Project Food Blog Challenge #6: Jarred To The Core

by Mara @ What's For Dinner? on October 23, 2010

in Baking, chicken/turkey, friends, Italian, simple recipe

I kind of can’t believe I’m here writing this post.

When I first looked at the Project Food Blog challenges, I thought it would be “so great” to make it to Challenge #6 and pack a meal to go, and then I second-guessed myself and thought that it would be highly unlikely that I would even get to Challenge #6 because there are “so many other blogs better than mine” out there. Shows what I know!

Thanks to all YOUR support, I get to do a Challenge #6 post for Project Food Blog!

The challenge really spoke to me, as I complete it on a daily basis anyway. Prepare a meal to-go, one that carries well and tastes great. I’m a teacher, so I pack my lunch “to go” every day, and we all know that I don’t eat food that tastes bad! So to “up the ante” so to speak, I knew I needed to get creative with my meal and how it was carried.

Part of the challenge was to pack the entire meal in our custom Project Food Blog cooler:

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My cooler made itself right at home and plopped itself on the couch to watch TV immediately while I set to work cooking and packing things to fill it. While slumming on its lazy bottom, the cooler reminded me that it was the food’s ONLY source of transportation, and warned me that it better not spill all over its pretty shiny lining. 

What receptacle could I use to pack up a delicious meal that would LOOK great, CARRY well, and go from cooler to belly with little more effort than open and eat? The answer was obvious, at least to me.

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Mason jars are the perfect container to pack a meal that not only is portable, but is pretty to look at. Most of us have glass jars laying around the house from spaghetti sauce, jam, peanut butter, and pickles. Packing lunch is a great way to keep using those jars after your oats-in-a-jar. I, however, didn’t have quite enough jars to pack a 3-course meal for two with a beverage, so I hit up a local store for cases of new jars.

What I wanted to do with this challenge was to show you, the reader, a few things.

  1. A packed lunch does not have to be a boring sandwich or ugly leftovers
  2. A packed lunch can be just as delicious when you eat it as it is when you pack it.
  3. Delicious food for lunch can be accessible and healthy
  4. It’s a lot more fun to enjoy a delicious lunch with someone else who appreciates good food than eating alone at a desk.

The menu was chosen for a few reasons:

  1. General accessibility.
  2. Day-after appeal. Some foods simply taste better the next day!
  3. Attractiveness

I invited my assistant principal Stasia to eat lunch with me so I could complete this challenge because she is just as into food as I am! Part of the challenge was to create a side or appetizer, main course, dessert, and beverage that ALL fit in the Project Food Blog cooler (as the cooler consistently reminded me as it sat on the couch) and so I set to work cooking and assembling. Everything was cooked and assembled, not an hour before eating, but rather nearly 12 hours before, as most of my school lunches are packed just after dinner the night before.

To ensure that all the food I was bringing was generally accessible to most home cooks and not “OMG I can’t believe you MADE that” kind of food, I did use a few shortcuts: dried pasta for one, cake mix for another. But, the important parts were homemade!

All the recipes for the following dishes can be found here. (PDF document)

The appetizer: Berry-Apple Salad with Pomegranate-Balsamic-Basil Dressing

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The entree: Homemade pesto on whole wheat rotini with fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella

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The Dessert: Pineapple Angel Food Cake with Blueberries and Homemade Lemon Curd

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The Beverage: Strawberry Limeade

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The Side Dish: Garlic Herb Whole Wheat Bread

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All together now:

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The Cooler approved of the contents. I warned it to not consume anything as I had a very important lunch date the next day! Everything got packed up in the (very insistent) Project Food Blog Cooler complete with plates and silverware.

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And into the fridge the cooler went until 6 a.m. the next morning. The Cooler was NOT happy when I woke it up from its night’s sleep, but it didn’t have much of a choice. It was still dark when The Cooler and I set out for work.

