a “foodie” in your life?

Trust me … you have all kinds of “foodies” in your life.

Whether it’s the gadget-loving chef or the tailgate-grazing sports fan or the I-don’t-turn-on-a-stove-but-I’ll-eat-anything-you-put-in-front-of-me consumer, everyone is a “foodie” at some level.

The beauty of this? It makes choosing a perfect gift simple and personal!

All year-long, we have occasions that call for a gift (birthdays, weddings, graduations, Christmas, etc.) or token of appreciation (hostess gift, party favor, etc.). Food is a universal language and can (and should) be customized for the receiver of the gift.

Since I started this blog, I have explored food-related markets, venues, restaurants, and resources and as I discovered new things, I would often think, “so-and-so would LOVE this” or “I should tell so-and-so about this.” Quickly, I started incorporating these “finds” into gifts. As long as I took into consideration the type of “foodie” the receiver was, it was not only appreciated but also unique.

At the risk of sounding like Oprah, I decided to put together a list of my favorite things from 2017. Don’t bother looking under your chair … no one’s getting a new car … but sometimes fresh ideas are just as generous. This list includes a lot of products made here in Iowa, or have a special tie to Iowa. These items are and should be customized to fit the person receiving the gift. Look for similar items that are local to them or personalized for their tastes and interests.

Let’s start shopping …

local Foodie

“Shop Local” is a key phrase these days and whether the location of the “shop” is in the country, or main street of a small town, or in the heart of a big city, people like things that have a tie to their community. Giving a community-based gift shows you care not only about the recipient but also about supporting that person’s “local” businesses. Here are some of my favorite “local” food items.


Herbs are big-time foodie news. No, they aren’t new to the foodie arena but they are being used more creatively than ever. The sweetness of desserts is balanced by the earthy and floral notes of herbs. Olive oils and balsamic vinegars are infused with flavor combinations of herbs, spices and citrus. The medicinal properties of herbs are incorporated into lotions, soaps, and fragrances.

I highly recommend the products made by Pickle Creek Herbs in Fairfield, Iowa. I am a sucker for free samples at the farmers’ market and became intrigued at the Pickle Creek tent when I saw Lavender Infused Balsamic Vinegar among many other vinegars and oils. It’s light and fresh and I later discovered it is delicious on fresh tomatoes, sliced watermelon, salads, and sandwiches.

Tim and Jocelyn also make soaps, lip balms, and skin salves. The Deep Relief Salve combines almond oil, beeswax, comfrey root, cayenne pepper, peppermint essential oil, and vitamin E to sooth and relax sore muscles. I love the light fragrance and the lack of oiliness in this product … not to mention that “soothing sore muscles” part! If you know an avid gardener or gardener-in-training, you might consider their Gardener’s Skin-Soothing Salve (and check out the Herb Garden Starter Kit below).

UNDER $20: A great gift idea from their site is the customizable Gift Box which contains 4 2-ounce bottles of olive oils and/or balsamic vinegar and you choose which four you want! They also include recipes with purchase. Shipping is free for orders over $50.


Another farmers’ market find, the Denison Mustard Company … yes, they had samples … has earned a place in my cupboard/refrigerator. These mustards are made in … nope … not Denison … Dow City, Iowa. Although the company has moved around over the years, it has called Crawford County, Iowa, home since 1885. It may be the fact that this company was founded by a German Immigrant (hint: it pays to know the heritage of the gift receiver), but I think my attraction to this product was my first taste of their Country Dill Mustard … amazing!

IDEA: Pair a couple of these mustards with a bag of pretzels and a 6-pack or growler of craft beer from a local brewery!


While we are visiting the western side of the state of Iowa, I must point you to Wall Lake, Iowa, where Cookies BBQ Sauces are produced. Although I like their BBQ sauces, I am absolutely hooked on their Wings ‘N’ Things Sauce. If you have a hot-wing-lover on your list, this is the gift that will win you a big ol’ sticky finger hug. It has perfect heat, and by that I mean the more you eat, the more your mouth burns. But don’t be deterred by this … if you want it less spicy, dilute it with one of their BBQ sauces or sweeten it with honey. We frequently mix it with Ranch dressing for a dip for chicken strips or veggies. This product is available in most Iowa grocery stores or can be ordered from their website. It must be good because you can also order it on Amazon … but only if you want quantity because it’s sold in 70 ounce bottles. That’s a lot of wings!


