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Category Archives: Eating Out & On The Run

Paleo Breakfast Pie (from the Crock Pot!)

Paleo Breakfast Pie (from the Crock Pot!)

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Are you warm? Are you snowed in? I’ve alternated between T-shirts/shorts and jeans/sweaters this week. At least we have the final season of Downton Abbey and the limited-run 10th series of The X-Files to keep us entertained. Oh, and the Superbowl is upon us again, and. . .I don’t care.

Got a message from Neighbor E this morning. He’s found the Dark-Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes, and now, E is happy:

Is that coffee?

Neighbor E doesn’t drink coffee, so I asked him what was in his coffee cup. . .he whipped up his version of the Starbucks Chai Tea Latte. Never had one, because I always go in for coffee. But hey–I duplicate the Hazelnut Macchiato on the stove top, so why not? (E also told me that a  longtime local Starbucks location has also closed, but there are at least three more in the vicinity to take its place.)

Remember the new delivery vehicle being developed for Domino’s? I saw one in Clear Lake this week:

Since I was on the wrong side at a stop light, I could only get this side. But check out what it says on the fuel tank:

It says, “Unleaded Fuel Only. No Pizza Sauce!”

Makes you wonder if it’s a joke or if someone actually tried it.

In the Valentine’s Day department, Kroger had this jewel:

Perfect size for whom? Guess it’s supposed to a polite size for when your honey comes over, and you eat “the whole cake with two forks.” OK.

My kettlebell workouts ceased for about a week when I had a mysterious floodwaters in the bathroom–and it wasn’t the tub or commode. It was discovered, finally, and the blockage has been cleared. I couldn’t figure out how the water was coming into the area under the AC unit. But I’m back on it, with a heavier 15 pound kettle bell. The 10 pound weight wasn’t heavy anymore. (Other than the initial stiffness, I haven’t hurt myself, either.)

So, is anyone doing a Paleo diet this year? “Paleo,” if you’re not familiar with the term, is short for Paleolithic, as in Paleolithic Man. Yes, cave man, and not necessarily the ones I’ve dated. A Paleo diet is, as I understand it, a diet of food that Paleolithic Man would have consumed–meat, veg, little fruit, and nothing processed or the product of agriculture or manufacturing, like grains (and bread), cheese and butter (but I think milk is OK, because it’s just. . .milk.) Like low-carb and gluten-free, lots of folks have taken the proverbial ball and run with it, with books, blogs and articles abound on the subject. Once you learn the basics, go from there.

Some time ago, I stumbled onto a recipe via PaleOMG, written by Juli Bauer. She’s not only a foodie, she’s also a blogger, fitness person and bride-to-be. She blogs about all these things and creates some delicious Paleo food in the process. She’s also published a couple of cookbooks, something I haven’t aspired to doing yet. If you go check out her blog, be aware that she does use language I reserve strictly for the process of driving around in Houston (especially with the huge inbound migration we’ve received in the last few years.) I don’t really do that on this blog, but that’s just me (except I know I said “fart” once.)

As I’ve mentioned here before, I am very happy to toss a bunch of things in the Crock Pot and let it cook all day, particularly in the summertime, when you don’t want the kitchen to heat up past 80F (when it will feel like a “Heat Cage Kitchen.”)  I went back to review the site, and to see what else Juli had, and came across a recipe for Sweet Pulled Pork Waffle Sliders. WAFFLES? Yes, waffles used as sandwich bread with freshly made mayo and slow-cooked pork shoulder. In this case, the waffles are made with almond flour and some other Paleo-friendly ingredients. I think I’m going to have to make this soon. . .my waffle maker has been put up for a few weeks, darnit. I haven’t forgotten it, of course, I’ve just been doing other stuff, like tossing stuff in the Crock Pot and making phone calls all day long.

But this weekend, I found one of Juli’s recipes I’d printed some time ago and forgot about. The Easy CrockPot Breakfast Pie has just a few ingredients, but is easy to make and is dairy-free. Why dairy-free, you ask? Well, it’s good to have handy if I have to do yeast-free again, and if I run out of milk or something. It’s a little different, because I got used to cheese and milk or cream in my breakfast cookery. But this is a welcome change, and it contains. . .sweet potato. THAT got my attention!

The recipe is as follows:

Easy CrockPot Breakfast Pie

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients
  • 8 eggs, whisked
  • 1 sweet potato or yam, shredded
  • 1lb US Wellness Meats Pork Sausage, broken up
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • any extra veggies you want to put in there: peppers, squash, etc.
Directions
  1. I greased my Crockpot with a bit of coconut oil to make sure none of the egg stuck to it. (Amy’s Note: I also used one of those slow cooker liners, as you’ll see in the pictures.)
  2. Shred your sweet potato. I used the shredding attachment on my food processor to make it super quick, but you could use a grater as well.
  3. Add all ingredients to your CrockPot and use a spoon to mix well.
  4. Set it and forget it.
  5. Place on low for 6-8 hours. I cooked it for more than 7 to make sure the pork sausage was completely cooked through.
  6. Slice it like a pie.

I skipped her smart-alecky final line, and eventually I’ll have it up on the Recipes Page as a printable PDF file for anyone who wants it. So let me tell you how easy this is to make.

The setup

The setup.

Not a whole lot of ingredients as you can see, but I forgot the dried basil in this shot. Now, as I said, I used one of these:

Keep your dirty-mind comments to yourself, please.

Keep your dirty-mind comments to yourself, please.

They’re kind of hard to find, so I get 2 boxes when I head over to that nice HEB in Friendswood. When you set it up, it looks like this:

Yes, looks silly but it works great, especially in this recipe.

Yes, looks silly but it works great, especially in this recipe.

I greased it with either coconut oil by hand or sprayed on olive oil, I don’t remember. Then, get on with it:

Shredded sweet potato

Shredded sweet potato

I do love my little shredding toy. When you’re done with that, dump it into the crock, and get on with the onions in the same fashion (and why not?)

Shredded onions are so much easier, and less tears.

Shredded onions are so much easier, and less tears.

Because the last part of the ingredient list calls for “any extra veggies you want to put in there: peppers, squash, etc.,” I added a bag of frozen veg from Kroger:

These bags are $1 each for 12 ounces.

These bags are $1 each for 12 ounces.

I added in the spices next:

IMG_2900

Yes, I know what it looks like.

Now, Judi’s recipe calls for some mail-ordered pork sausage that’s clean, antibiotic free, gluten- and sugar-free, and all that. However, since I just wanted to try it, I used readily available sage pork breakfast sausage from Kroger. Knowing that I was going to make this dish, I left it out for several hours to take the chill off and let it soften up. (One day I’ll be buying stuff like that again.)