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While I taught for the day, The Cooler had a very eventful day. I caught it learning some Spanish

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Playing the maracas for my coworker’s class:

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Hanging out with José the Jalapeño

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Looking up words in the library’s unabridged dictionary

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And making copies (the cooler, the coolinator, makin’ copies…anyone?)

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I interrupted The Cooler’s copy job so it could do its real job: feeding Stasia and I lunch! I was eager to see how well all the dishes had held up in their 12-hour rest in the cooler.

See for yourself:

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The only change I could see was that the limeade turned a beautiful pink color, and the fruit and pasta had both settled a little bit. We took no time with digging in! Teaching and disciplining middle school kids can really work up an appetite! (Yes, those are Splenda packets atop the limeade. It was a little tart to begin with, so I packed them as a “just in case” sweetener. They weren’t needed!)

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In order to fully enjoy the pesto pasta with the tomatoes and mozzarella, we both dumped our jars out onto the plates I brought, even though the dish easily could’ve been eaten straight out of the jar.

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Next up, though Stasia and I were both full, came the dessert: pineapple angel food cake, blueberries, and lemon curd. The angel food cake comes from an old Weight Watchers trick in which a can of crushed pineapple is mixed into a box of angel food cake mix and baked in a 13×9 pan. The result is a deliciously sweet and sticky treat with a fraction of the fat and calories of regular cake. The homemade lemon curd, however, was far from your health food item.

The best part of having the berries, cake, and lemon curd all packed separately was that they could be added as needed. Stasia and I took turns dumping berries into our cake jars, topping them with lemon curd, eating a few bites, then repeating.

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And then, after being far too full after a school lunch, Stasia and I had our picture taken…

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The remaining limeade was drunk quickly, the leftovers went home with Stasia, and The Cooler got re-packed for its journey home.

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Before The Cooler came back with me to my classroom for the remainder of the afternoon, it demanded that we take a break. Apparently, carrying a 3-course lunch for two in jars is hard work! Luckily, our school’s library has a lovely lounging area in which we could rest.

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I’m truly looking forward to my next school lunch packed in a jar, because not only did the food hold up remarkably well, but it’s a much greener way to pack food. There are no leaching chemicals when the jars are microwaved, and while a meal in a jar might garner a bit of attention in the lunch room, the cleanup is easy, and the jars are easily washed in the dishwasher with no chance of melting or the odd disfigurations that can happen to plastic containers. Glass jars also insulate food fairly well. A cold dish put in a jar will stay cold much longer than a cold dish put in plastic.

So, the lesson here? A lunch at work does not just have to be a salad or sandwich! It truly is more fun to eat with a friend. Food in a jar can be beautiful and delicious. The Cooler worked very hard, and deserves the week-long break it will get in my closet.

Voting on Challenge 6 will begin at 8 a.m. CDT on Monday, October 25. I’d love your support!

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

jen (@jeninRL) October 24, 2010 at 8:23 AM

I want to move in with you!! mmmkay?!?
jen (@jeninRL)´s last blog post ..rambling recap of last week and a half

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Mara @ What's For Dinner? October 24, 2010 at 11:50 AM

Sounds like a plan :)

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Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite October 24, 2010 at 8:34 AM

Mason Jars are a great way to pack school lunches or anything on the go. I used one for my Cointreau actually in my PFB “picnic”. In any case, wow, what a great looking lunch – can you pack my lunch for me to take to school too? Good luck.
Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite´s last blog post ..Project Food Blog 2010- Road Trip

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Jessica @ How Sweet It Is October 24, 2010 at 8:45 AM

Love it girl! Love that you used jars… so cool. Will be voting tomorrow!
Jessica @ How Sweet It Is´s last blog post ..Giving it 100

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Janna October 24, 2010 at 9:08 AM

Looks SO good!!! I love the mason jars – nice touch! And that pesto pasta is callin’ my name :)
Janna´s last blog post ..Reunited and it Feels So Good

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mom October 24, 2010 at 9:39 AM

great!!… and hilarious… boy, can you write!