Moving over to Nevada (pronounced ne-vay-dah) in central Iowa, is a company making artisanal herb and spice infused seasoning blends: Saltlickers. My personal favorite is the Peter Rabbit … a salt blend with highlights of radishes and dill. Sprinkled on fresh veggies like carrots, celery, bell peppers and cauliflower … who needs dip! I am also quite infatuated with their Wassamatterhorn which is a blend of sea salt, rosemary, and juniper berries. It is a perfect blend for sweet potatoes or squash and I hope to use it to season the pheasant our bird dog better find this season.

IDEA: Check out their website for gift boxes or custom blends!


Just in time for this blog, I came across Bisschopswijn Mulling Spices on my final trip to the farmers’ market. I had never crossed paths with this company before and quickly learned that this Pella, Iowa based company has a big following. It is a Dutch tradition for “families to sip Bisschopswijn (Bishop’s Wine) as they await the arrival of the good saint”, Sinterklaas … think Miracle on 34th Street! The mulling spices can be used to spice cider or cranberry juice, mulled wine, and even desserts. There are recipes for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on their site that will warm any Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, or winter celebration.

IDEA: If you are looking for a unique hostess or grab bag gift, package the mulling spices with a bottle of rum or cranberry juice and some pretty napkins. Or for a festive party favor, buy a big bag of the mulling spices and make individual steeping bags out of cheesecloth tied with kitchen-string and a small cinnamon stick!

fan-atical foodie

One of the first things we learn about another person is their allegiance to a college or professional team. It may be where they went to school or it may be a team they’ve cheered for and cried with since childhood. Maybe it’s a place they know very little about but is about to become home as they begin school or a job in a new location. Want to think outside the t-shirt box?

I’ve got you covered …


Art is not an easy thing to choose for another person; however, when you choose a simple piece  that represents something the person loves you can’t go wrong. This 12″x18″ print from Modern Map Art, placed in a simple frame, is more than something to hang on a wall or prop on a shelf. It is a map of memories or a first impression on a new adventure.

How is this a “foodie” gift? Imagine this as a graduation present for a student headed off to the best university in the world (as pictured), or any number of other schools, but with color-coded or numbers dots on the clear covering for points of interest like iconic restaurants, movie theaters, football stadiums, shopping malls, grocery stores, etc. Want to take it another step? Include a gift certificate and menu from one of the restaurants to get them acclimated quickly!

Speaking of …


A lot of people do not like giving gift certificates because they feel it’s too impersonal. They are only impersonal if personality isn’t added to the gift card. Here’s a great example of something that could easily be added to the map art shown above: a gift card to a favorite, local restaurant.

One of my all-time favorite pizza places in Ames, Iowa, Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company , has been serving amazing pizza since I was in college (now that’s longevity). What makes them unique is not only the nostalgic atmosphere of the restaurant but the variety of crusts available … the Denver (a wheat dough with hand-rolled edges that you finish off with honey like a breadstick … do NOT knock it til you try it) is my personal recommendation!

Wrap the gift card in a pizza box with a take-out menu (both of which the restaurant will almost always provide at no charge), some napkins and filler to make it colorful, and you’ve got personality.


Remember that “tailgate-grazing sports fan” I referred to earlier? Koozies keep their “beverages” cold on a hot day and Cozies keep them hot on the cold days. I found this hand-knitted cozie at The Market Place (Manning, Iowa) and thought it would make a great grab bag gift or stocking stuffer!

IDEA: Fill the cup with a bag of homemade snack mix and a little (or big) bottle of the tailgate beverage of choice (cue Florida Georgia Line please), and a small gift evokes a big feeling of good times!



Aprons are the perfect gift for that person who is equally infatuated with cooking/grilling and a team. I know a couple guys who would happily stand guard over a grill for hours making food for other people. If they can sport their team colors and keep the inevitable splatters of the grill off their clothes, it’s all good.

IDEA: Wrap up an apron with some new grilling utensils, grill seasonings or sauces, and/or a new color-coordinating cooler.



foodie with a cause

Food is inspiring. It is relatable and uplifting. We talk over coffee. Our mood can change over a scent. The gift of food can say what cannot be put into words. Receiving a gift that “gives back” is twice the gift. Here are a few ideas of how to give a gift that feeds the soul.


