** Editors note: this post is being fictitiously hosted by Ted Allen of the Food Network smash hit TV show Chopped. **

It’s that time again. The time when it’s every Non Chef for themselves. The time when we each have to dig deep inside with our paring knife and release the fierce competitor from within. The time to get our wild game face on and duke it out against ourselves! That’s right. IT’S FOODIE PEN PALS AND THE CHOPPED CHALLENGE TIME!!

The air is ripe with anticipation. Non Chef Joanna of Midwestern Bite won against herself last month . . . but can she do it again?

Let’s ask her. Joanna, can you do it again? Your adoring fans want to know. No, they need to know.

Well, Ted, like The Little Engine that Could once said: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can . . .

Seems you’ve been reading to your son a bit lately. Do you think Sweetey Petey will be a distraction to you, or your motivation?

Oh, my motivation. Absolutely. Unless he sees my purse. He loves my purse. In any case, I’m gonna win this for him. Mama loves you Petey!! Mama is gonna do this for you baby!!

Touching. So touching. Before we get started on the Challenge, tell me, who did you send your Foodie Pen Pals package to this month?

Well, that would be Katie Fraga of Happy Lini. She’s great! She’s out in California. I love this program so much because not only do I get to meet new people, but see new sights. I have a cousin out in California, but I’ve never been to the west coast before. Katie has some lovely pictures on her blog that really make me want to travel! She posts delightful looking eats, craft projects, Mantra Monday to kick off the week with some inspiration and even does a series she calls Artist of the Month. I’d rather she hadn’t posted about artist Bianca Green though.

Oh no, why is that?

Ted, it cost me $36 bucks!! I just had to have the typewriter print Katie featured on her blog.

It’s good she could enrich your horizons like that. Let’s move on with the challenge shall we? Who did you receive your Foodie Pen Pals package from and what did you get?

My package came from a sweet reader in Chicago named Cath! Oddly enough it arrived the same day my Bianca Green print did . . .

Aside from the nicest six page note, she sent me such a wide variety of foods I was astounded!

Local Caputo potato gnocchi and Nannina tomato basil pasta sauce! Local Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce! Local Toffee Crunch Carol’s Cookie the size of my fist! Stacy’s Pita chips in salted and also cinnamon sugar! Snyder’s chocolate dipped peanut butter pretzel sandwich cookies, Nutella to go, a lollipop, three packs of jelly beans whose profits helped needy children!

Of course I dug right in, Ted. I had to taste everything so I could start planning my Chopped meal.

I see that Joanna, but is there any food left to cook with? That cookie seems, well, it seems gone.

And the Pita chips are barely crumbs! Those pretzel sandwiches . . . one, two, three, FOUR! Do you only have four left? And just a handul of jelly beans. Joanna, Joanna, Joanna. I don’t see how you can ever win now. You’ve eaten most of the food before the competion has begun. Frankly, I’m appalled. In all my years of hosting TV and fictitious blog challenges, I’ve never seen such recklessness!

No worries. I have a plan. A small plan.

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** On this Memorial Day please enjoy a guest post from my Father-in-law, a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Vietnam combat veteran and “normal food” connoisseur. Please note in this picture there are not only two generations of hungry Midwesterners, but two generations of Hondas as well.  (Honda – if you’d like to send a free motorcycle for us to review on the blog, please contact me.) Most of the following pics are from a father/son motorcycle trip the boys took to West Virginia. **

Don’t hold this blog against Joanna, dear readers. Someone obviously dared her to invite her father-in-law to pinch hit today’s column.  So this will be more of a bunt while you’re used to her swinging for the fences.

While I consider myself a “foodie”, I’ll have to admit my tastes go more toward food I can pronounce (and also spell). Also, it helps if my food can be handed to me through a window or delivered to me in flat boxes.

