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Crisco. . .coconut oil?

Crisco. . .coconut oil?

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

Well, Houston is again the recipient of a lot of rain, courtesy of a tropical storm named Bill. After some terrifying reports from local TV stations, people were panic-buying bottled water, bread, milk and other essential supplies for riding out a storm. Neighbor K stopped at Kroger on the way home and told us what they were out of when she got there.

I wasn’t really worried–we’ve gone through this before–but I did boil some eggs just in case. Now I have 8 hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. . .I’ll use them for something. As a devotee of the blog of Houston’s Chronicle’s science writer Eric “SciGuy” Berger, I knew where to go for honest information. (He also posts on Facebook.) He’s not a meteorologist, but he is a go-to guy for weather info without the hype. We’re fine now, and Bill will be gone soon.

In the “a little good news” department, a new Starbucks is being built on my street, just a couple blocks away. Woo hoo!! If all goes well, it will open June 29th. When I passed it a couple of days ago, they were putting the stucco on the outside. But the rain may have set them back a little. We’ll see. Me and Neighbor K will take the Daft Pug for a walk and have a coffee one day soon after it opens. Maybe they’ll still have the doggie cappuccinos when we do.

You might not believe this, but Crisco, the bastion of church-lady-cooking everywhere, now sells-no kidding–coconut oil. This is not a Facebook rumor/prank, an email forwarded from five other people, and I’m not joking. They really do, and this is the picture that circulated on Facebook a while back:

Crisco's new Organic Coconut oil

Crisco’s new Organic Coconut oil

 

Crisco Coconut Oil. USDA certified organic, and sourced from The Philippines. How do I know this? Simple: I asked. Specifically, I called the company directly and asked about it. Very new, so it’s not yet available everywhere.

Two things I asked about specifically: Is it refined? Is it hydrogenated? Yes, it’s refined so there is no coconut taste. No, it is NOT hydrogenated. Thank heavens for that.

But why now?

I spoke to Don on Crisco’s consumer information line, and he said it was just the next step for Crisco. Since all their other products are vegetable in nature, coconut is something else to offer their customers. Remember–for better or worse, Crisco’s traditional shortening, in cans for scooping or sticks for measuring, is a VEGETABLE shortening, and not like animal-based lard.

Don was kind enough to send me a coupon for a free one, but. . .I can’t find it now. I had it in my purse since FEBRUARY, took it out recently, and now I don’t know what the heck I did with it. HOWEVER–I bought some Crisco Coconut Oil. If I find the coupon before it expires, I’ll go get more.

A few weeks ago, Neighbor K called me and asked, “now, what gluten-free coconut thing are you looking for and can’t find?” When I told her what it was, I got the idea to go back on Crisco’s website and look again with their product finder. EUREKA, I FOUND IT! Where?

Wal-Mart. <insert frowny face here>

Turns out that I had a reason to go into Wal-Mart–I found two undeveloped rolls of 35mm film on my desk recently, from 2007 and 2009. (Don’t ask.) However it happened, I just never got it developed, and now it’s difficult to get 35mm film done. Wal-Mart sends it out to a lab, it takes about a week, and negatives are not returned–you get a CD of digital picture files. (I couldn’t get waited on in Walgreen’s; they’ll stop developing 35mm film July 1.) So after I picked up those pictures, I went over to the grocery section and FOUND IT.

Next to the LouAna, and fifty cents more, it’s pretty much the same coconut oil you get in nearly every jar. It performs well, has no taste, and does exactly what it should. I’ve made a few batches of popcorn with it, and it’s great. I also put it to the test with the exclusive HeatCageKitchen frozen chocolate recipe.

In either soft or melted coconut oil, mix in two tablespoons of cocoa powder with a dinner fork, one at a time. If you like, drop in a little almond extract–not much, it’s pretty potent. Then sweeten it with two tablespoons of SomerSweet or your favorite natural sweetener, one tablespoon at a time with your fork. Once it’s all mixed well, stash it in the freezer (or fridge, if you’re not in a hurry.) When it hardens up, carefully cut it apart with the point of a knife, and have some tasty chocolate chunks.

Crisco Coconut Oil performed perfectly with both the popcorn and the frozen chocolate test. So, here it gets the HeatCageKitchen seal of approval. (Not quite as prestigious as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, but that’s OK.)

Now for the other reason I went to (ahem) Wal-Mart.

In one of the rolls of film were pictures of the two Cranberry, Almond and Cinnamon Tart I made for Thanksgiving in 2007. (The other roll had pictures from the Texas Renfest in 2009 or 2010, and included a couple of shots of the ex-boyfriend Voldemort. Those prints will soon be going through the shredder; I can’t remove them from the CD.) It was unique, interesting, and I knew it would be a hit. So let me tell you about that tasty dessert.

Years ago we used to do a “Buddhist Thanksgiving” at the home of a couple who were from Taiwan. I used to kid the wife that “it’s never too early to start planning Thanksgiving.” I would say this, of course, in July. In addition to roasting two turkeys, I also made something fabulous for dessert, usually from the November issue of Martha Stewart Living. I found the recipe here, but I think it’s incomplete. The Pate Sucree (sweet pie crust) doesn’t include how to make it, but I think you just use the food processor. Subscribers got the lovely tart picture you see at that link on the front cover; I think newsstand issues had a turkey picture.

A rich, delicious tart for Thanksgiving or any fall occasion (like my birthday.)

A rich, delicious tart for Thanksgiving or any fall occasion (like my birthday.)

 

Look at that picture. Wouldn’t YOU want to wow guests with that one? (No, it isn’t gluten-free.) Well, I couldn’t wait to make it for Turkey Day. Here’s what it looked like without a lot of expensive camera equipment and food styling:

 

From the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living

From the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

In order to make it, I  had to order cranberry preserves from New England Cranberry. When I called to order, the man didn’t understand the uptick in orders for that, nor why someone from Texas was ordering three jars of it. I explained it to him, and he said, “Oh, OK.” I suggested he go look for the issue on the newsstand on the way home, and go look up the recipe. Never ordered it again, but I hope he figured it out.

One of them ended up going to work with me the following Monday, because so many desserts were brought in that we all took some home. But it sure was good.

I haven’t made that one since, and the Buddhist Thanksgiving kind of went away, but at least I know I could do it.

Another tasty option was the Pear and Sour Cherry Flat Pie, also made only once, the year before this tart. Make SURE you have plenty of parchment paper, because it’s a bear to run out of it. For this flat pie, you really do need it.

So if you are interested in moving towards coconut oil, you have another option. As I mentioned in my post on the subject last year, coconut oil’s price has steadily increased, likely due to increased demand. But the versatility and health/anti-viral qualities of coconut oil are second to none.

In my recent trip to Wal-Mart, LouAna was $6.49, next to Crisco’s $6.98. In my local HEB, I think it was $5.98 last time. LouAna also has an organic coconut oil, but I haven’t tried it yet; it comes in a smaller container than the quart-sized regular type. Other outlets have their own coconut oil, including HeatCageKitchen favorites Trader Joe’s and Central Market.

And while it’s a little early, you also have a couple more options for your fall desserts Try them now before the time comes, so you’ll know they’re good and what it takes to make them. (Cranberry preserves are available year-round.)

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

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The mGuard User Conference in Houston

The mGuard User Conference in Houston

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

This, I believe, is the longest blog post I’ve ever written. You are forewarned to get your coffee now, before you start, so you can read the whole thing. Naturally, I have a lot to tell you, and there are many pictures. So get your coffee, tea, muffin, or whatever else you like to drink or nibble, and settle in for a lot of info, foodie and not. This is also the first blog post with a lot of technical information in it–I hope it’s understandable even if you aren’t an IT professional.

And away we go!

Remember a couple of years ago I wrote about The Day of Two Desserts?  It’s happened again, but not quite in the same way. And I think it’s more than two. Oh, yeah–fallen WAY off the “healthy eating” wagon again. It was delicious.

Last week I was lucky enough to go to a conference here in Houston that was not only interesting, but diverse in flavors. Believe it or not, it wasn’t food-related, either! The mGuard User Conference, held at the the Marriott West Loop by the Galleria (ironically located next door to the Houston location of my alma mater, Tulane University), was specifically for IT people in industrial cyber-security. Like the last one, I was the lone copywriter in attendance. I passed on the cocktail reception of affiliate Phoenix Contact’s Customer Technology Center the night before; it was a really long drive on Beltway 8 with tolls, and then a 40-mile drive home at night. . .then I would have to get up early the next morning. No. I missed breakfast on the first day, but managed to make it on Thursday. I’ll explain a bit more about that Houston traffic later.