Let me point out here that in most of these slow-cooker breakfasts, you brown and crumble the sausage on the stove top in a cast-iron pan, then toss it into the CrockPot, then add the eggs, milk or cream, and other stuff. In this recipe, the raw pork sausage is added directly in and the dish cooked for a longer amount of time.

Yes, it was still sticky and hard to work with, but I did it.

Yes, it was still sticky and hard to work with, but I did it.

Take your spoon and mix it up well. Now get on with the eggs–you can whisk them, as the recipe states, but I’ve discovered that the lovely immersion blender works better:

Eggs!

Eggs! (I had a coupon for Egglands Best, I promise.)

Mine came with this beaker, but I’ve also done this with mixing bowls:

Blitz!

Blitz! (Start on low speed to make avoid egging your own kitchen.)

This recipe doesn’t have milk or cheese, but when you are adding milk to eggs, the immersion blender works really well to make sure it’s all incorporated. Now, just pour it over the mixture:

Almost ready to cook.

Almost ready to cook.

Give it another stir and pack it in a little:

Ready to roll! (Well, cook.)

Ready to roll! (Well, cook.)

Mine took about 7 hours to finish, but I also turned off the heat, unplugged it, then left the lid slightly off to let the heat escape and help it cool. When it was just warm, I removed the pie from the crock, and this is what I got:

See how easily it lifts out of the Crock Pot?

Yes, I know it looks a bit strange.

One advantage of the slow cooker pot liners is the ability to lift this baby out, drop it directly onto a cutting board, peel off the sides of the liner, flip it, remove the rest of the liner, then cut it just like a cake or a pie. If you’re single like me, you just pack it up in containers and have a microwave-ready breakfast every morning right from the fridge.

This is more or less what you end up with:

The Crock Pot Breakfast Pie

The Crock Pot Breakfast Pie

Now, you get out of this what you put in, and you see two cut red beans there on the bottom, and probably a bit of cauliflower there, too. Those, of course, were from the frozen veg mix I added to it.

And you know what? It was pretty good. I was wondering if it would be disappointing, but it’s not–it’s really different. Not like the kind with eggs/cream/milk/cheese, but pretty darn good. I got two thumbs up from both Neighbor R and Neighbor E, who added:

“. . .it fascinates me. For healthy eating I doubt you could do much better. But all the ingredients blend in together and there isn’t one that stands out (kinda like cake without the icing). A restaurant I go to for brunch has some incredible vegetarian sausage. Thinking if piled a bunch of that in there to give it some spice, it would be a hit.”

Thanks, E! I noticed too that there wasn’t one thing you tasted over another, it just kinds of all blends up. Much as I love sweet potatoes, I didn’t really taste them like you do when you eat them “straight.”

Three thumbs up for this one! And since it’s done in the Crock Pot, it’s easy, too. Looks like we have a winner here, a great warmer for cold winter mornings, wherever you are.

Enjoy!

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The Big Fish

The Big Fish

Happy Saturday, Dear Readers!

If you’re here in the Houston area, I hope you are dry. . .if you’re not, well, Thursday (8/20) we had some serious rain going on, complete with thunder and lightning. The HeatCageKitchen garden was happy with the extra water, but the green onions, which have been supplemented recently with two bunches of organics I bought, are nearly a foot high after 2 weeks. Not bad!

Today was our monthly district meeting, and a pretty good one, too. Our fearless district leader and hostess, LK, has finally seen her dream of her sister and family practicing Buddhism after something like 27 years of practice. Today was they day that all four officially became Buddhists, and it was also her sister, JH’s, birthday. (I also became a Buddhist on my 24th birthday in 1986, so it’s always extra-special.) LK’s brother-in-law, JH’s husband, was not able to make it due to work commitments, but received an official certificate from SGI-USA along with JH and the kids. They lived in California until a year ago, and bought a house not far from LK, making LK one of the happiest people around.

To celebrate, LK drove down to Galveston this morning–during the period where we had sunshine before the rain came back again–and bought a beautiful cake to celebrate the whole thing:

Isn't it a beauty?

Isn’t it a beauty?

Indeed, it was NOT gluten free, and I told her I would just have one of the roses. (I didn’t, really.) Actually, I did bring home a slice of this beautiful creation for Neighbor R, my elderly neighbor, and I nibbled on the veg and some grapes that were there. Here’s a view of the inside after it was cut:

The Inside.

The Inside.

Neighbor K has been to PattyCakes many times since she works down there, and if I remember correctly, she brought me a couple of their delicious samplings a while back. They’re across the street from the well-known Mosquito Cafe, and are operated by the same people.

Since we have a couple of diabetics in addition to me, who avoids this kind of thing, LK kindly had cut veggies and Tzatzaki, which was very tasty. Might have to make that myself sometime. I’ve got the recipe, but I’ve never made it; however, I don’t know what recipe LK used for today’s delicious dip.

If you’re a fan of Starbucks, The Safe Haven With Food, and you’ve been enamored with their recent food offerings, I discovered a bit of a hack. By accident, of course. A couple of months ago, I met with a potential copywriting client at a Starbucks in nearby Pasadena (that’s where the business was located) and I got there early. While my computer was booting up and connecting to the WiFi, I found myself hungry for some reason. I looked in the case and found their little yogurt cups with fruit. I picked up the one with cherries, and thoroughly enjoyed it before she arrived.

A couple of nights ago I was hungry, and I started prowling in the fridge (as us single folks are wont to do) and saw the container of Fage yogurt in there, and suddenly the light lit up in my brain! Five frozen cherries, in a little dish, microwaved for about 20 seconds on 50% power to get the chill off them; chop them, put them back in the bowl, then spoon some of that Greek yogurt in the bowl. Mix well–carefully, or in a bigger bowl–and sweeten to taste. Use whatever you like–stevia, saccharin, Somersweet, whatever. Because, remember, the one in Starbucks has sugar in it–you don’t have to do that. I don’t miss the crunchy part, although I do eat it when I have one in Starbucks (it’s wheat free.) Which has been exactly. . .twice. I never forgot it, but at $3.95, it’s not a habit, only a handy option I’ve had twice.

The Starbucks Evenings menu hasn’t yet appeared here in Clear Lake, to my knowledge, but it has in New York. You can see the actual menu here, but from what Lindsay Putnam of the NY Post says. . .don’t bother. Remember that those breakfast sandwiches are frozen and heated in an oven before the barista hands it to you, so naturally, so is the Evenings menu–no real cooking goes on in Starbucks. If you do eat one, you think about how delicious it tastes. . .and not much else, OK? Yes, I have had the sandwiches a few times, less since I read Wheat Belly, but the last time I had one of those big croissant bun sandwiches was out of necessity a few months ago. So the Evenings menu, tempting as it may look, may in fact, disappoint. I’ll let you know if I get to try it.

