Community Combats Hunger with Little Free Pantries

A few months ago, I read a story about someone who took the initiative to build a Little Free Pantry. The idea came out of the Little Free Library concept: “Take a Book; Leave a Book.”

The Little Free Pantry’s goal is the same, but with non-perishable food items instead of books.

The Little Free Library began with the goal to promote literacy, while the Little Free Pantry was born to not only to help those in need, but to raise awareness about the hungry some people face on a daily basis.

Kid-Powered Kindness is the organization behind the Little Free Pantries in the Hiawatha and Cedar Rapids communities. According to the Hiawatha Library website, it was created in 2014 after 4 year old Annabelle opened her Christmas presents and looked around at all of her new toys.

Alicia Mangin, Youth Services Librarian for the Hiawatha Library, said Annabelle told her Mom, “We have so many toys and there are kids who don’t have enough.” Annabelle reached out to her friends, gathered toys they no longer played with and donated them to kids in need.

“Kid-Powered Kindness is driven by the philosophy that kids can make the world a better place. Annabelle’s belief in this simple but mighty premise led the group to their newest world-bettering project.”

Hiawatha Public Library is just one of four sites that will be home to a Little Free Pantry.  Other sites include Hy-Vees on Edgewood, Collins, and Mt. Vernon roads.

The ribbon-cutting will take place at 2 pm today at the Hiawatha Library, 150 W. Willman Street in Hiawatha.   Lemonade and cookies will provided by Hy-Vee.


Tommy’s West Restaurant Believes in Traditions

Tommy’s West Restaurant, 393 Edgewood Road NW, has been a mainstay in the Edgewood Plaza in Cedar Rapids for many years, but tucked in the corner of the strip mall, it sometimes gets overlooked.


Chef Adam Mykris

But it shouldn’t. Tommy’s employees not only believes in good dining traditions, the amazing kitchen staff dish up home-cooking style cuisine that is comparable only to Mom’s.

Tommy’s dishes include Broasted Chicken, Meatloaf, and Chicken-Fried Steak, as well as Tenderloins, Philly Cheese Steak and Hot Beef sandwiches. They also offer a variety of traditional breakfast items and homemade pie.

And even though the folks at Tommy’s provide their customers with the best food and service possible, they are stepping up their game even more. There is a new chef at Tommy’s, who not only loves to create new dishes, he also believes in the value of traditions.

Adam Mykris started at Tommy’s earlier this year. He is the mastermind behind the restaurant’s current special, Summer Salads, which he created uniquely with Tommy’s customers in mind; a fresh twist to healthier eating.

The Spring Salad is made with fresh spinach, candied walnuts, fresh strawberries, and dried cranberries, with Chef Adam’s special poppy-seed dressing.

The Teriyaki Chicken Salad starts with shredded lettuce and is topped with a chicken breast marinated in teriyaki sauce. It also includes mandarin oranges and almond slivers, and is topped with Chef Adam’s Ginger Dressing.

The Fruit Nut and Cheese bowl is a variety of fruits, feta cheese, and candied walnuts with a raspberry vinaigrette.

The Creamy BLT Salad is an old favorite with a new twist; a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato, without the bread. It is also topped with cheddar cheese and croutons.

The Greek Salad begins with fresh spinach, Kalamate olives, feta cheese, and croutons, and tossed with Caesar dressing. You can add a grilled chicken breast for an even better flavor.

The salads are available for a limited time, so come in soon and experience one for yourself!

About the Chef

Chef Adam grew up in the Marion area and graduated from Linn-Mar High School in 1999.

“I’ve been interested in cooking most of my life,” he said. “I started helping my mother when I was little. As I grew older she let me help a little more, making pasta, cutting vegetables, things like that. I just really enjoyed it.”

After graduation, Adam said he took some time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life and realized his passion was with cooking.  He looked into the program at Kirkwood and knew that’s what he wanted to do.

Chef Adam worked at the Doubletree Hotel for two years before coming to Tommy’s. He started as a line cook, and was promoted a few months later as a sous chef, or assistant to the head chef. He has also held positions at Granite City and New Pioneer Co-op.

Besides creating the Summer Salads, Chef Adam recently introduced a homemade strawberry lemonade pie, which is made with a lemon meringue base and fresh strawberries.

“Tart and sweet; the best of both worlds.”

Chef Adam is also beginning plans for a fall menu, which will feature a few new dishes.

“Most people like to try new things, while others like things the way they are. We want to make sure everyone is happy, so if you have a favorite, we would love to hear from you!”