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Runeatrepeat October 24, 2010 at 9:41 AM

Food packed in a jar is genius! Love it :)
Runeatrepeat´s last blog post ..Wake Up Wednesday

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Leah @ Simply Fabulous October 24, 2010 at 10:15 AM

Love it!! Will be voting!!
Leah @ Simply Fabulous´s last blog post ..Then and Now

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Suzy October 24, 2010 at 10:22 AM

Seriously, I think this is your best post yet!!! A healthy, to-go lunch that is not only delicious, but also beautiful! I love that you used Mason jars instead of boring plastic. I love how pretty your pasta turned out, in layers in the jars. I also love the insight into your cooler’s day at school…”makin’ copies…”!

Great job! I will definitely be voting for you tomorrow!
Suzy´s last blog post ..Finger Food Friday – Caramel Popcorn

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Jackie October 24, 2010 at 10:58 AM

Haha, brilliant, after a really horrible day you’ve really made me smile :D I love this. Also, how wonderful to put everything in jars! I’m usually all about the boxes, but I think I need to get me some mason jars…

Well done, lovely! Good luck!

Jax x
Jackie´s last blog post ..Project Food Blog Entry 6- Road Trip – More Tea- Vicar

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Biz October 24, 2010 at 11:21 AM

Great job Mara!! You will sail through to the next round!
Biz´s last blog post ..BSI – Leftovers!

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Becky October 24, 2010 at 11:48 AM

Such a creative post, both in writing and recipes. I love the mason jars, too.

You have received a lovely award. Please check out my blog:)
Thank you,
Becky
Becky´s last blog post ..Pumpkin Cider Muffins with Cider Walnut Glaze

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Mara @ What's For Dinner? October 24, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Thanks Becky!! So sweet :)

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Sharon October 24, 2010 at 12:12 PM

Love mason jars, never thought to use them for lunch, great idea. What a great post, a nice pictures!! You got my vote!!
Sharon´s last blog post ..Fabulous Roasted Chicken and an Anniversary

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Cynthia (It All Changes) October 24, 2010 at 12:35 PM

I love this. Your cooler sure learned a lot (I actually used those books when I taught Spanish) and taught us a bunch.

I’m going to have to start bringing my lunch and I have a ton of jars. Such a great and eco-friendly way to do it. Thanks Mara!

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annie October 24, 2010 at 1:42 PM

omg what a great idea! i’m thinking about baking mini cookies and stuffing them in a jar with ribbons! you’re such a genius!

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Amanda October 24, 2010 at 1:56 PM

You pulled it all off beautifully, my friend. I’m so stinkin’ proud of you! Everything looks delicious and I love what you did with the fruit salad. YUM!

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April @ Crazy Fabulous Life October 24, 2010 at 2:25 PM

Awesome post, Mara! I loved it. :) And that pasta has made me hungry!

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Jenn (eating bender) October 24, 2010 at 2:39 PM

I love this post – the jars turned out wonderfully! And I love all the various places you brought your lunch box on its special day. :) You know I’m rooting and voting for you, girly! Another great challenge!

Now I want some limeade!
Jenn (eating bender)´s last blog post ..Mr Mrs KRENNder- October 16- 2010 Pictures

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ems591 October 24, 2010 at 2:55 PM

Always believe, never second-guess. Excellent work on challenge #6 and good luck!