I had a schedule, but I had no idea there were delicious breakfasts AND lunches included in this conference, as well as Seattle’s Best Coffee and snacks all day long!  And yes, I did again forget the words “gluten-free” and just said “thank you.” Oh, and dinner at NASA. Keep reading, I’ll tell you all about it.

The purpose of attending this conference, like the trade show two weeks prior, was to network and market myself to people who are most likely to need a copywriter who understands things about IT. After 8 years in IT supporting the space program, I do understand things like cloud computing, data centers, and I get Big Data. I knew exactly what APT meant, too–“Advanced Persistent Threat,” a really bad one that doesn’t stop; they just keep trying. So I market myself and talk to people who deal with these things every day. In this case, these are people who are on the front lines of cyber-security, and keeping people safe. It’s not just about messing with your Twitter account.

Now, again, it wasn’t about the food, and it wasn’t why I went. (That’s what we call a “benefit” or “bonus.”) Nor was the cool coffee cup and the neat little laser pointer and tiny flashlight. (I don’t have a cat anymore, so I can just laser-point to stuff on my desk.)  I watched two live hacking demonstrations, one that showed how an mGuard product blocked a direct attack. (I also have product information to read more about them, so I can write articles for my copywriting website about these things.) Towards the end, those nice little cards they had on the tables with Marriott logo came in handy for me to write headlines. One man from Austin saw me later and told me he saw me writing feverishly! Well, that’s the truth–I couldn’t take notes fast enough, then the bug for headlines hit me, and I thought my hand was going to fall off.

During the first live hacking demonstration, it took about ten minutes for the bloke to sign in, bypass security and hack his way into something. When you’re talking about a chemical plant, or the steel mill’s blast furnace that was hacked in Germany, you’re dealing with loss of life, damage in the physical plant, trade secrets being lost and exploited and shutdown of operations. In most, if not all cases, cyber-attacks can, and will, cost the company a lot of money.

One speaker pointed out that a DOS (“denial of service”) attack, which floods the target’s site rendering it unusable, can be had online for about $150. No kidding. No, I have no plans to shop for a hacker. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. With more and more of everything moving online onto The Internet of Things, the threat and dangers of people with ill intent is a bigger and bigger deal. (As well as a bigger industry.)

Industrial cyber-security involves keeping attacks from places like chemical plants, which we have here in Pasadena, and in places like Chalmette, La. (My Grandmother lived in nearby Arabi, in St. Bernard Parish.) Anywhere that can suffer massive damage from a network intrusion is vulnerable. With the news about Big Data revolutionizing efficiency of operations at Rolls-Royce’s industrial division, cyber-security is more important than ever. Listen–Rolls-Royce is working on self-sailing ships, much like Google’s (in)famous self-driving car. Remember the movie Speed? Can you imagine one of the self-sailing ships getting hacked and hijacked? Every old disaster film would be coming true in a heartbeat–that’s how fast someone can get into a network, and nobody knows what’s happening until it’s over and they have to do damage assessment and disaster recovery. It’s a really big deal.

Oh, and how does this happen so easily? In so many offices, there are User IDs and passwords on a Post-It note on monitors, because they just HAVE to keep that handy. Handy for someone interested in sabotage too, but for some reason, it doesn’t dawn on these folks to keep it safe. I used to keep that on a Post-It note, too–locked in my desk drawer at all times until needed. But then, I worked in IT, and had mandatory training in things like that. I also paid attention.

Other inroads to critical network infrastructure could be by service people connecting to the customer’s network with their own laptop and taking malware back to their company. Even worse, receiving a “vetted” flash drive from a client and finding out how badly it was infected, because no security updates were done in a long time. Or their current security didn’t stop something. Happens all the time.

It was pointed out very well when I found one of the little cards on the table with this handwritten on it:

What happens when Josh does field service and plugs his computer into the customer’s network?

Well. . .anything can happen, really. Or Josh could go into the network and have a field day–depends on whose side he’s on. Or he could just have a little fun with making the network entertaining. However, I don’t know Josh, so you see why it’s a big deal.

No, there is no 100% fail-safe solution, no “magic pill.” But what works best is a combination of good security hardware and software, due diligence in keeping up with updates and security patches, and staying on top of educating employees on the importance of best practices for security, and making sure they are followed on a daily basis. That’s how you can best keep a network safe in an industrial setting. (Crossing your fingers helps on top of that, too.)

One of mGuard’s many offerings are a private cloud and a VPN (virtual private network.) I actually have a VPN on my small laptop that I travel with, so I also know how that works. Lot safer than being hacked at Starbucks–and that’s true of company laptops, too–and I’ve done that as well.

One point made that there are basically three types of people who can do damage by getting into computer systems: governmental agencies (FBI, CIA, etc.), hackers (i.e., Anonymous) and. . .employees. And who is the most likely individual to do something like this? The one who wears the company’s badge.

LOTS of talk about The Internet of Things. I mentioned that term recently when I wrote about the Internet-connected Crock Pot. I mentioned the Rolls-Royce story to Sid Snitkin from ARC Advisory Group, and asked him if he thought things were becoming techie for the sake of being techie. He agreed–the tech guys want to do more and are pushing the envelope. I told him about the Wemo-enabled Crock Pot that you can remotely control with an app, and asked him the same question: “Do you really want your dinner connected to your Wi-Fi?” Mr. Snitkin hadn’t heard about that Crock-Pot, but was quite amused by it.

On the long tables in the conference rooms were little IKEA bowls with hard candy (I checked the bottom, the tags were still on them) and pitchers of water with small glasses. I helped myself to some ice water and noticed something in the bottom of the glass. I thought there was something that fell out of the pitcher! No, just a design element:

A bubble.

A bubble.

 

Yes, there’s a bubble in the base of the glass. EVERY drinking glass in this hotel (or at least the ones we used.)  Scared the daylights out of me for a minute until I realized what it was. Just a little bubble in the base. Jury’s still out on whether it’s a good element or not.

Now. . .let’s get to the food. Remember when I said I believe you can’t have a bad meal in a Marriott? I still believe that.

While I missed breakfast the first day, I was graciously invited to lunch AND dinner. Both were wonderful. Lunch on the first day was Italian. . .oh, was it ever. We started out with Cesar Salad and an antipasti spread with grilled veg, prosciutto, salami and provolone cheese. Then the hot plates held delicious tortellini with cheese and pesto and roast chicken. Yes, I had a few of the really delicious tortellini, even though it was *not* my birthday. I passed up the bread sticks and butter, but I could smell the wonderful bread-y aroma.

Then I found dessert on the other side. I thought it was like the tiny Tiramisu I had two weeks before at another Marriott hotel, but I couldn’t see that far. Get a look at this:

Cheesecake and small cannoli. They were about the length of your index finger.

Cheesecake and small cannoli. They were about the length of your index finger.

 

A closer look at the delicious cannolli:

Delicious, not too sweet, with pistachios and chocolate. There is nothing wrong here.

Delicious, not too sweet, with pistachios and chocolate. There is nothing wrong here.

Never mind how many cannolis I might have accidentally eaten. Obviously, any dieting became vaporware at that point. (For you non-techie folks, that means it went away in light of such deliciousness. POOF! Gone.) I wish I could have brought home a few for my Neighbor R, but I didn’t have a way to get them home without smashing them in my business bag. Long time ago, I had one of those hard-sided briefcases for college, but. . .it’s gone, and they don’t make them like that anymore.

Now, deliciousness didn’t end there. I noticed that there was a “dinner at NASA,” but had no idea what I was in for. You can read more about it here, but we were in for a real treat. Retired astronaut Dr. Storey Musgrave was our keynote speaker at Space Center Houston, and he had a lot to say. He’s a really nice man, too–he took pictures with anyone who asked, and before the Phoenix Contact official photographer took my picture, I begged him for a selfie:

Me and the wonderful Dr. Musgrave.

Me and the wonderful Dr. Musgrave.

I made it smaller so it’s not badly pixelated (and because I look bad enough.) Thank heavens I bought a 3 Way Poncho at the holidays; unfortunately, I shrunk the black one this weekend!

Dinner was a bit simpler but no less delicious at NASA. Servers walked around with appetizers, which included. . .BACON WRAPPED SHRIMP! I don’t remember what else they had–I was only interested in the shrimp, but difficult as resistance was, I didn’t eat THAT many.  For dinner, we were served some tasty fish, stewed beef, green beans, and even French fries! (I passed on the bread, which many folks used to make sandwiches with the beef.) When those of us who drove arrived, dessert was already out, and I was able to talk to one of the servers beforehand. Take a look at this beautiful tart:

The pie of mystery.