This book was given to me earlier this year by a good friend and I have shared it with many friends since then. It is written by Jennifer Dukes Lee, a NW Iowa Christian writer, blogger, and speaker, and provides a journey to find your personal “happiness style”. Are you a Giver, a Doer, a Thinker, a Relater, or an Experiencer? Maybe a combination of several or all of these? Jennifer helps you identify your style and helps you understand why God made you, and everyone around you, to be happy in this way. It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but the words on the cover are formed out of candy. Why? That’s for you to find out … and to share with others! It’s inspiring, it’s funny, it’s helpful on many levels, and it’s full of good reminders of just how special you, and your gift recipient, are.

IDEA: Wrap up this book with a bag of your recipient’s favorite candy, a sweet treat from a local candy store, or a few pieces of homemade fudge.


I love gifts that give back: when you buy something from an organization and the proceeds go to support that organization or another organization in need. This type of gift can be perfect for the “I don’t need anything” person. And the truth is, they probably don’t but you want them to know you care.

Over the past few years, I have become acquainted with an organization here in Des Moines called “Freedom for Youth“. This organization provides faith ministry, education assistance, job training, and a safe environment for before- and after-school and weekend activities to youth and young-adults in Des Moines and a growing number of communities across Iowa. One of their programs is the Freedom Blend Coffee shop which is operated by young adults within this organization. They sell and serve fair-trade coffee that is roasted and packaged on site, as well as breakfast and lunch items.









Can you believe this place started out as an abandoned car wash? This transformation has lifted an entire community!

IDEA: In the Des Moines area? Stop by the coffee shop and purchase some of their coffee beans, get yourself a latte, and pick up a donation form and brochure. Enjoy your latte. Wrap up the coffee beans (maybe with an inspirational or personalized mug) and a card that says you’ve made a donation to this organization in honor of the recipient. Don’t forget to include the brochure so the recipient can read all about the good efforts of the organization while they sip their coffee.

Not in the area? There are organizations like this EVERYWHERE. Check with your church or school. Google is your friend. Or seek out an organization that has a special place in the recipient’s heart and find a way to combine a donation with a small, but related, gift.


The sense of smell is a powerful thing. It evokes memories, lifts spirits, and makes stomachs growl. There are many options for gifting in this area: candles, essential oils and diffusers, lotions, and hand soaps. The trend right now is natural ingredients with a focus on herbs, spices, and citrus elements like geranium, basil, rhubarb, rosemary, grapefruit, chai or white tea, and juniper.

The ageless combination of orange and clove is popular again and my recommendation for fall and winter. This little candle came from Target for $5.

IDEA: An all-natural, inexpensive way to provide aromatherapy in your home is to add citrus peel (orange, lemon, grapefruit) and spice (whole clove, juniper, all spice, cinnamon) and herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage) to boiling water on the stove and simmer for 15 minutes at a time.  You must watch carefully as the water will evaporate over time … add more water as needed to continue the scent.

Foodie Cookbook

What would a gift giving blog for foodies be without a cookbook recommendation? Technically, this book was never meant to be a “cookbook” according to the author, Samin Nosrat. Salt Fat Acid Heat was written to be a “how to cook” book, not a recipe book. Samin discovered that no publisher wanted to get behind a cookbook without recipes. In the end, she did add recipes as a vehicle to learning to cook without recipes. This book is beautiful, funny, easy to read, and so instructive.

I have learned a great deal from this book about these elements of cooking and how to cook from instinct and senses … smell, touch, sound, and, of course, taste. It is the perfect gift for cooks of all skill levels.


HerbacEous Foodie

After mentioning several times the role of fresh herbs in the foodie scene, I want to share with you a beautiful gift idea that a good friend and fellow blogger posted on her site (Root and Bloom Forever): the DIY Herb Garden Starter Kit. Mary combines fresh herb plants, plant markers, gardening gloves, a trowel and pruning shears, seed packets, and other related items, all nestled in a pretty wicker basket or crate.

IDEA: When you put this smile-inducing basket together, make sure you add a tag with the website to Root and Bloom Forever so they too can benefit from the inspiring, motivating, and creative information she shares!


Homemade Party Favors

Remember when I said the orange and clove combination was making a comeback? These Sugar and Spice Pecans are proof. I have made these pecans over and over again since my friend, Lori (the same “good friend” who gave me the book The Happiness Dare mentioned earlier … she’s a great source of all things awesome!), gave me the recipe. Every single time I give these as a party favor in clear cellophane bags tied with twine, I am asked the same question … “are these hard to make?” The answer is “no”! They are easy and are as delicious in the summer on a spinach salad with strawberries as they are in the winter on a charcuterie platter or as a topping to sweet potato casserole. That is, if you don’t just eat them all right out of the bag.

