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Remember those tin lunchboxes everyone had as a kid? They were sturdy little lunch pails that held everything from your sandwich and juice box to your pudding or fruit cup. Sometimes they even had a Fruit-by-the-foot inside, and everything fit together perfectly--a little bit like a well-played game of Tetris. 

The Tin Lunchbox (that's us!) does the same thing: We provide a variety of shared information from featured artists and literary endeavors to recipe sharing that all fits flawlessly into one place. Granted, we aren't working with physical  lunchboxes, but it is fun to imagine all the same.

Day In The Life

Cavalier Conference on Writing and Literature April 21, 2017

Shawna Caro

Yesterday I attended the Third Annual Cavalier Conference on Writing and Literature at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS. This year's theme was Showcasing. There was an undercurrent or sub-theme of collaboration as well, which made for a very enlightening day.  

Coffee and a small, informal breakfast were available before the opening remarks. There were some mini danishes, a raspberry spice cake, a blueberry cake, and fresh fruit in addition to coffee, tea, and water. I met a wonderful teacher from St. Thomas Aquinas (Paula McCarthy) and we had lots to talk about--it felt really good to connect with new people in the writing, English, and teaching community! First we talked about the food at the breakfast, and among other things, how excited we were to be in attendance. Other attendees included high school and college level instructors, authors and professional writers, and graduate students.

After opening remarks, there were two sessions where multiple presenters were contributing their teaching methods, research, and collaborative works with the attendees. I attended a session by Dr. Kevin Rabas (professor and chair of the EMLJ department at Emporia State University AND newly appointed KS Poet Laureate: see the post here) about playwriting and producing student work on college campuses. Having taken his playwriting and screenwriting class as part of my education at Emporia State University, I had the student's perspective under my belt. Seeing the class and the goal of producing student work from the instructional and mentorship standpoints was really wonderful. What I learned in that session may lead to some very exciting endeavors for Tin Lunchbox in the future! 

The second presentation I attended had multiple presenters (Ande Davis of UMKC, Jane Blakeley of UMKC, and Louise Krug of Washburn University) who discussed topics like scholarly publications to be used as teaching tools and classroom models, random acts of kindness and the use of the scientific method in writing assignments, and the value of using archival research for creative writing projects. Everything in this session thrilled me and really struck a chord with me. I found that topics presented and specific projects referenced throughout the day had a strong connection between writing and food--which is what Tin Lunchbox is all about! 

On my way to the conference room where lunch was served, I came upon a table with books for sale. Some were by Thomas Fox Averill, the keynote speaker for the 2017 conference and current instructor at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. But the book that really stood out to me (and that I brought home!) was Andrea Broomfield's Kansas City: A Food Biography (Look for my review in the coming weeks!). Andrea Broomfield teaches food & lit courses at Johnson County Community College as well. I might even take a course or two in upcoming semesters, time allowing! (As an aside: If you're in the KC area and you're considering taking classes for continuing education or to start your post-secondary education, take a look at what JCCC has to offer--their campus and courses are evolving and growing in wonderful ways!)

Lunch was served just before the keynote speaker, Thomas Fox Averill, spoke about a collaborative writing project that he conducted in public schools in rural Kansas. Collaboration among writers is not only an important task, but can result in an experience that will impact the writers, students, and the audience for the rest of their lives. "[Writing] is the least lonely task I know of."

Averill also spoke about food as a collaborative act and how writing about food can lead to discoveries about history, culture, and the publishing process. He specifically referenced his book, Secrets of the Tsil Cafe (out of print), which is based on The Tsil Cafe located in Westport. 

In case you're wondering: lunch consisted of a Southwest chicken salad, water and iced tea, and cheesecake for dessert. The dressing that came with the salad was a chipotle ranch. The chicken was tender and juicy and not too fatty. Toppings on the salad included black beans, diced tomatoes, jalapenos, red bell peppers, shredded cheddar cheese, and crispy tortilla shreds. The cheesecake came with two topping choices: one had cherry topping and one had a chocolate drizzle. Usually one for chocolate myself, I went with the cherry instead. Both the meal and the dessert were delicious and filling, but not overbearing. 

After lunch we moved to the new CoLab on campus in an adjacent building, where we viewed a brief presentation for GIFTs (Great Ideas For Teaching). These were all submitted by conference attendees prior to the conference and were not necessarily tied to the presentations that took place in the morning sessions. After Thomas Fox Averill presented one of his GIFTs to kick off the time in the CoLab, we intermingled in smaller groups to talk about the other collected GIFTs in topics like technology, descriptive writing, research, and classroom activities. 

What a day it had been! So many teaching ideas swirled around in my mind, and even more ideas for Tin Lunchbox's future were forming or being solidified in other ways. Next year will be the 4th annual JCCC Cavalier Conference on Writing and Literature, and it will be held on Friday, April 20, 2018. If you're interested in attending, you can register online on the JCCC website (though registration likely won't be open until next spring). You can bet I'll be attending again next spring. I can't wait to see what the theme is for next year! And who knows--maybe I'll see YOU there, too! 

Kickstarter for Tin Lunchbox Review!