Then again, New Yorkers seem to judge everything harshly, and it was brand new, so maybe she was just there on a bad day. Use your own judgment, as always.

Now, another story about the GER. He loves it when I write about him.

The GER goes fishing usually on Mondays with a friend who has a boat, and while this week’s haul. . .wasn’t, last week they caught more river monsters. I gave him a ride somewhere last Tuesday, and he told me to bring something to keep it cold. He told me to share it with Neighbor K, but K didn’t wanna mess with no fish that night, so I offered some to Neighbor R after I cooked it.

This was a big fish. Flounder, if I remember correctly. Not like catfish, frying catfish is easy. So I treated this big fishy with the respect it deserved and broiled it. I’m not kidding when I tell you it was a big one:

The GER's big fish

The GER’s big fish.

It was about 15 inches long, I think, but I forgot to measure it. I thought about stuffing it, but that wasn’t an option:

A big, heavy skeleton that would require some major filleting skills. . .which I don't have.

A big, heavy skeleton that would require some major filleting skills. . .which I don’t have.

Sometimes he’ll give me filets, but sometimes not, like this one. The only option was to roast it whole and pull the flesh off the skeleton, since there was no easy way to stuff it. I set out to the garden and gathered up a few things:

The setup.

The setup.

Green onions (from the ones I planted in the garden), mint, parsley, some rosemary and basil, plus some lime zest. Using that mezzaluna knife, chopped it as best I could, and added some kosher salt:

Gremolata a la Amy.

Gremolata a la Amy.

Then it’s just used as a rub on both sides of the fish:

Big, BIG fish!

Big, BIG fish!

I put it in the toaster oven on “broil” until I thought it was done, and it came out pretty darn good:

FISH!

It needed salt, in my opinion, and I gave the easily-removed, skinless chunks to Neighbor R, and made sure there were no bones in it. I had three meals out of that fish along with some baked sweet potato sticks. YUM.

In the last couple of posts, I spoke about Red Dwarf, the crazy-wild British comedy that combines science fiction with slapstick comedy. Here’s a short clip of the song I was singing while I was dealing with said fish in an episode from many years ago. The character, Cat, just LOVES fish! That comes back to haunt him in Season 9 when a despair squid is found in the water tank. . .oh, nevermind. If you’re not a fan, it won’t make a lot of sense. It’s kind of like explaining something from Doctor Who to someone who has never seen it or understands it. Like the GER!

Tomorrow is Sunday, and I’ve got to plan out the week’s eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I think there’s going to be some chicken in the Crock Pot. . .again. But since I found two big packets of chicken thighs on sale at Target Friday night, it’s a good thing.

School’s opening real soon, so if you’ve got students at home, you’ll be gearing up now to make those mornings easier. I’m looking at waffle iron hacks and cheats on Pinterest now, and I’ve started a board to keep them in one place. People have figured out how to cook all kinds of things with waffle irons, and YouTube has a collection of them as well. Just go to YouTube and type in the search box, “waffle iron hacks” and/or “waffle iron recipes” and you’ll see ingenious ways people have used a waffle iron for anything *but* waffles.

One of my writer friends, a Christian copywriter here in Texas, posted on Facebook instructions to take those cinnamon rolls in a can and cook them on a waffle iron, then pour that sugary frosting on top. Looks a lot more appetizing than the ones made the *normal* way.  It made me want to head to Kroger for a can and make them myself! But I didn’t, and I’m researching new ways to use the waffle iron daily instead of just occasionally, when you make waffles.

One interesting idea I saw on Pinterest was to spray the waffle iron, heat it, then put frozen tater tots on the bottom, covering the grid. Close the lid, and a few minutes later, crispy hash browns! Admittedly, that’s not something I would make for myself, (at least not with frozen tater tots) but I might do that for the GER or someone else who really liked hash browns. I’ve eaten hash browns occasionally, usually at Denny’s on my birthday with my Grand Slam; but as a rule, potatoes are not in my fridge.

Remember: 110v vs. 220v. And don’t forget your college student headed for the dorms this fall.

Have a great week, and whatever you do cook and eat–Enjoy!

 

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Buc-ee’s: The Texas Road Trip

Buc-ee’s: The Texas Road Trip

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I’ve got a few things to tell you about, and this time, it involves the GER. He doesn’t always read every blog post, but he does like it when I write about him. Neighbor K gets a kick out of reading about herself too, sometimes–I warn her when she gets a mention.

I recently went into my local Fresh Market for something, and passing through the produce section, nestled in with the mangoes and pineapples, was this monster:

No, it wasn't moving.

No, it wasn’t moving.

Jack Fruit. WHAT? I wasn’t about to spend $1.79 a pound for something I didn’t know anything about. Nobody in the store could tell me anything. Frankly, if I bring home something that size, it better purr, bark or vacuum the floor on a timer. If you can tell me more about this “Jack Fruit,” you win the Internet today. (Comments below, if you’re interested.)

Ok, enough of that.

I’m not the only one who looks for healthy eating and all that, but you probably know that already; FoodBabe is one of the best-known bloggers on the subject.. Chicago-based food blogger BreAnna over at Crafty Coin recently visited her local Aldi store, and like me, wasn’t exactly impressed. I wrote a little about it last year, and have not been inspired to go back in it. When I see the weekly fliers in the mail, I look, but I haven’t seen any reason to make a special trip or stop in on my way home from somewhere. (Disclosure: I commented on that blog post myself.)

Now on to the GER.

As I’ve mentioned before, the GER is an ex-boyfriend, and a few years ago, became a very good friend. His Dad, the late Big Joel, was an avid friend of the blog, and read every posting before he passed away 2 years ago. Since the GER has been back in Texas, he’s been back to his old habits (some good, some bad.) One of those is gardening, and he’s been very kind to share some of the yield from time to time:

Results typical from the GER's garden

Results typical from the GER’s garden

They were, of course, delicious, and they didn’t stick around long–we both love salads. I wish I had something to give him, but I didn’t.

So I’m driving home on a Wednesday night from a chanting session at LK’s, streaming some music on iHeart in the car, when the music stops. The phone rings; it’s him, the GER.

Now, since the GER is a bit of a Luddite, I don’t actually have a picture of him on my phone, so I decided to use this one in his contacts entry:

The Sausage Piggy, a cute thing I found in the meat case at Fresh Market one day.

The Sausage Piggy, a cute thing I found in the meat case at Fresh Market one day.