The tart of mystery.

I wasn’t sure what kind it was; the lighting in Space Center Houston is not conducive to a culinary event, since its focus is on space, science and everything related to it. I asked one of the very nice servers what it was; they were working their paws off, so the man I talked to was caught short. He couldn’t remember! I asked, “is it blueberry, by chance?” YES–it was. Mystery solved. So after dinner, and before Dr. Musgrave’s wonderful presentation, this is how that lovely tart was served:

Blast off to heaven, y'all.

Blast off to heaven, y’all.

You weren’t expecting freeze-dried anything, were you? Freeze-dried “astronaut food” is actually for sale at the gift shop during business hours, but no, this was the real thing. Like I said, any thoughts of “diet” and “clean eating” became vaporware at that point. Yes, it was worth it–and like a holiday, not a regular thing for me. (At this writing I’m back on the clean eating again.)

You may have heard the story about the Galileo shuttle craft from the original Star Trek series that was passed around and fell into disrepair. It was bought and restored by fans, and is now parked at Space Center Houston:

The Galileo shuttlecraft, used to go from the Enterprise to other ships or planets via the cargo bay (I think.)

The Galileo shuttlecraft, used to go from the Enterprise to other ships or planets via the cargo bay (I think.)

You can’t actually go IN the Galileo; it’s not really a space ship. The article can tell you more; it’s just an empty prop. The scenes that were aboard the Galileo were actually shot on a Desilu sound stage. Behind the Galileo (out of sight) is a replica of the console that you saw on the show. And of course, there’s a board nearby with the history of it, too. Neat, huh?

You’ll be happy to know that I did NOT indulge in the open bar, even though I was just a few miles from home. Two reasons: one, I don’t drink and drive, and two, it’s not nice to run the risk of getting tipsy in front of people you might be doing business with. Just not good business practice. Now, there was an executive coach to and from the hotel, but I didn’t want to go back to town then drive home again. There were also adult beverages on the bus, but no facilities. I didn’t hear about anyone having problems, so I guess everything went fine.

The folks on the bus also had a first-hand look at what us locals were talking about when we said “Houston traffic.” The event organizers were told by several local attendees to LEAVE EARLY, so they adjusted the schedule in order to do that. I myself left the hotel at 4 in order to get home and change. I arrived home at 5:30, and had just enough time to change, freshen up, change my jewelry and drive to NASA. Those of us who did that arrived before the buses.

The buses were able to take the HOV (“high-occupancy vehicle”) lanes, which means 2 or more passengers. (In New Orleans, it’s 7.)  Since I was taking METRO park-and-ride buses in the 9 months I worked downtown, I saw all the traffic while we passed it; at least, until the bus stopped for traffic in the HOV lanes. The passengers were shocked to see the amount of traffic; most came from smaller places, with a few from nearby Baton Rouge, LA. We who live here know what’s out there, and they found out we weren’t kidding. Houston was the 4th largest city in the US when I moved here in 1998; now it’s 3rd, but only by a fine margin. In the last six or seven years, Houston traffic has quadrupled with so many people migrating here, and there’s no sign of that slowing down. When companies like U-Haul show statistics that their trucks keep going to Texas, you know what’s going on.

It’s the Great State of Texas for a reason. But really–we’re full, OK? Austin is bursting at the seams with the Californians who tend to chose it over Dallas or Houston, and even the Austinites aren’t happy about that. So please, we can’t handle any more mass inbound migration.

The next day, Thursday, I managed to make it for breakfast. I left home at 6:30, and spent 30 minutes on a stretch of road near home that took me about 2 miles. Amazingly, though, I handed the key to a valet right at 8:00 am, and was able to eat some delicious eggs, sausage, bacon, and coffee until it was time to go to the seminars.

Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention was that not only was there a retail Starbucks on the first floor lobby, we were actually served Seattle’s Best Coffee, which is smoother than the sharper-edged Starbucks coffee. (I’m talking about brewed coffee, not the fancier Frappuccino stuff.)  AND–get this–they had flavored syrups available! Upstairs they had sugar-free hazelnut! ! It was like they knew I was coming, and all that decaf was just for me! So awesome!

Another wonderful thing we were treated to (at least, in the ladies’ room) was the opportunity to try this from Sun Coast Salts:

The one-minute hand massage. Smells as good as it looks.

The one-minute hand massage. Smells as good as it looks.

 

Yes, I was indeed tempted to bring a jar the next day and take it home–but I didn’t. I’ll get some soon. This one is called Ocean Breeze, and was also available in the Marriott gift shop (but of course, I forgot to stop there on the way out.)  I couldn’t find the company’s location on the website, other than to say they charge sales tax for purchases made in Texas. Someone told me they were in Galveston, which would make sense. It smells wonderful, and really does exfoliate your hands when you massage it for a minute or so. Rinse really well, especially if you are wearing rings.

If you need a nice gift for someone soon and are out of ideas, I just gave you one. You’re welcome.

I also lucked out and walked right up to the hotel’s general manager, a nice man named Reed Randolph. I told him how tasty lunch was on Wednesday, and he said that Thursday’s was going to be even better. It was.

Mr. Randolph also sent me some additional pictures of their food styling at the Marriott West Loop for your enjoyment.

image005

photo

photo(2)

 

photo(1)

You’re welcome.

Before I talk about Thursday’s lunch, let me drop in a little cultural history. Texas has a long history of Hispanic cultural influences, from both the American side (like Spaniards that found their way here) and the Mexican side. (Yes, I know, California, Arizona and New Mexico, too, but this is about Texas.)  One of those is Mexican food, which has morphed into what’s called “Tex-Mex.” That is, Mexican food with Texas influences, leading to all kinds of tasty things. My Dad will tell you that Mexican food all tastes the same, and doesn’t understand why I, born and raised in New Orleans, developed a taste for it when I got older. One manager I used to work with at Boeing would say that “Mexican food is just the same five ingredients arranged differently.” That’s funny, but I don’t really agree. But when it comes to taste, everything is relative–one person’s favorite thing to eat is another person’s “won’t-touch-it-with-a-ten-foot-pole.” Me and the GER both love cilantro, but there are some people for whom cilantro tastes like dish soap, including Ina Garten, The Barefood Contessa. No kidding.

Hispanic folks have been migrating to Texas for, well, quite a long time, and it’s not uncommon to find Spanish-speaking folks in places like Chinese buffets and even the odd Japanese steak house, either serving or working in the kitchen. You can bet that they do NOT speak Japanese, even if they speak perfect English. Many of the servers at the Marriott were nice (short) Hispanic ladies with lovely accents, and were very helpful. Why do I bring this up? Lunch on Thursday.

Thursday they served us. . .Mexican food. Oh, YES!!! Now, going out for Mexican food in Houston is like going out for red beans & rice or a shrimp/oyster po-boy in New Orleans. But mGuard is a company based in Germany, and I’d guess that at least 50% of the attendees were from out of town. (There were many German accents in that conference, too–so how often can you get a burrito in Berlin?)  I had breakfast with two men from Canada, and one was born in Africa; they worked for the same company. (I told one of them about Nite Guard, since he and his wife are battling raccoons, and are forbidden by Canadian law to defend themselves against the invasive critters.) Another nice man was born in Argentina. You get the idea–many folks don’t have the opportunity to have really good Mexican food like we do here, on nearly every street. So this was a treat for some faraway guests. I hope they enjoyed it.

Tamales are a traditional Mexican thing, and, I’m told, a lot of trouble, so most folks don’t make them all the time, and save them for Christmas. Having eaten a good sampling of tamales in my life, I have yet to have a bad one. So imagine my surprise when, along with the Ancho salad dressing with the surprise heat, I find TAMALES. Oh, yes. . .I had two, they were small. There was also fajita fixings, but I skipped the tortillas and just had the fillings.

One taste, and you know there were some Mexican abuelas (grandmothers) working in the kitchen. Nobody makes tamales like a Mexican grandma!

Then I saw it–dessert.

IMG_2102[1]

Isn’t it beautiful?

Say it with me: Flaaaaaan. . . .

Yes, it was rich, creamy and just the perfect amount of sweet with whipped cream on top. If you’ve never had a real flan, consider finding a recipe and making one. Fortunately, I missed the churros that were also there, otherwise I’d need help getting down the stairs. (No elevator up there, just some steep stairs.)  Last time I had churros was at the Marriott in Delray Beach, Fl, at Bootcamp. They served it with melted Nutella. . .I’m so glad I missed them this time, or I would have slept through the next session on Securing The Internet of Things.