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MarathonVal October 24, 2010 at 3:04 PM

I LOVED this post, Mara! So creative. The best of luck! :)

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VeggieGirl October 24, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Stellar entry for challenge #6!
VeggieGirl´s last blog post ..Back To Baking Like Never Before

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Kristina @ spabettie October 24, 2010 at 3:39 PM

you once again have my vote…

I want that pasta. fair exchange, right? ;)

this is all fabulous… and I LOVE using jars… another plus? the lid you pick out, ALWAYS fits!! ;)
Kristina @ spabettie´s last blog post ..survey…

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AliSue October 24, 2010 at 4:57 PM

I love this whole idea! I am going to look for jars next time I am at the store. This is perfect for me because I am tired of eating the same three things for lunch every day. I can’t wait to try out the pasta, it looks amazing!
AliSue´s last blog post ..Baking is in the AIR!!

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Mara @ What's For Dinner? October 24, 2010 at 5:22 PM

That’s the BEST part I’ve found about these jars!! ALL the lids fit!!

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glidingcalm October 24, 2010 at 8:26 PM

this is so cute!!! i hope you win this challenge tooooooooo!
glidingcalm´s last blog post ..Did I really forget my camera for THIS!

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Christina October 24, 2010 at 9:21 PM

Oh this looks like so much fun! I’m so sorry I didn’t get to try this awesome food, Mara!! I was giggling at the cooler’s adventures – esp. the unabridged dictionary! haha I remember nervously eyeing that when I was in elementary school thinking “will I one day have to know ALL those words???” I think the Mason jars did a fantastic job of transporting the food. Not only are they durable and kept them cold (or warm if necessary) but it displays what is inside beautifully! What a great showcase for a picnic and I can’t believe you fit such a great, wholesome meal inside of a cooler. Looks like you should have been dining in a fancy restaurant instead of a teacher break room! :)
Christina´s last blog post ..The Big Two Six

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meaghan (the decorated cookie) October 24, 2010 at 9:46 PM

We ARE two great mason jarring minds thinking alike! :) I love your cooler’s journey!!
meaghan (the decorated cookie)´s last blog post ..attack of the zombie marshmallows!!!

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Lizz October 24, 2010 at 10:11 PM

you already know how much I loved the meal you created, but I am hysterical over how the cooler was able to keep itself entertained all day! Makin’ Copiiieeessss! I need to go find old episode of SNL right now!!

Love you!!
Lizz´s last blog post ..Friday in Photos

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Marianne October 25, 2010 at 2:31 AM

That cooler has an attitude problem ;)

And I’m all for the glass containers, except for one major issue – they are heavy! When you are already sherpa-ing a crap ton of stuff on your 3 hour round trip commute, the last thing you want to do is add excess weight due to glass jars. I’m just saying.

And don’t rag on the sandwich – I love me a good packed sandwich :D
Marianne´s last blog post ..New Larabar Showdown

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Mara @ What's For Dinner? October 25, 2010 at 6:19 AM

Oh yes, that cooler has been put in its place :)
As for the glass jar weight: I agree, for a 3 hour hike, I wouldn’t recommend them. School lunches though? The weight wouldn’t matter!

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Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) October 25, 2010 at 6:54 AM

Eating out of jars is just fun! I love the variety you have going there! Looks like a perfectly packed lunch! YUM!
Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen)´s last blog post ..Enjoying more of fall

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Kristy October 25, 2010 at 8:25 AM

Love the jar idea, how fun! Your pics are great and your lunch looks amazing! :) Good luck!
Kristy´s last blog post ..Crafts and Costumes

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Jacob's Kitchen October 25, 2010 at 11:55 AM

Great post! I think you are right that mason jars are the perfect vehicle. So pretty. All of your food looks fantastic from the limeade to the angel food cake. Yum! Nicely done. I voted for you!

Best of luck! Hope to see us both in round 7!!! =)

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jenna October 25, 2010 at 12:29 PM

mara! i love the mason jar idea….genius. :)

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Jasmine @ Eat Move Write October 25, 2010 at 12:32 PM

You are so creative! Love this entry! That pasta looked amazing to me. I want!!
Jasmine @ Eat Move Write´s last blog post ..Naked Cooking Fail

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Jenn@slim-shoppin October 25, 2010 at 1:10 PM

Mara, amazing job! I would never have thought to do that in a million years. I bring my food to work every day and I am totally stealing that idea!
I know you will make it to the next round!