My gift to you: the recipe!

Foodie Gift Wrapping Tips

If you’re taking the time to pick out a perfect gift for a foodie, why not wrap it appropriately?

Look closely. This package is wrapped in a paper grocery bag from Trader Joe’s. It is tied with a strip of cheesecloth and a bonus adornment gift of a small wooden serving spoon. I will often wrap gifts with the unmarked side of paper grocery bags but as I grabbed this bag, I realized these Trader Joe’s bags are beautiful! Why wouldn’t I use the pictures of fruit and vegetables to wrap a foodie gift?

Other foodie wrapping inspiration? Aluminum foil … cheesecloth … parchment paper … think outside the box (pun intended). Need a last minute filler for a basket or box? Run paper grocery bags through a shredder! Skip the ribbon and tie on a set of measuring spoons, a cheese knife, or accordion-fold a dish cloth into a bow.

Did we cover enough?

One more thing …

I want you to know that there is only one vendor on this list that approached me about featuring one of their products, and that was Modern Map Art with the Ames print. I was given the print in exchange for featuring it on one of my blogs. I agreed to this because I loved the item, it was a clear and stylish print, and I thought it was worth sharing with you. All of the other items were products that I found, use, and love. Some of these products were given to me at no cost when I told the vendor that I wanted to feature them in this post. Some of them I purchased on my own for this post.

My purpose in starting a blog was and is to share good, positive, and useful information. I have no desire to be negative about anything. If I come across something I don’t like, I won’t share it.

After all … sharing is the point of this post.

NOTE: If you’d like a chance to win some of these great products, head over to and “like” my Facebook page. Over the next 3 weeks, I’ll be giving away an Iowa Foodie box, an Iowa State Foodie box, and a Foodie with a Cause box (details in Facebook posts).

All my best to you! Happy Giving!

Cranberry Mustard Sauce

Cranberry-Mustard Sauce

This sauce is the perfect match for turkey, pork, chicken, meatloaf, and even roasted vegetables (like Brussels sprouts or carrots). It was created to compliment the sage and turkey in my Thanksgiving Meatballs.

Print Recipe
Cranberry-Mustard Sauce
Cranberry Mustard Sauce
Cranberry Mustard Sauce
  1. Bring cider to a boil in a sauce pan; add honey and cranberries. Return to a boil; reduce heat to simmer and cook cranberries 10-15 minutes.
  2. Cranberries will pop/break as they cook. Smash the cranberries against the side of the pan with a large spoon, if needed.
  3. Add Georgia-Mustard (or BBQ) sauce and stir to combine and heat through.
  4. Stir in a little more honey if you like a sweeter sauce.
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Stuffed Peppers Mexican Style

Last year, I introduced you to the giant poblano pepper plants that thrive in my garden. With a Scoville Scale rating that falls between a bell pepper and a mild jalapeno, poblanos provide the perfect “warmth” to Mexican dishes without threatening your taste buds.

Well … I guess that depends on the heat tolerance of your tongue.

And the inherent personality of the pepper itself, apparently.

I was struggling with what I could share with you in this post so I took a break … and looked for inspiration from one of my favorite sources: Chopped on Food Network. It came in the form of a basket ingredient. Not a poblano, but close. Hatch Chile Peppers. (Note: these peppers are from the same family but grown in different locations, they develop unique characteristics.)

As the judges were talking about the peppers, they mentioned the uncertainty of the heat levels from the pepper. This reminded me of a morning when my son’s girlfriend was visiting us and invited one of her friends over for brunch. We stuffed poblanos with an egg, cheese, and sausage mixture and I assured them the peppers would not be too spicy.

I heard a “cough” and I knew I was wrong.

Now before you picture two 20-something gals with tears running down their cheeks, gasping for air, it wasn’t that bad. I had, however unintentionally, served them something spicier than intended. The problem was quickly solved with two options:

  1. Ratio
  2. Selection

The first thing we did was to add more of the mild, egg filling to their plate. They were enjoying the overall flavor but needed to balance the ratio of the filling to the pepper. The second thing we discovered was that some of the peppers were much more spicy than others.


This was what the judges on Chopped were discussing as they watched the contestants preparing their dish. When you look up a pepper on the Scoville Scale, you will find not one number for the heat units of the pepper, but a range. Some poblano peppers are hotter than others, even if they are grown in the same garden.

You must taste the peppers before you use them … certainly before you serve them to others.