After all the sessions and the networking coffee breaks, we had a short but interesting Q&A session, and then it was over. I brought home two of these lovely coffee cups, with permission, since there were a number of them left over, and gave one to Neighbor R:

For use while working on your Virtual Private Network.

Intended only for use with Virtual Private Coffee Pot.

Unlike last time, I did pay for parking, but it was $20 for both days, and is a business expense, since I went to do some marketing. The valets were also very nice.

You know, nobody says on their deathbed, “I’m so glad I passed on that cannoli.” Sure, if I were allergic I would have skipped a number of things. But since I don’t. . .I had some. Despite my luck to attend two conferences in a month’s time, I do not have these kinds of opportunities very often.

In the afternoon there were some hubcap-sized cookies along with fruit and granola bars. I took two cookies with me intending to bring them to Neighbor R on Thursday evening. However, when it was over, I went to Trader Joe’s in town for a few things, and was in traffic long enough to where I was chewing my nails. . .so the giant chocolate chip and oatmeal-raisin cookies kept me from starvation on the I-610 South loop to I-45 South. But I got Neighbor R three bottles of her favorite Pinot Grigio wine from Trader Joe’s, and she forgave me for eating the cookies. (Yes, they were delicious, too.)

Many thanks to mGuard, Phoenix Contact and Innominate for such a great, informative conference and graciously allowing me to attend and network. (And eat!)

Many thanks to Reed Randolph and his wonderful staff at the Marriott West Loop for making the conference a success with such tasty food and personalized service.

Many thanks to Space Center Houston and Dr. Story Musgrave for a memorable event–and the selfie!

And many thanks to the awesome Joshua Boswell, whose training is slowly giving me the confidence to go out and do things like this without feeling really stupid.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go exercise until I drop. Not going to get anywhere if I don’t. If it rains, the bike will stay indoors and I’ll get back on the Nordic Track.

I’ve got a few posts in the draft folder that I hope to finish for you soon. Meantime, have some good food, and enjoy it.

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

Clean Slate

Clean Slate

Happy Monday, Dear Readers!

Again, my apologies for being late writing. I’ve been busy on the copywriting side. Nothing big to report yet, but I’m getting there.

Two weeks ago I went to a conference for audio-visual people sponsored by Whitlock. I went to the JW Marriott in the Galleria, and had a great time talking to people, handing out my business cards, and. . .eating. No kidding. When I walked in, I was greeted by decaf Starbucks coffee; I didn’t see the bagels, but that’s OK. In addition to winning a $5 gift card from Starbucks, I was also gifted a few other times, including an Italian lunch buffet at the Marriott! Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy talking to people. Like the Marriott in Delray Beach, Florida, everything was delicious (and I forgot about “gluten free” that day.)  I will tell you that the Tiramisu in shot glasses was quite the tasty treat. . .both of them. This week is another conference that’s three days long. Don’t know if I can hold up for three days of it, but we’ll see.

Never fear, I will NOT be world’s next size 22 “supermodel.” Meet the new object of my affection:

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Now, admittedly, it’s not actually new–it’s a 22-year-old Huffy that was newly refurbished. I took it to Bay Area Cycling about a month ago and asked for new tires, brake pads, and a “tune-up.” Runs like a top, and I’ve been riding it nearly every evening, except when we were under a typhoon warning. Walking hurt like the dickens, and I get a little stiffness from riding 10 or more miles a day, but not the kind I got walking. I just had to quit, and I hated doing that. But I’m absolutely loving the bike–I forgot how enjoyable a bike ride is.

We got some heavy rain, but 2 weeks before the rain that made the national news. We’re still dealing with the aftermath of flooding. . .but nearly every evening, I’ve hopped up on my ride and gone for 10 to 14 mile rides.

Neighbor K does the competitive kind of riding, whereas I just enjoy the ride and the exercise. (Translation: her sport-grade bike cost a lot more than mine, even with the tune up.)  Last weekend, she told me about an app for my phone called Road ID, and had me put it on my phone. Neat little item, but the biggest reason is safety. We’re connected on this app, so that when I go out riding, I activate it, K gets a text and she can see exactly where I am and where I’m going. If I stop for more than five minutes, she gets an alert and my phone screams at me. If that happens, she’ll text or call.

Sunday’s Wal-Mart excursion found a perfect little bike bag that sits on the middle bar and has a clear top that holds the phone, so I can see how far I’ve gone, how much time has elapsed, and the “off” button.

Neighbor R, my eighty-something neighbor on the other side, was also glad to hear about us getting the app and connecting on it.

So far, we haven’t had anything bad happen, but if one of us is out and needs help, the other can find and get help if needed. It also gives you the option to create an emergency number lock screen picture so that if you can’t get to your phone, someone else can call for you–like a paramedic.

Granted, we hope it never happens, but it’s there if needed. Unlike our esteemed 71-yo Secretary of State, we will probably not have the benefit of having a doctor flown in from somewhere else. I’ll probably have to set my own broken leg!

Well, anyway. . . .

The garden is just happening with all the rain we’ve had, including tomatoes:

The Cherokee Purple tomato--I can't wait!

The Cherokee Purple tomato–I can’t wait!

Sweet Basil and mint:

Pesto coming soon!

Pesto coming soon!

And Anaheim chili peppers, AKA “Hatch chiles:”

There are 12 peppers in various stages of development on this plant.

There are 12 peppers in various stages of development on this plant.

I’ve never had so many grow before, so I guess I’ll be finding a few more uses for them.

I have harvested a few tomatoes:

 

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That’s the Chocolate Cherry tomato, which I just ate today. Yes, it was delicious, a very rich tomato, but it did not taste like chocolate. It’s a slow grower, but there are more coming. The Sungold plant, however, is a prolific producer, and the Tiny Tom is producing too.

The reds are on the right.

The reds are on the right.

 

I’m still working on getting lettuce to grow–Neighbor K has given me a couple of lettuce ends to plant, and the one she gave me about a month ago is growing great:

That big plant at the top is celery.

That big plant at the top is celery.

 

I bought two more, and K gave me another stub, with one more to come:

They're growing!

They’re growing!

 

However, I have had problems with the inconsiderate animals who treat my little urban garden is their personal salad bar. But I fixed them. I bought a Nite Guard, and have it flashing outside at night. Designed for farms and ranches, it flashes a little red light that scares the bejeezus out of possums. Yes, it’s possums–because cats don’t dig up lettuce. Our little condo complex is apparently a possum sanctuary and breeding ground, because they get as big as cats. Bigger, in fact. Possums aren’t vicious unless attacked, and don’t carry rabies, but they’ll stand their ground and get into anything. EWWW.

And the two remaining Meyer Lemons are doing well, as are the two key limes on the plant behind the lemons.

The survivors

The survivors

No idea why, I just harvest them when they’re ready.

So, Saturday I headed to LK’s house for our district Buddhist chanting session we have, and after another attendant left, we got to talking about all kinds of things, but usually food. While not a food blogger, LK is a definite foodie, and worked for Williams-Sonoma until January when they closed the store in Baybrook Mall. LK has some nicer stuff than I have, like a Vita-Mix, since she had that lovely employee discount. But I’m not jealous. . .not REALLY. . . .

In all seriousness, we really do have many of the same cookbooks, particularly Martha Stewart and the Everyday Food books, although LK leans toward the vegetarian side and eat meat occasionally. We talk a lot about foodie things, cause we love it. We compare notes, and when one of us is seeking, the other brings. Let me tell you what I mean by that.

Now, after I got the bike tuned up, I did something awful: I hopped on my bathroom scale. Oh, boy–but I knew it wasn’t going to be good. Well. . .it hurts, so I’ve got to start working that number down. Otherwise, I’ll be walking with a cane or a frame until it’s time for knee replacements! No thanks. I went back to LoseIt.com and downloaded the app to my tablet. (You can also add it to your smartphone.) I added in my (ugh) weight as a baseline and have been recording everything, including the bike rides. Nothing fantastic to report yet, but, as always, I’m working on it. If all goes well, I could be wearing a bikini by October.

Laugh if you want, but October in Texas, it’s not unlikely–the real chill generally comes about November. We’re good with it.

I also mentioned my love for the bike to LK. Made me feel good when she said, “that was money well spent.” Well, it was.