I just read last week where you can actually BAKE a cake in a glass jar (without the tops!) Just fill it half way, and when it comes out, before it cools, you can put the top on (which has been boiled first) and while it cools, it seals the jar and it can keep like that for 6 months!

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Mara @ What's For Dinner? October 25, 2010 at 1:15 PM

That’s TOTALLY on my list of things to make for the holidays!!!

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Damaris October 25, 2010 at 1:38 PM

Jars are my best friend. I loved this post!
Damaris´s last blog post ..October Cook Off Winner!

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Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday October 25, 2010 at 2:51 PM

That is one great looking lunch!! I’d love to have that packed for me every day.

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sippitysup October 25, 2010 at 4:05 PM

Own it! Don’t doubt it. You deserve all this success and more. GREG

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Annie October 25, 2010 at 5:39 PM

Man oh man, is this a good one! I use mason jars all of the time in my lunch box for things like applesauce and pudding but I have never thought of putting everything into jars. What a great idea and they look just beautiful. I can’t wait to try out some of those recipes!

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Mary (A Merry Life) October 25, 2010 at 10:35 PM

I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS.

Seriously. Such a brilliant idea! Mason jars are so wonderful and perfect for this kind of this. I’m definitely going to experiment with making Kepa lunches he can take and eat at school. Thank you for the idea! :)

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Vicki @ Wilde in the Kitchen October 26, 2010 at 9:29 AM

I love the looks of your picnic lunch! I also want to go home right now and make you fruit salad. So bright and colorful, well done!

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Kimberly October 26, 2010 at 3:49 PM

You’re cracking me up with, “Hanging out with José the Jalapeño.” I’m making some strawberry limeade today. And I agree about using the jars instead of plastic. I’m no eco-nazi but I have found a hundred uses for mason jars. I make jam and pickles, so I’ve always got jars around. You got my vote today!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking October 27, 2010 at 5:39 AM

Hilarious post; great meal!! Lovely work, Mara! You have a vote from me!

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AJenkins October 27, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Your food sounds very good; it’s particularly appealing for a “carry lunch”. I agree with Everybody else, “What’s for Dinner?” I like your choice of food combinations; they sound very good for variety. Do you also include reheated “comfort foods” sometimes (like tasty leftovers-even if they were refrigerated to skip a day to keep from getting tired of the “same old thing”)?

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eataduckimust October 27, 2010 at 9:07 PM

i might have to buy more mason jars so i can pack a lunch like this every day. yum!! i like how much learning the cooler did that day =P
eataduckimust´s last blog post ..On the Road with Tapas Project Food Blog Challenge 6

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Mara @ What's For Dinner? October 27, 2010 at 9:13 PM

I’ll just give you some of mine, I have WAY too many now!

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jen cheung October 27, 2010 at 10:20 PM

passion4food.caCongratulation for making to challenge #6!!! You’ve got my vote again this round! Congrats & Best wishes to making to next round :)

Have a great week
jen @ http://www.passion4food.ca

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Heather October 28, 2010 at 9:07 AM

This made me giggle too much–so funny! Love it. Everything looked so tasty!
Heather´s last blog post ..Foodbuzz Tastemaker: Nature’s Pride Bread

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shannon (the daily balance) October 28, 2010 at 2:04 PM

since they package so nicely perhaps you want to ship me one? ;)

this is so great, Mara – genius!

best of luck to you, you know I’m pullin for ya! xo
shannon (the daily balance)´s last blog post ..Thankful Thursday – Pumpple cake and a year’s worth of reflection

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janelle October 28, 2010 at 2:31 PM

LOVED the jars. Just LOVE jars. I went to an estate sale the other day and bought FIVE boxes of jars;). I need a room in my house dedicated to jars… oh yeah! The pantry;)))).

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