Now I’ve eaten my share of exotic foods. As a draftee in Uncle Sam’s Army during that Vietnam thing a few decades ago, I was reduced to eating monkey and fresh fish “caught” from rivers with hand grenades and drinking water by slicing into sections of green bamboo.

(Editor’s note: he was probably NOT usually smiling over there. Carry on.)

Those experiences, as well as others, gave me the world view that “normal” food was good – and have made me what I am today – a dyslexic anorexic.

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I am new to this blogging thing at just under two months, but already I gotta confess I LOVE IT!  For lots of reasons.

One: It gives me a creative outlet, which I sorely need as a mom.  Staying home to raise my son is my priority and I am thankful every moment that the Husband provides this opportunity for me.  For us.  But while the Sweetey Petey is completely fulfilling, that isn’t to say I don’t miss aspects of my old job.  Because I do, I really really do.  I miss the people first and foremost.  They were, are, my extended family and I miss them.  I know this is hard for some to understand, but when you find a job that doubles as family it’s excruciatingly difficult to leave.  While my job title wasn’t “Coming Up With Crazy Super Cool Fun New Things,” it did provide for a sense of accomplishment, community assistance and the occasional imaginative idea.  So now, instead, you all have me.

Two:  I get to poke a little fun at the in-laws.  Come on now, who out there doesn’t secretly want to do this?  Even just a little?

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To digress. To turn aside from the main subject of attention.

I do this. A lot. But I don’t like to say that I do.

I browse numerous blogs and have seen the statement “I digress” more times than I can count on my fingers and toes (it must be a lot then). I cringe a little whenever I read it. I tend to ramble and shy off course myself so I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate a good tangent. My attention span is shorter than Paris Hilton’s skirt and hopping around in a blog post usually keeps me interested.

Goats. Pretty, pretty goats.

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Sometimes I buy things just because they are different. Take The Snoops for example. Her Dr. Seuss haircut really set her apart from the miniature dachshunds she was playing with when I bought her for $50 from the breeder who rescued her from the puppy mill. Whew, that’s a long sentence, but The Snoops has a long and interesting past. At least with haircuts anyway.

There’s Pete’s highchair. I wanted something different from the traditional highchair that looks like Winnie the Pooh threw up all over it.  My friends call it the Jetson chair. Incidentally, Pete was almost named Elroy. Meet George Jetson, his boy Elroy….

Then there’s this fella.

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Gardening.  Believe it or not I don’t actually know that much about gardening.  We hope to own a decent chunk of land someday and grow tons of food and really research the heck out of it.  Well, the Husband will anyway.  When he’s interested in a topic he dives in headfirst and learns everything there is to know.  Me?  I’m happy to let him do that legwork as I’m more of a hands on learner.  My current I have a new baby and not a lot of time approach to gardening is to enhance the soil each year, plant some veggies, water them, and cross my fingers.  Oh and weed, but you all know I’ve already done that part.

We have a small, 4×20 foot, Midwestern garden and a few pots around the house.  I’m sure you’re all dying to know what I planted this year.  Sigh.  I have no idea WHY I planted what I did.  Sometimes I am a mystery even to myself.  For instance, I planted Brussels Sprouts.  I don’t really care for Brussels Sprouts.  I don’t hate them, but I can easily leave them.  So why did I buy them???  Well, they were cheap at a buck ninety nine for three and kinda cute.

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It’s Wednesday again!!!  I swear, every time I turn around it’s Wednesday.  Good thing I like Wednesdays.

Well, over the weekend we eradicated Brutus, the monster weed.  Turns out he had a baby hiding behind him.  Also a few nieces and nephews scattered around the yard.  I dug out a portion of root at least a foot long so I am pretty sure this won’t be the last of Brutus and we’ll see him popping up again real soon.  In the meantime, however, I planted a new vegetable in his place . . .