So Saturday I tell LK about all this, and she mentions the book Clean Slate. HUH? I forgot about this one–from the editors of Martha Stewart Living. Published in mid-December, it’s a book for detoxing and rejuvenation and. . .well, clean food. That is not to say gluten free, although many recipes are; but there are many with whole wheat, too.

I looked through it a couple of times when it came out, but when I saw two or three recipes with tofu, I put it back. Then LK starts showing me a recipe that is wonderful for after the bike rides: Bell Pepper, Yogurt and Harissa Soup on page 164. It’s COLD, y’all! I needed tissue anyway, so the Target trip turned into a grocery trip. After the Scott tissue, I picked up the book and thumbed through it while I shopped.

Later in the day, Neighbor K came over to show me the app to put on my phone. I showed her the book, then she saw all the smoothie drinks. Now K is interested in this book, too.

The soup was really simple: three bell peppers, chopped, 2 cups of yogurt (I used Greek, I like it better) and a spice called Harissa. LK had some, she found it in town. Well. . .I couldn’t find it locally, but there’s a recipe. Guess what? I didn’t have all the ingredients to make it–heck with it, I grabbed something called Garam Masala, which is used in Indian cooking, and tossed that in. Maybe it doesn’t taste the way the recipe intended, but it sure is GOOD. I’ll get the Harissa (or ingredients) one day soon and whip some up.

Next thing I want to try is the Pureed Cauliflower Soup on page 152. Three ingredients. . .cook, blitz with a hand-held blender, and serve hot. I can’t wait.

In the smoothie department, there are lots of things to drink that are rehydrating, refreshing, detoxing, all that. (A couple have tofu and beets–yuck!) When I got home, the first one I made was from the desserts chapter, the Almond-Cinnamon Frappe on page 312. Toss into a blender 2 tablespoons of almond butter (there’s a recipe, but I bought Justin’s), 1 cup of almond milk (again, preferably homemade, but I have Almond Breeze on hand), 1 tablespoon honey (from Texas, of course) and a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon. I poured it over ice, then called LK to tell her what I was drinking. YUM. Yes, the Frappuccinos from Starbucks are delicious. In addition to being very expensive, they’re also very high in sugar and other things. . .while this frappe is 327 calories, it fewer, healthier ingredients.

Since Neighbor R has gifted me with Starbucks gift cards recently, I was going to go try one of the Mini-Frappuccinos last week. Then I saw not only the price but the calorie count, and said “decaf, please.”

When I record these things in LoseIt, it’s all there. I can create a new recipe, add the ingredients all in, and it tells me how many calories per serving; this is helpful when the recipe makes more than one serving. I’ll be having that more often, but maybe not as much as iced coffee. Sometimes the calorie counts are a bit off, but that’s OK. LoseIt doesn’t tell you what to eat or not, it’s a calorie and exercise counter. K has a similar one, but I’ve used this one off and on for a couple of years–first on my home laptop, now on mobile devices.

The next drink I tried was the Grapefruit, Carrot and Ginger drink. You need a juicer for it, which I don’t have, so the blender had to suffice. Well. . .it was chunky. And a bit weird, especially with the potent ginger in it. You know what I always say. . .two packets of Sweet & Low will kill the taste of anything! That one is on page 111; if you really, really like carrots and have a juicer, go for it.

This morning, I whipped up the Strawberry, Grapefruit and Ginger smoothie; that makes three servings, so the other two are in the fridge. I forgot to add the water, so when I drink tomorrow’s, I’ll add a third cup and whiz it in the little blender. It’s good, I like it, but the ginger is a bit overpowering, so I’ll cut back on it next time. (No Sweet & Low needed here, though.)

This afternoon I also whipped up a Blueberry Yogurt smoothie, (page 114) which included a little orange juice, and unsweetened almond milk. Not bad! Guess I need to get more blueberries; the ones I used today were some from the last time the GER went berry-picking and gave me some. I made some ice cream last summer with some of them.

I’m particularly interested in the grapefruit recipes since I have so many of them after buying them for the Butsudan and forgetting to eat them. Turns out I can make some nice juicy drinks with them, and they’re detoxifying, too. (Not sure about that carrot drink, but if you like it, go for it.) There is also one on page 112 called Coconut Cherry Smoothie, with 2 cups frozen pitted cherries (my favorite!!!), 1 cup coconut water and a tablespoon of lime juice. That serves two, but you can make one at a time, too.

I’ve never bought or tasted coconut water. Ever. So if I do indulge, it’ll be a first.

I have looked through the recipes and found a number that I want to try soon, just because they look tasty. I hope to cook my way through most of this book, sans the ones with tofu, edamame and any other form of soy I find. Coconut oil is something that plays a part in this book, so that made me happy, too.

I’m glad I finally bought this book and got into it. I wish I’d bought it when it was published, but I have friends like LK and K who tell me about such things. It’s good to have friends like that, you know? (And make sure that you can call those same friends at 4:00 am to bail you out of jail. . .before you have to.)

So I’m a little late with it, but if you’re looking for some healthier fare and prefer the clean eating, Clean Slate is a good place to start. If you aren’t familiar with what’s called “clean eating,” take some time to read the first section of the book, the introduction and all the “golden rules” before jumping into the delicious recipes. Staying hydrated is one rule, and this summer I’ll have lots of healthy drinks to chose from. (That’s not to say I’m giving up the occasional Mojito, however–but notice I said “occasional.”)  Most of the recipes don’t require a large number of ingredients, and most are easy to locate (except that Harissa.)

Oh, LK also says we have a new Sprouts store in town. . .I’ll check that out when I can.

Meantime, be healthy and happy, and have some healthy, delicious food, whatever you like the best.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

The Microegg

The Microegg

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

Well, I’ve been busy, as you might imagine, and I think I’m *finally* through with an important piece of marketing for my copywriting services. I’m going to email the instructor and get an opinion tonight or tomorrow.

Tomatoes are starting to show up in the HeatCageKitchen garden!

My first organic yellow tomato. Woo hoo!

My first organic yellow tomato. Woo hoo!

I’ve picked two more, and will probably get a couple more yellows tomorrow and possibly my first red. The Chocolate Cherry plant has some green ones, but no ripe ones yet. (That could be a whole blog post by itself.) The GER tells me to get my zucchini recipes ready, and I put my hands on three just this morning. He’s got a couple of whoppers growing in his garden, and if there are enough, I’ll be taking them off his hands. Just hope I can return the favor with. . .something.

And after an inconsiderate animal (probably a possum) dug up not one, but two of my Romaine lettuce re-growths, I asked Neighbor K for the stub off her lettuce when she was coming back from Kroger one evening. She did, and it’s growing nicely. I’ll get more lettuce soon, and have asked K for any subsequent lettuce stubs. They grow fast, and the celery is growing nicely too. More on the garden soon.

A couple of weeks ago I went back to Woodlands Wellness & Cosmetic Center for my six-month follow-up and a couple of blood tests. I got to see the wonderful Dr. Sakina Davis and told her about the things I’ve been doing to try to sleep. . .I think I’ve got it down. Maybe I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post. But when I head to The Woodlands, there are two stops I just have to make: Trader Joe’s and Frost Bake Shoppe.

It was afternoon, and I got THE last gluten-free cupcake in the shop. Boy was I glad, too.

Gluten-free Chocolate cupcake with Vanilla icing.

Gluten-free Chocolate cupcake with Vanilla icing.

 

Perfection. And, as always, tastes even better than it looks, just like a gourmet cupcake should.

Yum. . .come to Mama. . . .

Yum. . .come to Mama. . . .

 

I didn’t bring back a bunch this time, because, quite frankly, it’s too hot right now (and that would have been a bit expensive this time around.) Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to go back and I’ll remember to bring an ice chest to bring them back. And I don’t think I’ll be going back until the fall, so my insulin levels are safe.

I noticed this sign was new:

The new "warning" that comes with the Frost cupcakes.

The new “warning” that comes with the Frost cupcakes.

 

Oh, yeah.

Now that it’s warming up, you might be thinking about iced coffee. If you are out and about and in the vicinity of a Dunkin’ Donuts, might I suggest you try their iced coffee. Last weekend, I visited one of my writer friends, and we stopped off there after lunch. Both of us really enjoyed the iced variety, and I’ll tell you more with the restaurant review, in an upcoming blog post.

But I have to share this quick product review. I just got this product a little while ago. I was on Casabella’s website the other day, ordering replacement brushes for my 12-yo carpet sweeper; the GER insisted I get one while I was living in his beastly house because of all the thread and sewing debris on the carpet. Well, it’s about time for a new brush. And then I found something else.