In his spare time, Chef Adam enjoys spending time at home creating new dishes and experimenting with the recipes he already knows.

“I can take an ordinary recipe, add a few new ingredients, and make them even better than before.

“It’s what I love to do.”


It all sounds good in theory

I spent the past two weeks preparing for a Halloween party for my grandchildren. It was going to be our first “real” holiday party, and I wanted it to be special.  I threw parties for my kids all the time when they were little. But this time was different. This time I had the internet to help, and I turned to Facebook and Pinterest for ideas about how I could make this the best Halloween party ever.table2

I printed off recipes and photos of all the cool things I wanted to do. I bought all the necessary ingredients and props, and I worked diligently to make sure it went off without a hitch.

But as we wanna-be perfectionists already know, it all sounds good in theory.

I imagined that everything would go as planned; the food would be perfect, the decorations, the music, and the activities would run themselves. But with 6 energetic children ranging from 5-11 years old running around, each going their own way, it was chaos.spider-cookies

After years of trying to throw the perfect party, I should have know better. And even with my party planner in hand, there were still a few mishaps. (For those who do party planning for a living, I salute you!)

The cake balls turned to mush, because I added too much frosting (and you can’t “Undo” something like that.) The spiders on the cookies didn’t get their legs piped on, because I ran out of time. And the “Pop the Pumpkin” game was scrubbed because I couldn’t get it stuck to the wall.(It was difficult to make,anyway.) And I forgot all about “Stick the Spider on the Web” game until after the party was over.popcorn

The banana ghosts and apple mouths were okay, but didn’t turn out like the picture. I scurried to get the mummy hotdogs out of the oven and get the meat eyeballs in before the guests started to arrive. Lack of time became an issue, and I found myself getting stressed out.

Next year I will take an entire day to get ready, instead of just a few hours.

So why was this party important to me? For the same reason I had a lot of parties for my kids when they were little. Kids aren’t little for very long, but these memories will last a lifetime.

I still hear from my adult children, “Remember when …?” And the smiles and laughter that follow tells me I did a good thing.

And when Lori laughed and asked me if I had ever seen the pictures of “Pinterest Fails,” I smiled, because I knew it was true. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Otherwise, it’s no fun.

The ruined cake pops and the other mishaps didn’t matter. No one ever knew I had forgotten a few things and there was plenty to eat and everyone had a lot of fun.

I created a good memory for my grandchildren. They know I’m not perfect but love me anyway. I can’t ask for much more than that.

“Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused.”

It’s Not Always Wise to Improvise

People ask me why I only read a recipe once. Honestly, it’s because it’s a pain to have to stop what I’m doing, find where I left off, and continue making the dish. Reading a recipe once or just watching a video to see how it’s made is all I need to create my own dishes. (It also helps to have a good memory.)

But I’m not perfect and neither is my cooking. I’m only as good a cook as my last dish. But that’s ok; that’s how I learn.

There are some recipes that need to be followed to the “T.” Delicate pastries, especially the ones that use yeast, should be followed as they are written because handling the dough too much or not letting the dough rise or refrigerator could make a huge difference.

(Incidentally, according to, “The origins of this expression are mysterious, but it might refer to the T-square, a drawing instrument used in drafting. It might also have to do with crossing one’s T’s, as in the expression dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. Whatever its origins, the expression now means perfectly or exactly, and it usually takes a capital T. Some writers put quotation marks around the T, but this is unnecessary.” P.S. I left the quotation marks on just to show you I’m not perfect at grammar, either.)

I saw a recipe for Grilled Berry Cobbler on Facebook and decided to make it. I didn’t want to start the grill so I baked it in my oven. I used fresh blueberries, but I don’t think I used enough. The video shows gobs of frozen fruit and I only had 2 pints. I still used two tubes of biscuits and probably should have used a smaller pan and one tube.

I covered it with foil and baked it at 375 for 30 minutes (taking in account that it is an oven and not a grill), uncovered it and baked it for another 15 minutes, because when I looked at it after 10 minutes, the biscuit didn’t look done; 15 minutes might have been too long because the biscuits got kind of hard.

Regardless, it was still awesome. And though I will make a few adjustments next time, there will definitely be a next time. Guaranteed. More cinnamon, more sugar, and maybe I’ll add a layer of creamed cheese for good measure.

Tried and True #2

BBQ Chicken Bombs is one recipe I knew I would like right from the beginning. 962b8c29dfba8034ea24bd08743c984eIt has all the ingredients I love; chicken, BBQ, creamed cheese, and jalapenos.