Do not let this uncertainty deter you from making this (or other) recipes with peppers. Just remember:

  1. Removing seeds and membranes from peppers reduces the severity of the heat.
  2. Taste food as you prepare it so you can make adjustments.
  3. If a dish turns out too hot/spicy, temper it with more filling or cooling condiments like sour cream or avocado.
  4. Should you encounter a pepper that is just too spicy for you, remember the filling is still good. You don’t have to eat the pepper to enjoy the meal.

Print Recipe
Stuffed Poblano Peppers
These stuffed poblano peppers add a little heat and a little spice to the traditional stuffed pepper recipe. Garnish with sour cream, avocado, cilantro, and lime for the perfect balance of flavors.
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Preparing Peppers
  1. Wash and dry peppers. Cut in half, lengthwise, and remove seeds and membranes. Place on cookie sheet, cut side down.
  2. Drizzle peppers with olive/avocado oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Broiler Method: Place peppers about 6" below oven broiler until the outside of peppers blister and char. Remove from oven.
  4. Grill Method: Place peppers cut side up on preheated (400 degree) grill. Remove from grill when peppers blister and char.
  5. Peppers should look like this ...
Preparing Filling
  1. Cook rice in chicken broth as per package instructions. A small amount of diced, fresh cilantro and lime juice can be added to the rice after cooking for a little extra flavor. Set aside.
  2. Brown ground pork with a little salt & pepper (1/2 teaspoon of each) until fully cooked; drain. Return pan to burner and add chili powder (and other herbs spices if desired); stir to distribute. Remove from heat when thoroughly heated.
  3. In a large bowl, combine rice, ground pork mixture, beans, corn, and tomatoes. Stir in shredded cheese.
Assembly & Cooking
  1. Spoon filling mixture into each pepper half.
  2. Oven Method: Place peppers on cookie sheet and bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Grill Method: Place peppers on hot grill (350 degrees) for 8-10 minutes (indirect heat is best to avoid over cooking the peppers) or until filling mixture is hot.
  4. Remove from heat to serving tray.
  5. Serve with fresh cilantro, sour cream, salsa, avocado, and lime wedges.
Recipe Notes
  1. Bell peppers can also be used if poblano peppers are not available or in season.
  2. I like to add 1/2-1 teaspoon of some/all of the following to the chili powder: granulated garlic, dried herbs (cilantro, Mexican oregano, epazote), cumin, coriander, and chipotle powder.
  3. Leftover stuffed peppers freeze very well. Wrap individually (or in pairs) in plastic wrap and place in a large resealable plastic bag. When ready to use, remove from freezer and allow to defrost completely. Place peppers on a cookie sheet under the broiler (low setting) and watch carefully. Remove from broiler when filing is bubbly and heated through.
  4. Leftover peppers, topped with scrambled eggs, make a wonderful breakfast.
  5. Leftover filling can be used in tacos or soups.
Share this Recipe

Special thanks to the Creator of this amazing pepper for working through Ted Allen and the Chopped judges to get me over writer’s block!

Farm Crawl 2017

Farm Crawl 2017

Whether you consider it a “crawl” from farm to farm because of all the gravel roads and traffic, or a “crawl” because that’s all you can do at the end of the tour, it doesn’t matter. A beautiful fall day spent touring farms showcasing Iowa agriculture, arts, people and food is a good day.

I had heard of a “Pub Crawl” before (we won’t get into that here) but never a “Farm Crawl” … and I grew up on a farm. When I saw an announcement at one of the stands at the Downtown Farmers’ Market for this event, I had to ask.

And then I had to go.

The tour included seven farms, in a loop, about an hour SE of Des Moines, near Knoxville.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but when I pulled off one of the main roads onto my first stretch of gravel and saw the pretty countryside, creek beds, and fields, I was hooked. It was a perfect, fall day in Iowa and, by that, I mean cool and rainy, followed by warm and sunny, and low winds. Everyone here knows that a fall day in Iowa without snow is good weather.

Coyote Run Farm

My first stop was at Coyote Run Farm just outside of Melcher-Dallas where I was greeted with an invitation to help myself to some homemade Vegetable Beef Borscht Soup (recipe), cookies and drinks … for free! Stomach full, I walked around the farm to see the horses and chickens, high tunnel and garden, and their rehabilitated barn.


I left the farm with my hands full of tiny potatoes, 3 types of garlic, a few heirloom tomatoes, and a jar of local honey. Hmmm … how many more stops did they say there were?