I showed it to him and he didn’t quite know what to make of it. But then he got a good look at it, and he got a kick out of it.

He doesn’t do Facebook or any other social networking, despite my suggestion he get on Pinterest (to find all kinds of great, useful information) and LinkedIn (to network.)  And don’t *even* make the suggestion of a smartphone. . . .

So I’m driving along and it’s him–and it’s about 9:15 pm. Much like Neighbor K, The GER doesn’t call often, so I answer when he calls. (K and I text a lot, even from next door.)  He asks what I’m doing, and I tell him where I am. He has some extra vegetables from his garden, and wants me to stop by and get them. Not at his house, but at a halfway point. “Why don’t you meet me at Buc-ee’s in Texas City?” he says. It was about a 15 minute drive, and I arrived before he did.

Now, I think I’ve been in a Buc-ee’s, but not in many, many years. If you’ve never been in a Buc-ee’s, well, you’re in for a treat. Seriously. A longtime Texas highlight, they have more than the usual Stuckey’s and other side-of-the-road places and sometimes truck stops. Voted the cleanest bathrooms in the US, Buc-ee’s is the destination on your way to your destination.

In the case of the Texas City location, it’s on your way to Galveston.

There are 24 Buc-ee’s in Texas, and the Texas City location opened up last year. Honest, since I don’t go to that area much anymore, I didn’t really care that much. With 90 gas pumps outside, and a large store inside, it’s pretty much everything you need on your way. . .somewhere. (Click here for a list of all Buc-ee’s locations.)

So what’s so great about it? Well, I walked into someplace at least twice the size of Trader Joe’s, with bait and fishing gear, typical Texas souvenirs, and. . .fresh coffee. Would I lie to you?

Mmmmm. . .coffee. . .

Mmmmm. . .coffee. . .

In fact, a whole wall of coffees:

A lot more coffee than Starbucks, with no rewards program.

A lot more coffee than Starbucks, with no rewards program.

To the right of the picture is a condiment bar with the usual sugar and creamer, which included those tiny plastic containers of half-and-half, as well as the flavored coffee creamers. Yes, hazelnut and several other flavors! The ones you put IN your coffee come in the price of coffee; however, if you want to take more with you, they are 10 cents each. Fair price for on-the-go convenience.

Yes, they had decaf. It was fresh and hot. And yes, it was GOOD!!

The decaf, like the rest of the coffees, is refreshed regularly.

The decaf, like the rest of the coffees, is refreshed regularly.

Since I have become a Starbucks Gold Card holder, I know the difference between a tall, grande and venti. (I think there’s also one more beyond venti that’s an XXL, too, but I’m not 100% sure.) However, at Buc-ee’s, there is a 16-ounce and a larger one (20-ounce, I think) and both are under $2 a cup. I didn’t ask about refills, but then I’m not hanging around there like I would in Starbucks. (Didn’t ask about WiFi, either.) So I poured myself a cup and paid for it, then did some prowling while waiting for the GER to show up. Take a look at some of the neat stuff the Texas City Buc-ee’s has available for travelers and others interested in fine Texas-made goods.

Cutting boards--perfect gift for the chef.

Cutting boards–perfect gift for the chef.

Fresh-looking decor for any southern kitchen.

Fresh-looking decor for any southern home.

More nice decor

Beauty products for gifts, or because you forgot something.

I thought I had more pictures, but I can’t find them now.

Right across the aisle from these nice things is an entire section dedicated to. . .BAIT. Fishing stuff, and bait for your fishing trip. No kidding. In the middle of the store, (left of the coffee area) is a deli counter where you can order sandwiches and other food, a bakery, and at the far end, candy, beef jerky, chips, salsa, and other nibbles that you can’t get anywhere else.

That’s the GER’s favorite place–the wall of junk food.

I saw candies of all kinds, from the everyday stuff you find in Wal-Mart to the self-branded things exclusive to Buc-ee’s, and then the jerky, pretzels and other in-house snacks. I sipped my coffee and observed some more.

You can read some additional articles on their press page. The Houston Chronicle covered the opening day, where people were lined up long before dawn to go in when it opened. (More pictures there, too.)  Even the esteemed Wall Street Journal weighed in on the Buc-ee’s experience.

Admittedly, I never thought to go check out the ultra-clean bathrooms. Maybe next time.

Remember that it was night, and eventually, the GER called and asked, “how long before you get here?” I explained that I was ALREADY there, enjoying the Buc-ee’s experience and having some pretty good coffee. He was on one side of the building, driving around looking for me, and I was walking around those lovely house things, wondering if I needed something that I didn’t have room for.

Dallas has it’s first Buc-ee’s, opened last month. Much like Trader Joe’s, many folks knew what it was because they’d been to one on their travels down this way, or heard about Buc-ee’s because someone told them about it after their trip down this way. I’ve never been to Dallas myself, but one day would like to visit. I’ve been told that people in Dallas are quite. . .well, they all believe that they are related to the Ewings, and everyone dresses in fine clothes and big diamonds, like The Real Housewives of Dallas or something. Not here in Houston (although there is that element in the mix.) Before Katrina, Houston was a happy-go-lucky town, even among the society set. Now, with most of New Orleans and the additional increased migration from California, New York, Washington, and many places in between, we’ve got ALL kinds, good and bad. I won’t be living anywhere else but Texas. Austin is fabulous, and San Antonio is also quite nice. But I don’t think I’ll be moving to Dallas, just visiting one day.

If you’re planning a road trip into Texas this summer–or anytime–make sure to include a Buc-ee’s in your travel plans. Fill up with fuel, get some coffee, pick up something you forgot, get some souvenirs and t-shirts, and don’t forget the snacks you just can’t get anywhere else.  Bring back some neat Texas souvenirs to your friends, family or colleagues who weren’t lucky enough to go with you, and make sure you take home a little of the Lone Star State for yourself too.

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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 an interesting, 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!

 

 

 

 

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Epic Bars, the HeatCageKitchen garden, and other updates

Epic Bars, the HeatCageKitchen garden, and other updates

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers! And welcome to all the new followers of my humble blog. I’m glad you’re here!

Spring is here, isn’t it wonderful? (If you’re not buried in snow like some folks up in the northeast are; if this is you, my condolences.) We’ve had some rain going on, and today, a cool front has come through. The sun is out, the patio doors are open, and I had to put on socks and pull my warm boots out of the closet again. But it’s a beautiful day here in Houston. I enjoyed my stovetop cappuccino this morning, and the Yeast Free Hot Chocolate this afternoon..