It’s a fairly easy, too. The recipe was meant as a Super Bowl appetizer, I think, but I can make an entire meal out of it!

Start with 2 boneless chicken breasts and slice them once length-wise (you can use more if you have more to feed). Place on a greased cookie sheet.

Take a 4-ounce package ( or 8, depending on the numbers) of creamed cheese, softened, and add 1/2-cup grated cheddar cheese and a little garlic salt and diced green onion if you’d like.

Dice a jalapeno (remove the stem and seeds, of course) and add to the creamed cheese mixture. Cook a few slices of bacon (not crisp) and set aside.

Blend the creamed cheese mixture well and drop a heaping tablespoon in the middle of one of the chicken breasts. Roll or fold over the chicken breast and wrap one bacon slice around it. Top chicken with BBQ sauce (I use Baby Ray’s), and then add more after 30 minutes.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes.


I have found that I have a hard time breathing when I cut the jalapenos, so I either hold my breath or run them under cold water, or both. I could avoid the hassle and use canned, but fresh peppers are the best. I am also careful not to touch my face (especially my eyes) until I wash my hands extra well.

Another suggestion : Cut the chicken breasts as evenly as possible; too thick will make them hard to roll; too thin will make the stuffing run out. And make sure you don’t put too much filling in the middle, for the same reason.

This is one recipe that my family always asks for when we have parties and get-togethers. It’s easy to make, the ingredients aren’t too expensive, and it’s made with creamed cheese. No wonder it’s a hit.


Tried and True Recipes

This is a first in a series of posts where I report about recipes and crafts I’ve made from YouTube videos and Pinterest projects.

Once in a while, I’ll see posts on Facebook of cakes people have made and most


times, the results are disastrously. I have to laugh because that has happened to me more times than I can remember.   But I always learn from my mistakes.

Though I stay away from cake decorating as a rule (maybe I just don’t have the knack), I’ll try anything once.

One time a friend asked me if I had ever made a lemon cake with raspberry frosting.

It was supposed to look similar to this, without the raspberries on top.

It was supposed to look like this, without the raspberries on top. I didn’t get a photo of mine.

I answered, no, but I could make it for her.

How hard could it be?

The elaborate recipe she gave me included lemon curd, which, honest to God, I had never heard of before. I looked it up and found that it’s just a fancy name for lemon meringue filling.

So I made the lemon layered cake, and cooked up the lemon curd while the cake cooled. The recipe suggested having toothpicks in the cake to hold it because the lemon curd made it slippery, and they were right. The toothpicks help it for a little while, but they slipped down inside the cake and I had to dig them out. It was kind of a mess.

I tried it again. I scraped off a little more of the curd and pulled the toothpicks out of the cake so it could grab hold of the top layer.

The frosting recipe was awesome. I had to use fresh raspberries, which I had to cook, add sugar, and let cool before I could add it to the vanilla frosting I had made earlier.  It was delicious, but way too much work for the lemon-curd cake, which, by this time, looked like a cake you’d find in a Dr. Seuss movie.

I did my best to pretty-it-up, and put it in a cake holder before putting it in the fridge, until I left for the party.

My friend was nice about it, and it did taste pretty good, but it looked like crap. Which is why I’ll start this first post by telling you that there are two things I learned since then:

Rule #1:  Don’t ever try a new recipe when you have something important
to take it to.

Rule #2: Have a backup in case you forget about Rule #1.

It’s Murphy’s Law. Anything bad that can happen, will. You’ll either burn it, break it, drop it, or end up throwing it away.

A few weeks ago I saw a post of rainbow cupcakes that were adorable!  And the best part was, they were simple.

All you need is:

A cake mix of your choice
Blue and white cans of frosting
Decorating bag or Ziploc
Airheads Extreme Candy Strips  (Wal-Mart or Dollar General has them)

You can always make the frosting, but ready-made comes in handy if you are rainbow candypressed for time.

Prepare the cupcakes and let them cool. Use the blue frosting to frost the cupcakes.

If you don’t have a decorating bag, you can use a Ziploc or other plastic bag, fill it with white frosting and snip the end. Make little clouds on each side of the cupcake.

Cut the rainbow candy into 2-inch strips. Arrange the candy on top to form cupcakesrainbows.

Voila! Rainbow cupcakes.

As you can see, they didn’t turn out half-bad.

A word of advice: The ready-made blue frosting stains, so if you have little ones helping you, use caution.