Category Archives: Drinks of all kinds

My new arrival! (Mid-week update)

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers:

Well, it’s a bit premature, but here is my first tomato, picked fresh from the HeatCageKitchen garden tonight:

Isn't it a cutie?

Isn’t it a cutie?

Granted, it’s not a BIG tomato, about 2″ across, 6″ around,but that’s OK–it’s mine!! Of course, if I hadn’t been so impatient I could have let it ripen a day or two more. But I wanted to get it before any outside creatures did. (Snails are so gross!) There are two more tomatoes growing on that plant; I haven’t seen any flowers on the second tomato plant yet.

The first of five bell peppers are growing well, as are the mint, green onions and rosemary. Rosemary grows in a drought–but we’ve had some good rain this week, and the parsley has started to sprout leaves again. Heck, the basil I chopped down to the nub is already sprouting leaves. I even found a flower growing on it already–and I harvested for pesto last weekend. Hmmm. . .how much more pesto can I make this year before winter?

I suddenly found myself with a painful throat infection on Monday night that causes a swollen gland, then two painful swollen glands with throat constriction and severe pain when swallowing. Tuesday I made it to a local walk-in clinic in the Friendswood HEB Grocery, and I walked out with yet another prescription for antibiotics. You bless these things when you can swallow again, but if I find myself with heartburn, I’ll be back on yeast-free and either the stuff I bought last time or another round of Nystatin and Fluconazole from my regular doctor. Oh, boy.

Since I’m no longer one of those folks with health insurance and paid sick time, I went to work, weak and barely able to talk or swallow. No sneezing or coughing or anything like that, just feeling like I needed to stay home. Fortunately, it was a slow day with many folks on travel, and while I didn’t do my usual 30 minute walk in the tunnel, I did go down there for something else, but I didn’t know what.

I wandered through Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and a couple of the upscale convenience-store style shops down there, but didn’t find what I wanted. No coffee or chocolate for me, thanks. Then I went somewhere I generally don’t go, and found the very thing. Cold, sweet, and pretty healthy, in the last place you’d expect to find such a thing.

I went to McDonald’s. No kidding.

Now, I’ve been to McDonald’s on many occasions, just not very often. Sometimes it’s the only thing in proximity. Sometimes it’s convenient and right there. My biggest issue with MickeyD’s is that while their coffee is pretty good, they only offer Equal and sugar to sweeten it. No Splenda or Sweet ‘N Low anywhere. I have to make sure I have some pink stuff on me in case I end up somewhere that saccharin is not available, and that’s one of them. At least Starbucks has Sweet ‘N Low, and even honey in packets.

The McDonald’s in the Houston Downtown Tunnel is usually quite busy when I pass by during the crowded lunch hour, but yesterday it wasn’t crowded since it was about 2 when I went. I knew they had some new stuff on their McCafe menu, so I decided to walk over and take a look. Then I spotted it on the wall, and I wanted some.

The McCafe Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie.

With a throat infection, after drinking hot tea all morning, you understand why this hit the spot. But it’s also incredibly delicious! It’s gonna be all I can do not to have two of these a day:


I actually went back for another round today, and got a large. I’ll be spending money on this one for quite a while.

Holy Shish Kebab.

I did ask the clerk about what was in it–last thing I need is to ingest a lot of sugar, or, heaven help me, find out it has gluten as a thickener. You never know. She said, “it has just pomegranate and blueberries.” I also think she didn’t speak enough English to understand my question, because I found out when I got back to my desk that it has some fat-free yogurt in it. That’s fine, unless you have a dairy allergy. Thankfully, I don’t, but there are folks who read this humble blog who are allergic to dairy, hence the warning.

MAN this is a good find. I had to get sick to find this out? Move over Starbucks–this smoothie’s my new favorite!!

Starbucks and Seattle’s Best actually do have smoothies, but the berry smoothies are lower in carbs than ones with banana, pineapple and other fruits. Bananas are particularly high in starch, that’s why I avoid them–and if you’re diabetic, you should too. I might try the strawberry smoothie at Seattle’s Best one of these days, but McDonald’s definitely has a winning formula with this one.

Sometimes you just find things along the way. This delicious smoothie will keep me going back to McDonald’s, especially this hot summer in Houston.

I did discover that New York City had a high of 65F today, with a 100% chance of rain, and a low of 55F tonight, as a result of the storm that passed through Chicago and other areas last night. Heck, here in Houston, that’s a perfect fall day!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch a little comedy DVD and hit the Nordic Track. Rupert Murdoch is going to be a free man soon, and I need to be ready when he comes a-callin’!

Just kidding–I’m going to make up the exercise I missed today by not walking the tunnel. I wasn’t up to it, but the antibiotics are killing the infection and I’m feeling better.

Happy Dining!


Macchiato Saturday Night!

Happy Saturday Night, Dear Readers:

Well, as I described in my last post, I have fallen in love with Starbucks’ Hazelnut Macchiato, a drink best described as a liquid hazelnut-flavored candy bar. Much as I enjoyed it and want more, but am not paying $3.50 for a 200-calorie sugary coffee drink. Not for a while yet. (No, I don’t want YOU to buy me one, either.) And besides, I’m still reading Wheat Belly, and want to avoid sugar as much as I can. . .sometimes I don’t.  After seeing the term “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” or NAFLD, and its graphic description, I figure backing off sugar and being a bit paranoid about it (as well as wheat and soy) is probably a good course of action.This drink is made with a syrup as well as plenty of sugar, so, that’s for a special occasion, just like wedding cake is.