Have you seen alt-health hero and natural hormone advocate Suzanne Somers on Dancing with the Stars? Why not? She’s doing great–go vote for her! (SomerSweet is still currently unavailable.) A new “vibrato” version of her longtime favorite Thighmaster debuted on the first night, and her second dance was much better. She’s also going to be headlining in Las Vegas soon; wonder if she’ll still have her famous “dishpan hands.” (One more thing I have in common with her!) You can see Suzanne & Tony’s dance numbers on YouTube as well as ABC’s website. This Monday is “Latin Night,” so let’s see what they come up with.

I have a few things to tell you about, some of which includes the HeatCageKitchen garden. It’s growing!!

Look closely.

Look closely.

Remember last weekend, I said I was going to get some organic celery and lettuce? I did it–the little green centers you see are the lettuce re-growing. I cut those on Saturday; today is Thursday, and they’re already sprouting! I think the celery is too, but I need to look a little closer before I plant it. The lettuce is going to be planted tonight.

I also was able to catch the end of the farmer’s market at Erma’s this weekend, and got some organic tomato plants:

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

They were 4 for $10, in the pouring rain, and thankfully, a couple of the vendors now have Square as a POS app on their phones. No more checks! I had a nice conversation with the Soap Lady, as well as the folks selling these.

One of those tomatoes is going to be. . .Chocolate Cherry. Hey–I don’t mess around. One is also a yellow tomato–those are delicious, too.

I forgot to pick up a basil plant, so I bought some organic seeds. Longtime readers know I am VERY serious about my pesto, and can’t wait to make more. I have one and a half left in the freezer from last year, and I’ll be using them up by the time the basil gets high enough.

I’ve also got garlic growing from sprouted cloves, and the rooted rosemary seems to be fine. I think the sunflower seeds are sprouting, because I see new little green shoots over there and I’m not pulling them up. The citrus trees, I have high hopes for with all those tiny fruits growing, but I’ll let you know in a future post.

Also for a future post: garbanzo beans, tahini and hummus. Tell you all about it soon. Going to try and grow organic garbanzo beans, too–maybe not for crops, but just to see what happens.

A followup to a previous post: this weekend I found some shampoo and condition with. . .Argan Oil. No kidding. Target has it, no kidding.

It just jumped right out at me!

It just jumped right out at me!

I am still using the Pantene that Neighbor K gave me, but I might try this type when I run out. You just don’t notice these things until one day. . . .

Now then. . .I bought some strawberries a few days ago at my local HEB. First words that came to mind: “Maw Maw, look! Strawberries!”

Yum.

Yum.

My Grandmother O’Donnell loved strawberries like I do, and used to take me up to Ponchatoula, Louisiana, to get some every year. (I was a little bitty kitty.) We got flats of them, and my grandparents would also buy some for other people. Pasadena, Texas, which is nearby, also has a strawberry festival, but I’ve never been; maybe I’ll go this year.

What made me think of it was last month, February 17th, was ten years since Maw Maw O’Donnell passed. As bad as it was at the time, I’m glad she didn’t have to live through Katrina. (I had a big oyster po-boy from Abe’s Cajun Kitchen when I got back to Houston from her funeral.) Maw Maw’s house in Arabi, one of the hardest hit areas, was sold a year before, and good thing, too–it was still on the lot, but not on the foundation, from what I was told. That would have seriously upset my grandmother.

Still, I think about Maw Maw at the grocery sometimes. She would have been 100 years old come October 10th, and certainly wouldn’t have let me take her to the grocery had she lived. I REALLY wanted her to come to Houston with my parents, so I could take her to Central Market (it was only open a few years at the time.) Nope. I could only regale her with stories about it.

Maw Maw taught me a lot about grocery shopping and all that, so I always feel like she’s with me the minute I go into any grocery store, be it HEB, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market, Erma’s Nutrition Center, any salvage grocery store I might find, or Central Market. I wonder sometimes what she would have thought about all the organic, gluten-free stuff, as well as healthier foods that are available now.

My brother just lost a neighbor, who, coincidentally, reminded him of Maw Maw O’Donnell. She was 87 years old, very active, in great health, did what she wanted, still drove, had the world on a string,and one day, she got something, was in the hospital, they gave her some prednisone, got worse, and never came out. It was over quickly, but everyone was left scratching their heads and asking, “why?” I said a prayer for her (he told me when they got home from her funeral) and hope that she will be reborn in good or better circumstances. My brother, like her family, will be having a period of adjustment. . .because she’s just not next door anymore.

However–we’re living in changing times as far as food goes. Isn’t it great? Let’s keep that momentum going, for us, as well as our descendents, and the rest of the world.

Anyway. . . .

I still haven’t been able to put my paws on a jar of Crisco’s new coconut oil. I have a coupon for a free one generously sent to me by the Smucker company, but can’t find hide nor hair of a jar, darnit. So I’m still on the hunt. I’m sure it’ll be here eventually.

The GER came by this morning to do a vehicular repair for me, and came once again bearing gifts. (I am still eating pecans bit by bit.) He handed me the part in a bag and said, “take a look at this and tell me if it’s the right part.” Oh, right, like I’m going to actually know! However, In the bag with the switch were these:

Food of the Gods, Vegan Style.

Food of the Gods, Vegan Style.

The GER has been undergoing a personal “detox,” where he has stopped drinking beer, Monster drinks and Red Bulls (ugh), and other unhealthy lifestyle choices, and ordered some supplements from Mercola.com (the official website of health advocate Dr. Mercola.) I’ve never ordered anything from Dr. Mercola, but I might try that joint stuff he sells. The chocolate bars were a “free sample,” which retail for about $5 each, no kidding. I had the dark chocolate bar with my morning cappuccino. Um. . .I wouldn’t eat them every day. They’re not bad, but since it’s not cut with sugar, milk and other fillers, there is more chocolate in them. They are not as sweet as a Hershey’s bar would be, and so the really strong chocolate taste comes through. One has rice flour in it, so while it’s gluten free, it’s not GRAIN free. Just a heads-up.

The GER did request that I procure some healthier versions of BBQ sauce for him, preferably without HFCS. Found some last week at Erma’s Nutrition Center; will check The Fresh Market this weekend. You know, there aren’t any in the grocery stores that I found, but thankfully, Erma’s had some. (He says he’s too lazy to make his own.) He opened the Annie’s, and is loving it; that version has cane sugar in it. The Organicville has Agave Syrup, which I’m completely familiar with, but the GER isn’t. But he can decide whether or not he likes that one.

The only two choices for HFCS-free BBQ sauce I could find. Neither is made in Texas.

The only two choices for HFCS-free BBQ sauce I could find. Neither is made in Texas.