Six …


Trojan Iron Works

As I pulled up to the next stop, I realized it was the parking lot of a church, filled with so many kids! And the kids weren’t just participating, they were running the show! Trojan Iron Works, I would find out, is a student-run business at Pleasantville High School making custom metal signs. They paired up with the school’s FFA chapter and provided live music and games for the younger kids including calf roping, cheese and cracker “welding”, germination necklaces, and face painting. Again … for free. They also had a concession stand, were selling beef jerky and granola made by the Home Economics class, and were taking orders for pork and beef raised at the Pleasantville FFA Teaching Farm.

I’m sure they were present, but I didn’t see a cell phone in the hands of a single kid or student.


Heading to my car with my beef jerky, it didn’t even dawn on me that I didn’t take a single picture of the metal projects. Click on the link above to see lots of pictures of the students at work and of their art. 

White Breast Pottery and Weaving

As I get out of my car at White Breast Pottery & Weaving, I see this …

… and I hear this …


… which leads me to this …


… along with a basket weaver/maker, a group of 4-Hers selling concessions and baked goods for their club, and a rug weaving demonstration.

It just wasn’t possible for this 4-H girl to pass by the concession stand, so a hot dog in one hand and a beautiful woven rug in the other, I move on down the road toward the apples.

Schneider Orchard

Apple picking, giant slingshot apple shooting, a tree house (complete with suspended bridge and slide … sadly, no adults allowed), wagon rides, apples, and a menu of sweet treats that’s worth the long line kept Schneider Orchard buzzing with activity. (That’s a pollination joke, folks.)

Apple pie for me, and peach for my guy at home, plus a bag of Jonathan apples (my favorite baking apples), and one or two caramels rolled in pecans.

What? It’s not like I bought the fudge too!

Oh, but I wanted to!

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get full (stomach AND car)!

Blue Gate Farm

The next stop was home to the reason I was even on this tour, Blue Gate Farm. It was at their stand at the farmers’ market that I found out about the Farm Crawl. Having stopped many times before, I noticed the sign advertising the event and asked Jill about it. Her enthusiasm for the opportunity to show people their property and practices in naturally grown gardening was contagious.

I arrived too late in the day to get one of “Aunt Louise’s Cinnamon Rolls” but I was not too late to get a tour from Jill. Rotation practices, high tunnel extended seasons, 1950’s era planters and cultivators, the rabbits, alpacas, bees, and, of course, the land itself, were described with passion and pride.

Knoxville’s own Peace Tree Brewing Company was present and a “cold one” sounded really good right about then. Unfortunately, but understandably, they were sampling root beer and selling their beer (at room temperature, not cold). That “cold one” would just have to wait until I got home.

Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch

What would a Farm Crawl be without a stop at a pumpkin patch? Linus would be most content in this one. With 145 different varieties of pumpkins and gourds, your every decorating, carving, and baking need was covered. And, if feeling a little full from the other stops, the maze of giant round hay bales might just help you make room for the BBQ concessions.

Can you find the people in the maze?

Also included in this stop was a sawmill demonstration … huge tree trunks being positioned and trimmed to fit through a machine that cut them into boards … and wine sampling from Nearwood Winery. Again, I was too late to sample most of their wines. One must be very strategic in planning your tour stops … or understanding … that works too!

Crooked Gap Farm

My greatest disappointment in this whole tour? That I missed out on my very last stop … Crooked Gap Farm. I had been looking forward to this one for their hand-crafted soaps made from products of their farm (or as local as possible) and their cattle, pigs, and lambs. I was driving away from the pumpkin patch, looking for the next turn on the loop, and before I knew it, I missed it.

My only defense is exhaustion. It had been six hours since I left on my foodventure. I had absorbed as much information and consumed enough food in an effort to support the farms and organizations as I could and I was tired.

I think they’ll forgive me. As long as I start on their end of the loop next year!


How’s that for some beautiful souvenirs?

Are you like me and disappointed you didn’t know about this years ago? At least now you can make plans for next year:

  1. Follow Farm Crawl on Facebook so you don’t miss out on next year’s event.
  2. Mark your calendars in advance … this event is held the first Sunday in October.
  3. Don’t wash your car … enjoy the drive.
  4. Bring cash. Some places take credit cards and some don’t. There is no admission fee for any of the farms on this day.
  5. Bring the kids … it’s an education that feels like a vacation.
  6. Practice your parallel parking …