Foodie Pen Pal Fun: Carbs of Pennsylvania

I’m back in the Foodie Pen Pal saddle this month with a splendid box from my new friend, Julie from Philadelphia. Julie and I have had great fun writing/tweeting back and forth about culinary delights in Philadelphia. If you’ve never been to Philly, you should definitely put it on your list of places to go! It’s a wonderful city with lots of history and tremendously tasty food options. One of the beautiful foodie joys of Philly is Reading Terminal Market. Julie got the treats for my box by wandering around the market and letting her “hungry guide her.” She said she sent me the “carbs of Pennsylvania.” I do enjoy me some carbs! Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what I got! Here’s the overview of everything.

Philly Foodie Pen Pal package

The sweets are up first. Yes, please, and thank you. The Red Laces were an impulse buy for Julie, but a total WIN for me. I love strawberry Twizzlers, and these are WAY better. The boyfriend is also a fan, and together, we’ve been making our way through the generous container. These are so fun. They stretch and are bendy so you can do fun things like tie them in a bow. The fruit flavor is intense, and gets you in the back of your throat just a little bit. It’s a no-joke strawberry taste that I adore. Nom nom nom.

They are so long and stretchy!

They are so long and stretchy!

They make it easy and fun to play with your food.

They make it easy and fun to play with your food.

Goldenburg’s Peanut Chews are also a delight for me. They are dark chocolate, peanuts, and caramel. It has a very distinctive bittersweet flavor from the dark chocolate and caramel.There is a touch of salt from the peanuts, and because it’s a bite-sized piece of candy, it’s all just the right amount. It is possible that Julie kept some of these back for herself, but I ain’t mad at ya, girl. I have plenty for me without being out of control. 🙂 I eat one after lunch and it’s just perfect.

The stick candy is so nostalgic and fun. I haven’t eaten them yet, because I’m waiting for the right opportunity. Boyfriend is also excited about them so I expect that I’ll have to share. But I believe that good flavors will abound.

Y’all, I got some legit Amish sticky buns! They were cinnamony and yeasty, and a total delight to have for breakfast several mornings in a row. I warmed them up in both the microwave and the oven, and every time they were so good. I’m not one for frosting on my cinnamon rolls because I think it hides the cinnamon flavor and all you end up tasting is sugar. These buns were frosting free, and thus full of every flavor I could want in my cinnamon rolls. Thanks, Julie!

sticky buns
Sticky Buns!!

Julie also sent me a bag of extra dark split pretzels. To be honest, I thought the pretzels were covered in dark chocolate when I first saw the bag. That’s how dark they are. These pretzels are dark because they are “nicely burnt” (according to the bag) as part of the creation process. Back in the day, the burnt ends of pretzels were split off and sold. Eventually they became a favorite staple for so many that now they are made and sold as such. These are Julie’s favorite so I very much wanted to like them. Alas, these did not fall into my favorite category quite like the Red Laces or the Peanut Chews. But I do appreciate the exposure to them and knowing a little more about pretzel making in Philadelphia now.

pretzel history
dark pretzels

What Julie had no way of knowing when she sent the box, because we never talked about it, was that growing up popcorn was a staple in my home. It might as well have been its own food group. I pretty much love popcorn. So good. Blue popcorn is quite intriguing to me! I was a little disappointed to discover that the kernel does not stay blue when it is popped. Nonetheless, these small kernels had just the right crunch and burst of corn flavor for me.

blue corn

Popping corn is serious business in my kitchen.

Popping corn is serious business in my kitchen.

popped corn
The hand scrub smells like an herb garden and will be fabulous to use when I’m trying to get that garlic or onion smell off my hands or if I’ve got pesky pepper juice on my hands. The granules and pieces of herbs in the scrub will help remove unwanted oils or smells, for sure. So handy!

hand scrub

What a great “welcome back” box to get this month! I’m glad to be back in the program. If you are interested in joining up with us, head over to Lindsay’s blog at The Lean Green Bean. She has all the details you need to sign up. Like any good project, there are a few rules and guidelines to help everyone be successful. You must sign up by February 4th to receive your match. You have a spending limit of $15 per package/month. After shopping for your partner, you mail the lovely box on or before the 15th of the month. If you are a blogger, you post about the box you received on the last day of the month. And you agree not to send things to your partner that will make them sick. It’s pretty simple. 🙂 It’s a lot of fun to be a part of the whole swap, and there is a link-up party on Lindsay’s blog at the end of the month so you can see what other folks got as well. I hope you’ll join us.