Dear Readers, do you like eggs but don’t like messing around to cook them? Do you believe you “can’t cook,” but excel at microwave dinners? Do you like egg sandwiches–with cheese? Well, I have a tool for you. Casabella’s Microegg is cute, neat, and can microwave one or two eggs for you quickly. Why is this better?

Because–it’s SQUARE. And by cooking the egg square, it will fit better on a sandwich. Are you seeing the logic?

My package from Casabella arrived today, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I was getting hungry, because I put off lunch to wait for the package. (I’m one of those people who uses FedEx, UPS and the Post Office’s tracking features to find out where my packages are and when I can expect them to show up. This helped find a lost package I’d sent to two friends in Oakland, CA earlier this year.)

I ripped open the box and tossed the replacement brushes aside. (They even included a $5 coupon for my *next* order.)  THIS is what I wanted to try:

The Microegg.

The Microegg.

 

Isn’t it cute? After I took it out of the package, read the simple instructions and washed it, I put it to work. Because it was past lunch! This is the inside:

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And you can sit the yolk right in the middle if you want to. You can also scramble the eggs, if you like. (Maybe next time.)

Two eggs, ready to roll.

Two eggs, ready to roll.

Since I was eating lunch and trying it out, I cracked in two eggs. There is actually a molded “latch” that holds the top onto the bottom, via that little tab. If you’ve ever tried cooking eggs in a microwave before, you’ll know they explode. This contains the explosion and cooks your eggs without the mess. (Mostly.)

Now, the instructions say to add one egg and cook in the microwave for 40 to 60 seconds, but it can also handle two. I guess it all depends on your microwave. Mine is a 700-watt, plus I added two eggs, not one, and one minute gave me this:

Almost there!

Almost there!

So, back into the microwave for 1 minute it went:

Cooked!

Cooked!

Well, OK, over-cooked a bit, but this was operator error–NOT the fault of the tool. Although Casabella has an easy return process, I will NOT be returning this baby. Ever. I’ll just cook the eggs for a shorter period of time, that’s all.

They suggest a slice of cheese if you like, put on top the egg before you cook it. Then you’ve got your egg and cheese ready for your toasted, buttered bread. But of course, I was in such a hurry that I plum forgot. So I got some shredded Colby Jack cheese out of the freezer and topped it when it was cooked:

Cheese and egg. . .yum.

Cheese and egg. . .yum.

For a quick breakfast, lunch, dinner, or “I just got home and I’m starving” meal, this is a pretty good thing to have around. It just couldn’t be simpler, you know? Add some iced coffee and you’re good to go.

Oh, yeah. Anytime.

Oh, yeah. Anytime.

 

See that little bottle to the left of my glass of iced coffee? Um. . .when I made my last batch of iced coffee, I might have accidentally put it into the 19-year-old pitcher I got as a wedding present. . .and then I heard a loud CRACK, and saw coffee seeping onto the stove. And I had a mess to clean and a pitcher to toss out.

I went to Target later and bought that one and a bigger one. So the lesson there is to put the hot coffee into a BIG mixing bowl and let it COOL before putting it into a refrigerator vessel. And it helps that both Anchor Hocking pitchers have “NO HOT LIQUIDS” etched on the bottom. At least they have lids.

Now, if you’re thinking about bacon too, what next? Well, if you have a toaster oven, you could put some bacon on a rack in a baking sheet and bake it at 400F until it’s crisp. (Drain on paper towels, of course.) You could try one of those microwave bacon cookers; I don’t have one anymore. Or you could use an antique method of cooking just a little bacon, or even sausage links or a patty:

The Suzy Homemaker Super Grill

The Suzy Homemaker Super Grill

 

This one is currently listed on eBay for $149. No, I am not bidding on it. It’s not even on my watch list. There are other listings for a lot less, but this one apparently has never been used, or just used once for the seller to ask that much for it.

A few months ago, I did purchase a Suzy Homemaker Super Grill, with the griddle and drip pan, but it was MUCH less expensive! No box, and I copied the instructions from another listing to print. I cleaned it–very carefully–and did indeed cook a few pieces of bacon on it. I unplugged it, let it cool, cleaned it again very carefully and packed it back in the box. It works with a little heating element that heats up the little pan. Takes a while, too–but that little space on the left allows you to warm buns while the burger or hot dog is cooking. Not bad for a 50-year-old toy appliance.

When I get to my country house, I’ll have the entire collection on display. And, I will use them occasionally, too.

Casabella’s website has lots of neat little kitchen things like The Microegg, as well as high-quality cleaning products like the sweeper I mentioned (and the GER insisted I buy!)  Bed, Bath and Beyond has a selection of Casabella’s cleaning and storage products, but almost none of their kitchen stuff. What a shame.

So, Dear Readers, you have a little weekend tip (if you’re reading this on Friday.) This is especially useful if you live alone, or with one other person–especially if the other person doesn’t eat eggs. Another tool to pack up in a gift box for the graduate going off to college, too.

Make it a good weekend, and Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

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Summer simmer: The Crock Pot

Summer simmer: The Crock Pot

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m back for a bit. The copywriting training went well, and I’ve been quite busy working on my marketing materials–and getting a little brain freeze occasionally. No, Blue Bell ice cream is completely unavailable, and I don’t want any other kind. Soon the “great ice cream listeria hysteria” will be over and Blue Bell will be in stores again. No, it’s been the writing and constructing of things I’ve needed for a long time. I have a better understanding of it, but it’s a bit slow going. There will be an email to the coach/instructor soon, if for no other reason than clarification of a few things.

One idea borrowed from my copywriting website is a page for my writing samples. I realized one night that I could start a recipe section on this website, and I have. At the top of the page, you’ll see a link to recipes, (you can click on the link too)  where my favorites old and new will be available as PDF files. I even created a logo that I think I’m going to use on the recipes and maybe elsewhere on the site. I’m not a designer, so that’s a “C priority” right now. But there are currently four recipes there, one from this post, and more will be added as I can.

While the rest of the country says “spring,” the 80-degree days are here, so we’re pretty much back into running our air conditioners 24/7 except for the recent spate of cool fronts that have come through. I’ve been wearing shorts for some time now, and even with the breezes we get, it’s still warm. Neighbor K’s adorable Daft Pug isn’t interested in the long walks anymore, but he’s good about. . .well, going outside for a sunshine break.

The HeatCageKitchen garden is roaring along–I’m getting tomatoes! I now have only three Meyer lemons growing, after one dropped off during the rainstorm this morning. . Mint, pesto, onions, parsley, cilantro–they’re all getting bigger, and so is the Anaheim chili pepper plant. Oh, and I’ve re-done the ‘re-grow your lettuce” experiment; it’s working this time, but I should plant one or two more lettuce cuttings. More on the garden soon.

Neighbor J upstairs has gotten into the habit of giving me the Sunday paper when he’s done with it, mostly for the coupons. He keeps the sports section, so naturally, I’m not complaining. He’s also the neighbor who has generously given me some venison and some raw honey on occasion. I need to bake him some muffins or a cake soon, as well as a couple that live in a different building. They generously planted some free landscape things in front of our little enclave; someone else dug up the free plants. Neighbor K and I keep saying we’d get around to it, but this sudden gift happened on Good Friday.

Remember: gifts do not always come wrapped up at Christmas. Ask anyone who’s received something handmade from me, like The E Man and friend of the blog KJ, both in New Orleans, who each received a package of handmade items recently; KJ didn’t know it was coming.

Speaking of The E Man, I recently helped him find Trader Joe’s in Baton Rouge. He happened to call me a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that he was in Baton Rouge, and I said, “Are you going to Trader Joe’s?” No, but he wanted to, so I employed a strategy I’ve used before: faith, hope, and Google Maps. He took a casual ride up Perkins road, saw lots of newly constructed housing and was amazed. It only took about 15 minutes or so, and he had to take another call. When I called back he was in the store and found the coffee samples. I may have created a monster.

Now, speaking of warmer weather, if you’re one of those people who has a taste for iced coffee, take heart. Nick Usborne at Coffee Detective has you covered. Nick just posted a tutorial on making iced coffee at home–and it couldn’t be simpler! I’ve been making it one cup at a time, and when I put almond milk in it, well, the milk curdles. No more. I first started drinking iced coffee when it was just hot in the Boeing building, and I poured my fresh coffee in a glass of ice and have loved it ever since. Check out Nick’s tutorial and start making your own. I did, using some decaf Community coffee last night.