So in my quest for replacing the sugar-laden coffee drink I crave with something less sugary, caloric and less expensive, I put my thinking cap on.

Sometimes that cap is on too tight, but that’s another blog post.

I’ve been using my 12-year-old cappuccino machine a little more lately, and while it doesn’t froth quite the way it used to, I think, it certainly works for my purposes. Besides, when I went looking at new, more modern cappuccino machines, I decided the one I have works just fine.

Why do I have a 12-year-old cappuccino machine? When I was married to what’s-his-name (1996-2001), he got it in his furry little head that we “needed” one. (Where he got ideas like this is beyond me, but it wasn’t the first time, or the last.) I think I bought the first one, but it may have been one of our lovely wedding gifts. He knew how to use the metal kind you put on the stove, but not the electric kind. It fell to me to learn how to use it, and so, I did.

Then one early morning I made a cappuccino to hold me over until the regular coffeepot was finished. It was then that I knew I was truly addicted to caffeine. I’ve been on and off caffeine in the years since, but after my doctor told me to quit last year, I did, because one cup of regular tea in the morning was causing way too many problems.

The original machine was white, and when it finally gave out, I got us another one. Right before we called it quits. So I’ve had it ever since. I use it occasionally, not every day, and only when I have fresh milk. Dunno if almond milk would work, but maybe I’ll try it.

Anyway. . . .

What I came up with was to get some sugar-free hazelnut flavored syrup and see how well it would work. I’ll tell you about that shortly. Really, macchiato means “marked” in Italian, and the drink is simply a shot of espresso with some frothy milk on it, and some syrup or something on top. I got the definition here--it was the first thing that came up when I did a search. So my version is really more of a cappuccino, not so much a macchiato.

So here we go–this is the equipment:

Making a cappuccino

Ready to brew!

Alessi is the only decaf espresso I can find in Houston, and it seems like Central Market is the only place I can find it now. Darnit. The small Torani syrup cam from Cost Plus World Market, so that if didn’t like it, I won’t be stuck with a huge bottle of something I just wanna throw out.

The latte mug is filled with hot water so the coffee and steamed milk stay warm. (I learned THAT the hard way and now do it anytime I make coffee.) The milk pitcher was taken out of the freezer just for this picture and went back in when I was finished shooting it. So while the milk is getting really chilled, I turned on the machine (that knob on the upper left.) And so after a few minutes of listening to some really weird noises, the brew process started:


As you can see, there is a third mark in the middle that indicates when to flip the knob around so that you can froth milk. Once the dark brew starts going down into the pot, it happens pretty fast. When the pot fills up to that point (just over 2 cups), it’s time to froth milk:

Frothing milk

Please pardon my hard-workin’ dishpan hands. Like the very nice Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, I am always in need of hand cream. Remember, idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.

Mine froths milk pretty good, but it doesn’t seem to be as frothy as it used to. Of course, you could have other problems more important than this one. (Yes, I do.) Up until recently if you put your hand under there instead of milk, it would not only blow very hot air very hard, you would move your hand because it would get burned. Now, not so much. But it still froths milk pretty good.

Yeah, I worry about this kind of thing from time to time. Keeps me from worrying about bigger, scarier stuff.

So when the milk is frothed to perfection, I dump out the hot water (usually back in the kettle for tea later) and then pour the steamed milk into the cup, holding back the foamy part with a big soup spoon. Just like they do in Starbucks, except I’ve never worked there. Usually I do that and put in my accoutrements (3 packets of pink stuff and frequently a drop of vanilla extract) first, but if not, I add it at this stage. In this case, I added two tablespoons of the hazelnut syrup, but I think three would have been perfect. When the espresso is finished brewing, I dump that in, then put the frothy milk on top, using a rubber spatula to get all of it out of the pitcher.

Have you ever tasted frothed milk? Then you’ll know why.

Now, most cappuccino aficionados sprinkle ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg on top of the frothy milk. Not me. Used to do that and one day decided to go all Giada and sprinkle cocoa powder on top. So Drs. Frasier and Niles Crane can fuss all they like at the Cafe Nervosa. . .me and Giada will be chillin’ with chocolate.

What you get looks like this:

Finally! Hazelnut Cappuccino!

Yes, that cup describes one of my philosophies. It also makes me a hypocrite because I have an unfinished fall/winter suit hanging up, and another one to make. I should have finished those by now and working on the “some other time” small projects. It’s March, I should be making spring stuff. Stitch ’em up, move ’em out, you know? I have a Donna Karan suit that’s been waiting to be made for three years now. But at least the cup reminds me I can go back to it any time I want.

Anyway. . .

How does it taste? Well, not EXACTLY like the one from Starbucks, but it’s a pretty good substitute that I can be happy with. The Torani syrup contains Splenda, which is something I normally avoid because of its chemical composition, and I’ll try another hazelnut flavoring without sugar, sucralose or aspartame in it.

So if you’re considering having something a little different, you are welcome to use my example and follow my blazed trail. Cappuccino really is good, and so I’m glad I have a machine to make it with, and I’ll consider adding different flavorings if I can find them easily.

Meantime, I’ve got to go wash up my cappuccino machine.

Happy Dining!

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