Organicville also had a second type, which I would have bought too, but it contained soybeans. I warned the GER to avoid soybeans so that the phyto-estrogen didn’t overwhelm his system and turn him soprano.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but men should not be consuming large amounts of soybeans. It really can over-take a man’s testosterone, and end up with estrogen dominance. But that’s a Dr. Hotze issue.

Now if you really want healthy, keep reading.

Some time ago, I wrote about Epic Bars, the low-carb/paleo/gluten-free meal replacement bars made out of. . .meat. Unlike Slim-Fast and other meal replacements, these are not loaded with sugar, soy, and other key artificial ingredients to make you feel full. Epic Bars actually taste like a real meal, instead of sugar and chemicals. The first time I had one, I tried it along with a big iced coffee from a nearby Starbucks, and wasn’t hungry for quite some time. (It was July, so it was quite hot.) That, of course, immediately made me a huge fan.

BTW, for all you gluten free/gluten intolerant folks, they are now Certified Gluten Free, and the new labels sport it. Can’t argue with that one.

I have since wondered if I could use Epic Bars as a diet thing–you know, one for breakfast, one for lunch, a couple of healthy snacks, and a “sensible dinner.” You know I’m adventurous enough to actually try it one day, right? I promise, if I ever do, I’ll write all about it. I mean, they really ARE healthy, so how could it be bad?

I’ll think about it another day. Right now, I’m enjoying the blast of cool spring air coming through, and hoping it lasts a good long while.

So I was thinking about doing an update on Epic Bars, and visited their website. Woo hoo! New flavors, new blends, and some different types of products than just the bars. And a sample pack! There are also bags of bites, and now something called “Hunter & Gatherer Mixes,” which combines organic beef jerky with 4 different combinations of dried fruits. Like the bars and the bites, they’re also grain-free, soy-free, gluten-free and GMO-free. I haven’t tried those yet, but will one of these days. They’re not really available much in my neck of the woods, but there are a couple of places I might drop into soon and see what they have. Of course, you can always order all the delicious Epic products on their website, too, which is what I did.

I bought the “Sampler Pack,” just to see what would arrive. Well, take a look:

Can't wait to dive in!

Can’t wait to dive in!

They’ve switched to a different type of packaging, so you can see what’s inside:

Now you can see what you're getting.

Now you can see what you’re getting.

That small one on the top is lamb, which, as you probably know, is more expensive. I’ve bought ground lamb many times, so I know what it costs, as well as other cuts. So, of course, that bar is going to be smaller–because they won’t use any kind of filler, like soy, to make it the same size as the rest of them. That, to me, makes them an honest company.

The biggest one of the bunch is the Uncured Bacon & Pork. I know, people becoming adverse to eating pork, but not me. Up to you. Pulled Pineapple Pork, too? Oh, yes, please. . .with dried pineapple pieces, thank you.

There is even a Chicken Sriracha bar! There isn’t any actual Sriracha sauce listed, but several spices, that, I guess, would give it the Sriracha taste. (I’ve never used Sriracha, so I’m guessing on this one, cause I’m not a fan of burning hot food.)  Organic chia seeds are listed as well, which means the seeds swell and help fill you up, too.

Sesame Chicken with BBQ. . .also sounds wonderful.

Beef with apple and uncured bacon? YUM.

They’ve also developed one with. . .liver and sea salt. I do not have one of those.

Longtime readers of this blog know that liver is one of those things I do NOT like, but Epic went with a new Liver and Sea Salt bar. I am quite reluctant to try it, because, well, it’s liver. They’re not sold individually, and a LSS sample pack has six bars, which means if I didn’t like it, I would be stuck with five.

Maybe I’ll find them locally and get one. ONE. Just to try it. Liver. I’ve got sea salt, if it needs more, to kill the taste of the liver.

Another hallmark of Epic is the humane way that the livestock animals are raised and treated. No hormones, antibiotics, or unnatural feed (like soy) for them, to produce a high quality product. Can’t argue with that. I hope that this kind of ranching and farming becomes the norm one day soon.

Remember with Epic Bars, you must drink plenty of water.

I saw on Epic’s Facebook page and on their blog that Epic is one of the many sponsors of an upcoming road race, called the Durty Spur Trail Run. I did pass the idea to Neighbor K, but she didn’t like the idea of running with livestock animals. Nevermind that she did a race a few years ago where she went through a lake where goats. . .congregate. K and Daft Pug came back filthy, and K was wearing a big, fuzzy hat that looked like Fred Flintstone’s lodge hat, complete with horns. But the smile on her face said she had fun.

This road race is way the heck out in the middle of Texas, literally. So if 10K or 30K is your thing, and you’re free on April 18th to go to Hamilton, TX, have at it. (I’m not available that day; I’ll be resting from an activity on April 17th, where I’ll be gone all day and dead tired when I get home that night–and no, not a road race.)

Hamilton might be one of them places I need to look at later for my “country writing retreat.” We’ll see. I’m just looking online right now. Texas is a big state, so there’s bound to be a place for me in the country somewhere.

So for now, that’s all from my little corner of Houston, in the great state of Texas. I’m working on a couple of new things to blog about, but of course, will keep you in the loop on the garden progress. I can’t believe I didn’t think of planting my lettuce ends–I could have been eating it all this time! Well, we move forward.

Til next time–Happy Dining!

 

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Chef Michael’s Argan Oil

Chef Michael’s Argan Oil

Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers!

Well, it’s been an up-and-down couple of weeks since my last post, and for that I apologize. I’ve been working on the copywriting side, and even visited with the GER last week. But I did get lucky right after my last post—in addition to a lot of good feedback, I got a call from Chef Michael and his wonderful wife, Rosemine, and we talked for over an hour! I won’t give away any of their trade secrets, but they did have a lot to say, and I do appreciate their time.

Chef Michael has been making tasty food for many years, and they opened the Gourmet Kitchen in 2011 in The Woodlands/Tomball area. They specialize in corporate events, like the open house at Woodlands Wellness. But what I also didn’t know is that they also do event catering for the Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville, TX. No kidding! I’ve not even heard of that winery, but that’s not surprising, since Texas has quite a number of them, including Haak Vineyards & Winery (in my part of town, they do weddings) and Messina Hof (in Bryan, near Texas A&M.)  If you’re in the mood for a winery trip, check out Bernhardt’s concert series, both winter and summer—and you’ll be able to sample some of the same delicious food from Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen while you’re there. I’m not saying it’s going to be gluten-free like it was at the open house—that all depends on what the winery (or any client) requests. But whatever it is, you’ll be treated to some of the best tasting food north of the Tunnel.