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I just used the big French Press. Twice. Made it a little stronger than I should have; but since this was the first time, I’ll be able to do better next time.

If you have the room, and I don’t, you can also make coffee as you normally would and make coffee ice cubes so your drink isn’t diluted. Maybe in the country house.

Anyway, into the pitcher it goes for whenever I want some.

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If you go to a coffee shop, you will pay good money for iced coffee. Since Starbucks uses some kind of sugar-heavy mix, when I ask for a decaf iced coffee, they make it fresh for me. I don’t do that often, honest.

Sweet, cold, delicious iced coffee. Nothing like it, and made at home.

Sweet, cold, delicious iced coffee. Nothing like it, and made at home.

 

And I’ll have it for a few days. Thanks, Nick!

Now, I’ve written before about the wonders of the Crock Pot. Do you have one? Do you use it? Seriously, do you? Well, you should. If you don’t, go get one. But before you do, let me tell you what you can find. Well, let me tell you how I found out about all this.

I first started using one when I lived with the GER. When we weren’t getting along and I was planning to move, I stopped at Big Lots one day after a Buddhist meeting (I didn’t want to go home, basically) and found that they had white Crock Pots for $19.99 each. (This was 2004.) I bought a big round 6-quart and a smaller, oval 4-quart. I used both of them regularly, but slacked off a bit in recent years (I’ve been busy.)

One of the biggest draws is that the 110v Crock Pot doesn’t heat up the entire kitchen like your 220v stove will. Put food in it in the morning, and it’s ready to eat when you get home, no extra cooking, baking, or anything. So. . .with summer on its way, dust yours off, read the instruction manual and get started.

Continuing The Karma of Spare Parts, (oh, you have no idea) I haven’t used either of my Crock Pots in a while because a) the 6-quart needed a new knob to replace the melted and cracked one that didn’t work well, and the 4-quart oval needed a new lid after the old one lost the handle. I just got sick of waiting. Finally. . .I got on Crock Pot’s website and ordered them, darnit!

They arrived Easter Saturday, and I was SO happy. . .I had a piece of pork ribs I was going to drown in BBQ sauce, and I was going to make a breakfast, too, all on Easter Sunday. I figured the ribs would fit in the 4-quart one. Nope–change gears. Pulling the 6-quart out of the cabinet and transferring the meat, I moved the 4 quart to the other side of the kitchen. The plug caught in my apron somehow, I felt the pull when I moved, and before I could stop it, the next thing I heard was. . . .CRASH.

The 4-quart oval stoneware piece was in pieces, although the brand new lid and heating unit were fine. Oh, this was a big problem. I had to go out anyway, and one place I did go was Wal-Mart to, ah, “rent” another Crock Pot until I could get a new stoneware insert for the 4-quart. (Returned it a week later.) Meantime, I had a schedule and I had to get on with it. The day was saved, and the next day, I was cruising through a cookbook and found a chocolate custard recipe to make.

The next day I called Crock Pot and asked if they might have any white ones, but no, all they have now is black. That’s OK. I also needed to make sure I had the right one, and I did. The new stoneware arrived a few days later, and all was back to normal, more or less.

The Crock Pot started out as a bean cooker back in the 1970’s, and I’ve actually used it for garbanzo beans recently; that’s the subject of an upcoming post. But it didn’t take long for people to figure out that inexpensive cuts of meat cook up really nice and tender in it. Whole meals can be made in them, if you like (and if you have a small family.)

I clicked around Crock Pot’s official site, and I found a number of interesting things, including recipes, travel gear for Crock Pots, and something I wish I had when I was working–a Crock Pot for lunch! It’s small enough to tote around and carries just enough for lunch. You just plug it in at your desk and your lunch is nice and hot whenever you get to it. No waiting for a microwave that may not be sanitary, or leaving your lunch in the community fridge where someone might mistake it for theirs (or worse, mess with it.)  Awesome, and I wish I’d known about these a long time ago.

Now, the technology side comes out when I see the WeMo web-enabled Crock Pot. If you’ve never heard the term “The Internet of Things,” well, it means stuff that we use every day that is (or will be) *Internet-connected. While the smartphone is an obvious example, this is a definite contender. You download a free app for your smartphone, and you can turn the temp up or down, or turn the thing off by way of your phone. Great idea for people on the go, but it begs one question:

Do you really want your dinner hooked up to your WiFi?

Look, I’m kind of tech-savvy, especially after being in IT for 8 years. I’m so glad I have an iPhone (even if it is a 4.) The iPhone does, shall we say, butter many parsnips, and it’s a great help in a lot of ways. But connect your Crock Pot? Is that really necessary? One of the benefits of slow cooking is that if you’re a little late, it won’t burn. This, of course, is your choice, but even as a writer who does marketing, I just think it’s techie for the sake of being techie.

Up to you, of course.

There is also a blog, a spot for replacement parts, customer support (US based) and a page where you can order food just for your Crock Pot all ready to drop in. Call me whatever you like, but is it that difficult to cut up some stuff and throw it in? I’ve seen them once or twice in stores, but you can order them online. Up to you.

My first, and favorite book for slow cooking is The Everyday Low Carb Slow Cooker Cookbook, which I bought when it was new. (The GER wasn’t sure what to make of that, but that’s OK–I still confuse him to this day.)  Another one I have but only recently rediscovered is Dana Carpender’s 200 Low Carb Slow Cooker Recipes from 2005. That’s where the next recipe comes from. (I also have her book 15-Minute Low Carb Recipes, which I also need to go back and look at sometime.)

If you’ve never used a slow cooker before, or you need a refresher, let me tell you the basic rules:

  1. You put the food in
  2. You put the lid on
  3. You plug it in
  4. Turn it on
  5. Leave it alone

Got it? One other thing–make sure that when you put the lid on, it is covered and there are no “escape holes” for heat to leak out. You could come home to dry, tough food you weren’t expecting. I’ve done it, that’s why I say that.

When you go to clean the stoneware, make sure it’s cooled, or you use hot water to wash/soak it with–or you’ll be getting on the Crock Pot website and ordering a replacement.

Last night I went on Pinterest and typed in “Crock Pot Hacks.” I actually started another board to save them. One tip that I found was to line the crock with foil makes it easier to clean and helps everything cook evenly. However, I found a list of tips here that you might find interesting. One pin involved wrapping potatoes–sweet or russet–in foil and baking them in the slow cooker, but dry. Another one involved some wire and stuff, turning it into a sous-vide machine. I’m not posting it here because I do NOT want any of my readers getting shocked because it looked easy to do. (I’m thinking about you, GER, ’cause I know you’ll try it.)  But if you’re interested in finding new recipes, or other stuff you can do with a Crock Pot, check out Pinterest for more. Just start searching–you never know what you’ll find, and it’s not like Facebook at all.

Last night on Facebook I saw a short video titled “Shredding chicken like a boss!” It was a video of someone with a hand mixer shredding chicken that was obviously cooked in the Crock Pot–it was still hot. (Looked like chicken breasts, in a big Crock Pot.) The cook used the hand mixer on low speed, and the chicken was shredded in no time! It may be on YouTube as well.

Now–dessert time. How about some chocolate custard made in the Crock Pot? (That’s one of the recipes on the new page.)  It takes just a few ingredients and couldn’t be simpler.

First, heat up some almond milk and chocolate:

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

When it looks like that, whisk in your sweetener (I used 3/4 cup of SomerSweet, but the recipe calls for 2/3 cup Splenda, which you know I won’t use.)

The original recipe called for some kind of low-carb milk called Carb Countdown. I’ve never seen it, but the same amount of almond milk worked just fine. I don’t know if coconut, rice or other alternative milks will work, but if you want to try it, go for it. I just can’t guarantee anything.

Next, grease or spray a 6-cup glass casserole dish, and pour the cream in:

IMG_1950[1]

I used a bit of olive oil, that’s why you see the globules on top. No big deal.

Then add the chocolate mixture, then the eggs individually:

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

Carefully put the casserole dish into the slow cooker, pour water around it, up to 1″ of the top rim. DO NOT get water into the custard, please.

Now cook it!

Now cook it!

Cover the slow cooker and cook it on low for 4 hours.

What you get later looks like this, but it’s not ready to eat yet.

Too hot to eat!

Too hot to eat!

You take the lid off and let it cool. When it’s not burning hot anymore, carefully remove it from the crock, cover it, and when it’s cool enough to refrigerate, well, do so. Once it’s nice and cool, this is what you slice and serve:

IMG_1958[1]

NOW it’s ready to eat.