Many thanks to Julie for her thoughtful purchases. Check out her awesome blog, What Julie Ate, and make some of her great recipes! She doesn’t disappoint! Until next time, happy eating!

The Lean Green Bean
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Philly by Food, Part 2

My apologies for making you wait, dear readers, to hear all about the other wonderful food encounters I had while I was in Philadelphia. If reading about the deliciousness of the Starr restaurant empire didn’t make you want to hop on a plane or jump in the car and head over to the city of Brotherly Love, then perhaps there will be something here that will push you over the ledge. Or reading about scrapple may be enough to put you off the local diners for good. Try to keep an open mind, though; you just never know. But let’s not start with scrapple. I’m excited to tell you about Reading Terminal Market.

Ladies and Gents, Reading Terminal Market is enough to make me want to move to Philadelphia and work in, if not live near, Center City. Just so you don’t look like the full-blown tourist that I did, it is pronounced “Redding” and not “Reading” (like you would a book). We weren’t corrected until we asked, so clearly they get that mistake often.  I’m sure it identifies you as a tourist more clearly than a neon arrow pointing at your head might so I’m glad to help you out. Reading Terminal Market is pretty much my foodie dreams come true in one building. It is a HUMONGOUS structure devoted entirely to food in various formats. It is laid out in blocks with street signs hanging from the ceiling to help you navigate your way. There are the wee farmer’s markets and the more typical grocery store-type areas of produce and pre-packaged granolas and mixes of that sort. There is an entire Amish section of meats, cheeses, pastries, pickled foods, and bread. There are butchers, fish counters, cheese counters, olive counters, pasta counters, and even a couple of trinket shops. There are a couple of general seating areas, and most of the restaurants have counter seating.

There are restaurants galore: Mediterranean, Cajun, Middle Eastern, Mexican, gyros, coffee, bakeries, crepes, a diner, pretzels, and more. We ate the most amazing pretzel dogs from Miller’s Twist, y’all. Seriously, my mouth just watered a bit thinking about them. The pretzel was soft and chewy, the dog was hot and juicy, and there was melted cheese inside that brought the whole thing together. Mmm…mmm…good! Lunch one day came from Olympic Gyro which was super fast and quite delicious. The fries were a french fry lover’s (as I am!) dream: crispy-crunchy, salty, not overly greasy, but just a bit. They were the good rectangular kind that frequent high school cafeterias or mall food courts. Don’t judge – if they are cooked right, they are quite tasty. The gyro was also really quality. I love a good tzatziki sauce which they had, and they didn’t put too many onions on there, which I don’t love. I give it 2 forks up! Metropolitan Bakery had these cute, little single-serving rolls that I appreciated so I didn’t have to buy a mamajama loaf of bread. I particularly enjoyed the rosemary olive oil roll. Now you try to say that 3 times fast. It’s tricky to get out even once! I may give those a go in my own kitchen. Seriously, friends, it made my heart both happy and sad just to walk the aisles of this place. There was so much food everywhere and so much of the kinds of food I love. Yet, I couldn’t buy it because I was going back to a hotel. Where on earth was I going to put a hunk of salmon, pray tell?? The Market is amazing, and you should be sure to go and go more than once when you visit Philly. Please forgive my lack of photos. I was too “in the moment” to take pictures every time I was in there.