I asked Chef Michael what got him started making gluten-free and yeast-free food. Most caterers don’t want to deal with “special menus” but can accommodate vegetarians with easy substitutions (I know that from corporate experience.) His answer was simple: “Dr. Davis asked for it.” Now that option is available on his catering menu for Dr. Davis as well as anyone who is looking for a healthier option for their event. You can read more about it here. Definitely not what you’d call “diet food,” and utterly delicious.

Remember this picture from my last post?

One of the delicious  dishes from Chef Michael's repetoire

One of the delicious dishes from Chef Michael’s repetoire

Well. . .that was one of the questions I asked Chef Michael and Rosemine: What the heck is Argan Oil? Rosemine told me, and since then, I’ve certainly learned a lot about it.

Now, before I tell you more, let me preface it this way: if you’re familiar with making anything with chocolate (including things like cakes and ice creams) or are a fan of the Barefoot Contessa, you’ll know that adding a small amount of coffee in a chocolate recipe helps bring out the chocolate flavor. You don’t taste the coffee, but it enhances and improves the taste of whatever you’re doing with the chocolate. My favorite Yeast Free Brownies are a perfect example.

The Argan Oil in Chef Michael’s cooking was like that. Not something I noticeably tasted in the forefront, but something in the background that really enhanced the flavor of everything. Olive oil is great, and so is coconut oil, but Argan’s warm, nutty flavor is a little something special without covering or overpowering the rest of the flavors.

Argan Oil comes exclusively from Morocco, and is used primarily in European and Mediterranean cooking. It’s only been known and available in the US in the last ten years or so (and why have I never heard of it?) One website I researched said that it was unknown outside of Morocco until French chefs started putting it in everything. Now Argan is gaining ground as a gourmet oil and as a health/wellness/beauty product.

Processing and extraction of Argan Oil are all done by hand, by Moroccan women who make a living with the arduous process. It is a nut oil—so if you have a nut allergy, it may not be for you. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, just a food blogger.) The nuts are dried, and are heated to remove the “nutty” aroma for cosmetic use. The culinary oil is then toasted to enhance the nutty flavor that it’s prized for.

Now I wonder if an Argan tree will grow in Texas—but it takes 30-50 years to bear fruit!  Maybe I’ll try growing hazelnuts; I don’t have that kind of patience (or time left.)

The nut comes from the Argan tree, or Argania spinosa. The nut kernel is surrounded by a fleshy fruit, which is removed by hand and used for animal feed. Attempts at mechanizing the separation and extraction process have not yet worked, but I’m sure that will change in the future when someone figures it out. For now, the local women’s cooperatives that do the labor-intensive extraction work helps the women make a living and provide for their families.

So what do you do with it? Unlike olive or coconut oils, you generally don’t cook with Argan Oil. It’s something to be used as-is and in small amounts, like a salad dressing or a “finishing oil.” It’s a bit like the fancy pink Himalayan salt I bought at the Metropolitan Food & Entertaining Expo a couple of years ago. You’d sprinkle a pinch on top of something right before serving, rather than measure some and add it to the recipe. Argan Oil is also used as a dip, similar to the little dip dishes of olive oil in Italian restaurants. It doesn’t have the high smoke point of coconut or olive, so a few drops at the end is all you need.

Argan Oil is similar to olive oil in health benefits, too, rich in Vitamin E and other essential fatty acids. It may also be more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Some people swear by taking a tablespoon or so first thing in the morning.

There is an additional product from the Argan tree, called Amlou, with a consistency similar to peanut butter. It’s a Moroccan thing, much like peanut butter is to us. It’s made from stone ground almonds, local honey and Argan Oil, and is also available jarred. Spread it on crackers, toast, or whatever you like.

Topically, Argan Oil is used straight for sunburn, wrinkles, acne, stretch marks, and as a hair treatment—but only a little at a time. Medical benefits (according to ArganFarm.com) include lowered cholesterol, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, pain treatment, lower blood pressure and regulation of heart function.

Again—I’m not a doctor, just a food blogger reporting what she reads. While the topical applications are probably safe and effective, I can’t positively answer for the medical benefits; you’d have to try it and see, assuming you don’t have a nut allergy.

Now, I didn’t know the rest of all this about Argan Oil. About a year or so ago, one of my writer friends posted a comment on Facebook about “Morocco Oil” that she bought to use in her hair. (That’s another name for Argan Oil.) She loved it. I meant to try it and I forgot. A couple of months ago, Neighbor K told me to try some Pantene shampoo and conditioner that contained Argan Oil. After looking at a dizzying array of Pantene products, I found the right one and wielded my coupons at the checkout.

Then while Rosemine explained it to me on the phone, I walked into my bathroom and realized that I really did have some. Of course, it wasn’t straight oil, it was in Pantene shampoo and conditioner, and some Tresomme hair styling stuff that contained some Argan Oil, noted on the label.

I really had no idea.

If you’re interested in learning more about Argan Oil, there are a number of sites dedicated to it.

This article on Food Republic gives a writer’s experience learning about Argan Oil while visiting Morocco in 2012.

In the US, Zamouri Spices is a Kansas-based company that not only imports Argan Oil for culinary and cosmetic uses, it also carries a number of Moroccan products that are difficult to find here in the US. (Being from New Orleans, it’s not something I’d ever look for.) They also carry spices, tangines (those round triangular-lidded clay pots), copperware, tea and tea accessories, and other related items.

From the UK is Argan Oil Direct, which also has free shipping worldwide and a USDA organic certification. This site offers two free e-books (which I haven’t read yet) and has a lot of information on it. This is also a company with a home base in Morocco, and is part of one of the Berber family that owns land that the trees grow on.

If you don’t mind ordering online from overseas, ArganFarm.com is run by a native Moroccan named Bader Eddine, and he lives in Essaouira City. His company sells direct from the people who extract it, and also offers a free e-book so you can read more about it. Although the book is well written, Bader’s English is a bit wonky, since it’s probably not his first language. That’s OK–at the end of the book is an offer for free shipping to 200 countries (including the US.) I didn’t see any mention of organic in the book or on his website, but it might be.

Please note that I have not personally ordered from any of the overseas websites. If you do, make SURE to use a credit card, so that if something goes wrong, you can, if need be, dispute it.

Amazon also has a large selection of Argan Oils available from several vendors, some from Zamouri, for both cosmetic and culinary use.

If you’re in The Woodlands, and your company has an upcoming function where the food is that important (or if your event is in The Woodlands), make sure you contact Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen at 281-660-8680, or email them at cateringbychefmichael@gmail.com. You can see more on their website, including menus, additional information, and even a few recipes! Chef Michael and Rosemine can help design a menu that’s perfect for whatever you need. You can see some pictures of their elegant spreads, and even a picture of them at the winery, in their online gallery.