Sweet Potatoes!!  There are nine of them and they were an impulse buy at the hardware store.  I don’t expect much to happen here.  I’ve never tried growing potatoes, this part of the garden gets a little more shade, and I can only surmise that Brutus will be back someday to choke the little guys out.  My mom, on the other hand, is optimistic.  She thinks the soil is clearly superior in that spot and we’ll be dining on gigantic Sweet Brutus’s this summer.  Brutus has suddenly become the name for all oversized veggies.  Take this green onion for example . . .

. . . flanked by normal sized green onions.  Yup, another Brutus.  Maybe there is something in the soil . . . anyway, back to Brutus.  Brutus the second?  Brutus the third?  Let’s just stick with Brutus, it works for me.  After yanking Brutus out of the garden I decided he would be dinner.  It was going to be so bloggable.  I was going to put him in a burger and call it the Brutus Burger.  Not that there aren’t a thousand Brutus Burgers out there already thanks to the Ohio State mascot.  The other problem with my grand plan was that Brutus didn’t taste very good.  No, that’s not right, Brutus tasted AWFUL!!

He was much too thick and way, way too strong.  Where are we now?  Oh right, The Not Brutus Burger.  That doesn’t make any sense, so how about The Husband’s Favorite Salad Burger instead?  Unless you knew what the Husband’s favorite salad was, we still wouldn’t be making much sense.

Back in his hometown, the Husband has a favorite salad.  Had, actually, the place shut down.  No worries, the Father in Law has been perfecting the recipe over the years.  I have a dozen or more little squares of paper with new ratios that each time he touts is right.  The FIL swears the current scrap of paper is the absolute exact one.  The ingredients themselves never change though, so I decided to turn them into a burger.  The Husband’s Favorite Salad Burger aka The Not Brutus Burger.

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If you’ve taken time to read a little About Jo, you probably know she isn’t a chef, but she cooks.  Well, if that statement is our accepted measuring stick… I’m not a chef.  I’m not a sous chef.  I’m not even the guy they only trust with the pepper grinder.  I try to cook things that won’t make my family ill. Keep reading to see something that somehow came out really well.

Curry Chicken Plated

My lack of culinary skill is not really my fault.  Now that I think about it, it’s easy to see where blame should be placed.  Joanna is so incredible at whipping together delicious meals out of anything and everything that happens to be in our pantry, we’re all better off if I play babysitter and stay out of her way.  Yes, as I physically type these words, it’s all becoming clearer and clearer.  My hot-dog-grillin’, campbell-soup-warming skills have nothing to do with laziness or my sense of entitlement to incredible multi-course feasts magically appearing before me at least twice a day.  No Sir!  It’s her fault!

Well, it’s time I throw off Joanna’s repressive yoke that’s been holding me down all these years and spread my wings to mature into the beautiful butterfly gourmet I know is inside.

Here’s how I’m going to make it happen: Cast Iron

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Hi everyone, thanks for stopping by to visit today!!  Insert virtual tea, coffee, lemonade, beer or drink of choice here.  I spent most of Tuesday evening working in the yard so a gallon of water sounds pretty good to me right now.

In case you weren’t aware, it turns out that when you are pregnant and have a baby, certain things fall by the wayside.  For me, that was the yard, specifically the vegetable garden.  Two years ago we built a 4×20 raised bed garden.  Last year, while pregnant, I planted it as usual.  Radishes, green onions, snap peas, cucumbers, acorn squash, zucchini squash, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, and gobs of tomatoes.  I planted the garden and fairly quickly ignored the garden.  We nibbled on a few veggies throughout the season, but neglected to do any canning.  No pickles, no crushed tomatoes, no salsa (gasp).  I managed to roast and freeze a half dozen jars of cherry tomatoes, but even that was a stretch.  At the end of the season the garden continued to sit neglected.

A few months ago I took advantage of some Daddy Petey time to start pulling out the dead tomato plants.  Then the garden sat some more.

Tuesday night I headed out there again.  While I hadn’t tended to my garden, things had grown!!  Specifically weeds.  Lots and lots of weeds.

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