Shawna Caro

It's National Poetry Month and we're on the tail end of a Kickstarter campaign to get our first issue of Tin Lunchbox Review (our literary magazine) into a printed format! 

Our donation page is here. Treat yourself to some poetry (and fiction, and art!) and show some love for the authors who made our first issue possible! 

Holy Hailstorm, Batman!

Shawna Caro

This post originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on May 11, 2016. 


So I've got myself a pretty little garden, where I'd been growing some food from seeds. I have planted four varieties of pumpkins, strawberries, cantaloupe, spinach, mustard greens, mesculum, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, cucumber, eggplant, carrots, three varieties of onions, corn, peas, zucchini, beets, turnips, nasturtiums, roses, marigolds, garlic, and three varieties of squash. 

Yesterday evening I tied up the peas so they would climb, and otherwise weeded and watered the garden. This morning, at about 5 a.m., it started hailing. A lot. 

My daughter woke up first, then the dogs, and then us. The dogs are big scaredy cats and were barking and running in circles. The hail was pounding on the house and window so  hard that we were concerned some of our windows might be damaged. Then I remembered the garden. 

OH. NO. 

We opened the front door to see how much hail there really was and to see the size of it. There was so much hail that the street was white instead of wet, inky black. My potted plants outside my front door were completely decimated. I lost my fuschias, salvia, gerbera daisy, and cilantro. The hail had only been coming down for a couple minutes at this point. In total, the hail lasted for twenty minutes. TWENTY MINUTES OF THUNDERING BALLS OF ICE. 

The hailstones, as viewed from our front door. 

The hailstones, as viewed from our front door. 

Do you know how high hail can bounce? Higher than the roof of a sedan. Oh yes. 

The hail ranged in size from as small as a pea to as large as a silver dollar. We had piles of it in the yard and on the front walk. Some were still around when I left for work at 6:45.

My husband holds one of the larger hailstones.

My husband holds one of the larger hailstones.

In the garden, I lost all of the mustard, spinach, mesculum, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, cucumber, most of the turnips, some of the corn and peas, all of the nasturtiums, the buds on my roses, and had minimal leaf damage to the squash and pumpkins. Many of these will have to be started all over again, and very few of them even have stems left. My garden looks like someone put all my leafy greens in a blender and then poured them all over the ground. 

And my car...whew! I'm filing a claim since most of the panels are damaged--severely! 

Here's to hoping that my replanting goes better than this round. I'll still be able to get an early harvest out of my crops as long as I can get the new seeds in the ground before the end of the month. 

I hope all of you are staying safe and hail-free in the meantime! 

When the Freezer Fails...

Shawna Caro

This post originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on May 4, 2016. 


Last Sunday, my father-in-law had a true Mayday! moment: His fridge/freezer stopped working. In the middle of the night. Oh yeah. 

By the time they noticed, much of the meat was completely thawed out. About 9 a.m. I get a call asking if we still have our upright freezer (yes) and did we have some space in it for his freezer items (yes) and what time he should come over (anytime). 

He brought this giant tote full of stuff into the house, and my husband helped him unload everything. There was one overly-full over-sized Wal-Mart sack full of meat that needed to be cooked. So, we cooked. 

Two giant pork loins were smoked on our grill, cooled, and refrigerated. Monday we shredded and sauced the meat. We had part of it for our dinner but I still had enough to fill two quart size bags to capacity. Then I froze them. 

Two quite sizable filets of halibut were baked in the oven with a lemon-garlic-chili sauce recipe I found online (check back later for that recipe). This was my first experience cooking halibut. We're not big fish cookers/eaters at my house. So this I was able to portion into seven individual meals. I froze five, and left two in the fridge to take to work this week. 

Halibut filets with a lemon-garlic-chile sauce, topped with sliced onions and button mushrooms.

Halibut filets with a lemon-garlic-chile sauce, topped with sliced onions and button mushrooms.

One pound of ground venison was put in the skillet and cooked through with rosemary, oregano, basil, garlic powder, and a bit of thyme in preparation to be made into shepherd's pie later in the week. It too was frozen post-cooking. 

A beef top roast was marinated and placed in the fridge for easy access later. With it we included some strips of bacon and we pre-seasoned the meat as well. The plan is to cook this in the slow-cooker tomorrow while we're away at work. Carrots will go underneath. 

Four boneless pork chops were already in our fridge, thawed, for our dinner on Sunday night. So we cooked those too--in a cast iron skillet on the grill. That's them. They were barbecued with Sweet Baby Ray's original sauce, and my husband added thinly-sliced onions and apples, along with some strips of bacon. This is seriously a dish you don't want to miss out on! 

Pork chops with barbecue sauce, sliced apples and onions, and mixed with bacon strips. The cast iron skillet on the grill really does the trick.

Pork chops with barbecue sauce, sliced apples and onions, and mixed with bacon strips. The cast iron skillet on the grill really does the trick.

Needless to say, we've been eating like kings this week, and I anticipate that we won't need to go grocery shopping for another week or so. Except to get more Sweet Baby Ray's. 

What kitchen adventures have you had this week? Share your thoughts below in the comments! 

Cheerio!

Shawna