Of course I ate cheese steak when I was in Philly. How could I not? Puh-lease! We went to Jim’s Steaks, which is where my friend Bailey felt was the best place to take us. He’s a Philly native so I trust his judgment. Plus when we got there, there was quite the lengthy line out the door and around the corner. That’s a good sign, y’all. People don’t wait in a long line for bad food. When we got inside, there was a little bit of culture shock, I’m not going to lie. I think I just wasn’t mentally prepared for it. There was a long snake line (like you might see at a theme park ride) and at the front, you tell the man at the large grill what you want. But it’s in special code. It goes something like this, “one with provolone, onions and peppers.” You do not tell the man you want a cheese steak because that is all they are serving up behind the glass so you will look silly telling him that. You can change out the cheese or the fillings, but it’s always “one with….” There is a huge, gigantic, enormous pile of beef just cooking away next to an equally large pile of onions, and the chef just scrapes up what he needs from the edge. As he scrapes up, another cook adds to the back of the pile. It was a very fascinating arrangement. I wanted to take a picture, but it was clearly not the time or place for that. I got mine with provolone which was good, but I do wish I’d gotten it with “whiz.” I’m honestly not really a Cheese Whiz fan, but that seems to be the standard, local way to get the sandwich, so when I go back, I will try it that way. It’s good to know the big pile of meat isn’t really seasoned. For some, that’s a plus. For others, it just means additional toppings. It’s your sandwich; you are the boss of it so you get to choose. Do make sure you get a cheese steak though when you go. I’ll judge you if you don’t. And that’s really something to be afraid of, you know. Not. 😉

And last, but definitely not least, we visited South Street Diner. This place can cook some crispy bacon! Can I get an amen, Stacey? Seriously, y’all. I’m a crispy bacon eater so I specified, and boy, howdy, did they deliver. I feel very strongly about this as a positive recommendation. It wasn’t burned which sometimes restaurants think is an acceptable substitute for crispy. Burned and crispy are sooo not the same thing whatsoever. There was much happiness when the crispy bacon arrived.

Check out the crispy bacon!

With the crispy bacon also came…<cue drum roll>…scrapple. Ahh, yes. Let’s talk scrapple, my friends. I’d seen it on several menus, and it was all over this diner menu. I asked Bailey, my Philly native friend, what it is, and he begins to extol the deliciousness of scrapple and how it’s a Philly delicacy and he will be ordering some so that we can all share and partake. Yes, but what is it? Well. Hold on to your plates and forks. Before we get to the nitty-gritty, you should know that the waitress is prohibited from accurately explaining scrapple because then nobody will want to order it. She told us it was a “fried pork product.” Bailey, the truth teller and keeper of no secrets, broke it right on down for us that scrapple is the result of all the formerly unwanted parts of the pig, “from the snout to the tail,” that are cooked and eventually fried.

Well. Okay. Dig in. It looked sort of like sausage. It tasted sort of like sausage with similar seasoning and a similar texture. Yet, there was something fundamentally different. Mostly I tasted pork and sage which isn’t so bad. I admit, I ate more than one bite. It was strangely curious to me. Intellectually, I am sort of grossed out, to be honest. Yet, my mouth wasn’t grossed out by eating it, leaving me conflicted.

Scrapple Bites

I can promise you that a recipe for scrapple will never, ever, ever appear on this blog except by way of a brave guest blogger. I looked up a recipe, and it’s too much for me. I did learn from the recipe that a primary difference between scrapple and sausage is the inclusion of cornmeal. I’m pretty sure if I was with a native Philadelphian in Philly again and it was ordered, I’d probably eat a couple of bites. Here is a whole lot of info on scrapple if you feel like you need way more details than I’ve given you. But, gentle eater, click at your own risk. Once you know, you can’t unknow, trust me.

I ate a few other restaurants that were all really good, and there are still others that I want to try the next time I go. Smokin’ Betty’s was very delicious. Mugshots Coffeeshop had very good food and was quite thematic for being across the street from a prison. Dunkin’ Donuts has QUITE the presence up there, and I had breakfast there many mornings. We don’t have them down here, really, and I’m mostly a Shipley’s gal so DD was an out-of-the-box experience for me. The coffee was good so I feel like it met my expectations there. You may want to skip the sugar or ask them to go lightly on it; they aren’t shy with it. They also have a lot of flavors which I always appreciate. I had no idea when I went that Philadelphia would be such a culinary delight so I was surprised in an enjoyable way. It was happy eating all week long, scrapple included!

Scrapple Eaters!