It’s rich, fudgy and substantial. Made in advance, it’s a nice option for a dinner party, or for a single woman to enjoy all week by herself. Hey–it’s my kitchen, I’ll enjoy a sugar-free, low-carb chocolate thing anytime I want.

Incidentally, the second time I made this, I topped a slice with some bought-on-sale raspberries and a light dusting of SomerSweet. Yum.

So, it didn't come out of the dish just right. I'm not FoodBabe, either.

So, it didn’t come out of the dish just right. I’m not FoodBabe, either.

 

A printable PDF copy of this recipe is available on the new recipe page, so you can try it today if you like.

With summer pretty much here in the south, and coming everywhere else, a Crock Pot is going to be a good thing to have around. There are so many models available in various price ranges that it’s a good investment for cooks everywhere.

There are hundreds of books on slow cooking; I just listed two that I have. But with all the cooking websites available, it’s easy to find and keep recipes you like and either stash them in your DropBox, save them to your hard drive or print them and save them in a notebook. I found two e-books last night on Pinterest–one Paleo and one gluten-free that I’ll be reviewing soon.

College students in dorms also might want to think about Crock Pots, too–and learn to use it before they go to school in the fall. Might that be a good gift idea for a graduating senior? Just a thought.

And really–now that the long, cold winter is done, you want to get outside again, right? Let dinner cook itself. It’s easy to do, and couldn’t be simpler. Follow simple directions and you’ll have some tasty food waiting for you on your schedule. (You almost can’t burn it–that should make the “I can’t cook” crowd happy!)

Have you got a favorite thing you use the Crock Pot for? Post it in the comments (nice, please), so we can all try it! (If I do, I’ll post a review later.)

Whatever you cook in it, get that slow cooker out and start using it again. After a few times, you’ll be glad you did.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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Apologies

Apologies

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers:

It has been nearly three weeks since I posted, and for that I apologize. I’ve been busy on the copywriting side and just haven’t had the time to sit down and finish the two posts I have in the draft folder.

I’m working on some big advances in copywriting, so writing about food has had to take a back seat.

I currently have three drafts, one on the elusive Crisco Coconut Oil, which I still haven’t found yet, The second one, very timely, is on making hummus at home. I’ve posted my recipe before (if you do a search you’ll likely find it or the link), but there’s more to it that I want to research first, and have been a bit busy.

Yes, you really can make chocolate pudding in the crock pot. I’ll tell you more in an upcoming post.

The third topic is one that nearly everyone will be able to relate to–The Crock Pot. I haven’t used mine in a while, but I finally started using it recently, which led to more of the Karma of Spare Parts. I’ll explain that too. Meantime, enjoy the picture of the sugar-free chocolate pudding I made Easter Sunday in my 6-quart Crock Pot.

I will try to at least do one next week and post all the pictures, but let’s see how busy I am after tomorrow.

Meantime, have some good food, and enjoy!

 

Amy

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Considered opinions, Uncategorized

 

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Bulletproof Coffee

Bulletproof Coffee

Good afternoon, Fellow Foodies:

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a great weekend.

I have a couple of things to report, one of which you may or may not have heard about. But first I’ll tell you about my latest Graze package:

Tastiness awaits!

Tastiness awaits!

It arrived Saturday, primarily because I did not go into their website and postpone the next delivery. Oh, well. What’s inside?

Four great tastes!

Four great tastes!

Here’s the close-up:

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The Walnut-Vanilla Truffle was the first one I had–yesterday after doing some work in the garden. Today I had the Caramel Apple; and I’m quite sure it’s a repeat appearance. I’ll have the savory ones later.

I also did some planting–and here’s where the old Graze boxes come in:

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Those are basil seeds–cross your fingers.

I have planted the lettuce and celery scraps into pots. The celery had started to root a little, which is why I planted it, but the lettuce, as you saw, had greens growing from the center. Only one of the four romaine stubs is poking through the soil, and I’ll show you that when it’s more visible. But it’s happening, and I am thrilled that I will be able to enjoy romaine lettuce more often. Now to get the tomatoes growing.

Now. . .over the weekend in the HeatCageKitchen, I conducted another experiment. This time, I attempted the newly-popular home-made version of Bulletproof Coffee. With coffee from Starbucks.

If you’ve not heard of Bulletproof coffee, well. . .I first heard about it in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago, called “butter coffee.” Then a number of my writer friends on Facebook started buying it and proclaiming to the heavens that it was the best thing ever. Nick Usborne at Coffee Detective tried it. . .he was not impressed. Then on May 20th, Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman posted that she was introduced to the concept. Ree loves it.

So I figured it was time for me to try it. And I was in The Fresh Market at the right time, too.

Many of my writer friends are *into* this, and insist that it makes them feel better, think better, and just zip around the place all day long. I say it’s the extra caffeine, which has its own issues, but they insist it’s not. They buy the coffee and “brain oil” off the website, whereas I only used coconut oil. Since I drink decaf, well, buying that expensive coffee is probably not going to do anything different. But I digress. Maybe the “brain oil” would be a good thing. That’s for another day.

I was feeling good yesterday because I finally got around to ordering a replacement lid and knobs for my 10-year-old Crock Pots. Yes, more karma of spare parts. . .but if they still work, fix them!

Ohhh. . .I just thought of how funny it would be to see the GER’s face if he ever tried it. He would give me that look. . .well, that he frequently gives me. Anyway. . . .

I was in The Fresh Market on Friday evening and saw one of the three ingredients:

Kerrygold Unsalted Butter from Ireland

A key ingredient, and one of the few imports from Ireland without alcohol.

I’ve seen the salted version, which is also good, but never the unsalted until now. I headed to another section and got ingredient #2:

Unrefined coconut oil. Yes, the kind that tastes like coconuts.

Unrefined coconut oil. Yes, the kind that tastes like coconuts. It is not “Magic,” however.

I intended to get up early Saturday and enjoy this after a walk, then head over to LK’s house for a district chanting session. Well, I was pressed fro time, did walk, but not as early as I’d preferred. So let’s get started:

The setup.

The setup.

First, make your coffee as you normally would. In my case, I use the French Press. You’ll need between 8 and 12 ounces of hot coffee.

I really was planning to drink it at home.

I really was planning to drink it at home.

While the coffee brews, I add the coconut oil to the blender, 1 tablespoon, then get on with the butter. Since I like my coffee “blonde and sweet,” I added two tablespoons to the blender. Thankfully, the measurements are on the back of the wrapper:

wpid-wp-1427748793848.jpeg

Why Kerrygold? It’s butter made from the cream of grass-fed beef–an important component, since it doesn’t have the additives that American butter has. You just open the wrapper and slice it:

wpid-wp-1427748770123.jpeg

All that goes into the blender with the hot coffee you carefully pour in:

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

And turn on the ignition:

Magic!

Coffee Magic!

The hot coffee melts the butter and coconut oil, and the blender emulsifies and froths up the whole thing. Melted butter is just like putting milk in your coffee, and the coconut gives it a sweet taste. But not quite sweet enough for me.

Safety tip: DO NOT use one of those little blenders intended for smoothies. Make SURE your blender can handle hot liquids. Some can’t. I do know this one can, because the jar is glass and there is a removable part at the top. I use this blender for Pea Pesto Soup, and it was indeed made for anything. Even though this coffee was less volume than the soup, it’s still hot, and you must make sure your equipment is up to the job. If you have a Vitamix, or other professional-grade blender, you should be OK. But those little hand-held blenders, probably not. Read the instructions and check the appliance itself before you find yourself with a big, burning mess. Anyway. . . .

Since I was running out of time, I added it to my travel mug and took it with me.

Bulletproof coffee, to go.

Bulletproof coffee, to go.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I did put two packets of sweetener in my Bulletproof coffee, darnit. And then, it tasted pretty good. I can’t say it didn’t do me any more good than my regular foamy-milk cappuccino, though.

Results will vary, of course.

Safety tip #2: after drinking this coffee, you will not be able to outrun, or withstand, a speeding bullet. You are not going to be Superman. You will not actually *be* bulletproof, OK? This is true even if you are buying the expensive coffee and brain oil. It’s a euphemism for FEELING “bulletproof” and being able to take on the day. Carpe Diem and all that. Let the creator tell you more about it.

Verdict: not bad, but not every day.

If you’re looking for a different cup of coffee, and maybe not something with several words to describe to a barista, you might indeed enjoy Bulletproof coffee. And if you don’t, you can say you tried it. Once.

Enjoy!

 

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