I’m working on a few things for upcoming posts. But darnit, sometimes things are so new that I can’t get my hands on it yet. I’ll let you know when I can.

Happy Dining!

 

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The Woodlands Wellness Lunch

The Woodlands Wellness Lunch

Hello, Dear Readers:

It occurred to me that I haven’t written since Friday the 13th. AAAHH!!! My apologies. I didn’t realize it was that long. I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day, and if you were so inclined, a nice time at the world’s largest #Starbucksdate. I did, and I got a lot of reading done.

Meantime, last week (Feb 19th) I headed north to the annual open house at my doctor’s office. Woodlands Wellness & Cosmetic Center has been in business for ten years. To celebrate–they moved! Seriously, they have a new, larger location, with more room, a long hallway and lots of beautiful blue tile. (I want that blue tile in my house. When I get in it, of course.) And they even told me where they were moving to. So, since I don’t get out too often, I got dressed and went. It was a beautiful day, the weather was cool but not cold, and the doctors and staff had a very long day. (I had a long, long drive, too, but it was worth it, especially for an overdue “day out.”)

They put a few pictures on Facebook, and I guess they had a “ball” afterwards, because everyone was in formal wear. The doctors were seated in one picture, and my Dr. Davis had her shoes off. It was indeed a long day for them, but a good one.

There are two “sides of the house,” and I go for the health & wellness side–the bioidentical hormones and all that. (I told a couple of folks I was “jacked up on hormones and vitamins,” but I’d also watched a Sinbad stand-up DVD a few days before, so I kept saying that til I got home.) Dr. Sakina Davis is the doctor I see, a very nice lady, and, quite frankly, the only doctor I think I can trust:

Me and The Good Doctor. See? They do let me in!

Me and The Good Doctor. See? They do let me in!

Now, I have to explain that Dr. Davis likes peacocks the way I like cats and tigers. So, the office is decorated in a peacock theme, and while this iPhone picture doesn’t really show it, Dr. Davis has a peacock feather in her hair. Fabulous, and of course, appropriate. I tell you that for a reason, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Her husband, the friendly and affable Dr. George Davis, is the cosmetic side of the house. He does the CoolSculpting, Botox, Radiesse, dermal fillers and other cosmetic procedures I learn about when I go to their open house. All the staff will answer any questions you have about any of their procedures, all you have to do is ask.

Another product they carry is Jane Iredale makeup. I’m a longtime Avon user, but I did get a lecture from a fellow redhead on the advantages of switching to Jane Iredale. She was very nice, and despite telling them that I still have oily skin, I heard the term “dry patch.” It was just powder I’d put on. I do not need moisturizer!!

I don’t doubt that it’s good, and I was offered a makeover using JI makeup. You tell me–did it help?

Right after my Jane Iredale makeover, taken by the redhead who did it.

Right after my Jane Iredale makeover, taken by the long-haired redhead who did it. (Now my profile picture here and on Facebook, too.)

I dunno. . .I think I’m looking like my grandmother with red hair. And I think Maw Maw O’Donnell wouldn’t be thrilled with that, either.

If you know anything about this line, it’s more expensive than Avon. Well. . .it was fun, but I’ll have to think about it another day. Honest, that was the first time I’d worn makeup in about a month. When I got home, the eyeliner looked like I’d been caught in the rain. I did tell them, but anyway. . . .

When I walked in, one of the very nice staff offered me my choice of coffee, water or a mimosa. Yes, that’s orange juice with champagne, at 10:00 am, and no, I did not. But I asked for decaf, and they had some–in one of those little takeaway boxes from Starbucks. Thank you! It was very welcomed, warm and tasty, especially with the hazelnut creamer I didn’t realize I picked up.

To introduce you to all the different things WW&CC offers, they give you a “swag bag” of nice things (including a sample lip/cheek stain from Jane Iredale) and a card. You stamp your card when you talk to the different reps for different things. For instance, Christina was giving out samples of Nordic Natural gummy vitamins (delicious), another rep discussed Radiesse, the Jane Iredale ladies were in another room, ending with Dr. George and one of the high-end procedures he does. (I say “high end” because it’s kind of over my head.)

Once you get all your stamps, you drop your card into the raffle box. If you buy supplements, everything was 20% off, and you got an extra ticket, so I got another bottle of the only Vitamin B complex I’ve ever tried that doesn’t make me sick. So I put one ticket in for the Hydrafacials, and one in the box for the Jane Iredale gift basket. If I win. . .well, that’s an excuse to drive back up there, isn’t it?

Yes, there was indeed food involved. The best food anywhere, and even better than last year, which was also very delicious. This year’s menu was again created by Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen in Tomball (close to The Woodlands) and they designed this elegant menu for both the morning and evening sessions:

The fabulous menu from Chef Michael's Gourmet Kitchen.

Chef Michael’s fabulous menu for the morning and evening open house sessions. Sophisticated and first-class dining.

The young lady who was working the morning shift wasn’t quite sure what to think of me, but she was very nice and didn’t mind me nibbling the chips and the hummus. Of course, me being a bit dull sometimes, I forgot to ask her name and thank her personally. But if you’re reading this, your patience is appreciated, and you’re very nice–thank you.

KALE!! I had some for Neighbor K, who loves it. (I didn’t ask for a takeout container. . .but had anyone offered, I would have brought her one of them kale thingies.) Honest, I like kale, don’t love it like K does, but the quinoa/goat cheese/kale dish was just delicious. I passed on the eggplant dish, but then I realized I should not have done that. DUH.

Of course, I didn’t take a picture, because I was too busy eating it:

I don't even know what Argon oil is, and at that moment, I didn't care, either.

I don’t even know what Argan oil is, and at that moment, I didn’t care, either.

I will tell you that the sun-dried tomato hummus has to be the best I’ve ever tasted. I make a simple hummus on the weekends but halve the lemon because most hummus screams lemon–it’s too acidic. Chef Michael, however, doesn’t put much lemon in his (if at all), and it’s ten times better than mine! But that’s why he’s the chef and I’m a blogger. . .and that’s OK.

The beautiful vegetable plate with the sun-dried tomato hummus at the top right. I didn't mess with the Baba Ghanoush, because, well, it's eggplant and you know why.

The beautiful vegetable plate with the sun-dried tomato hummus at the top right. I didn’t mess with the Baba Ghanoush, because, well, it’s eggplant and you know why.

Also provided were some sweet potato tortilla chips that went perfectly with the hummus. I was good–I had some, and loved it, but did NOT eat the whole thing by myself. But you know I could have, especially with sweet potato chips.

I did email Chef Michael’s wife, Rosemine, and she said she would ask him about a short call with me. I never heard back, so that tells me that he’s busy making delicious food for other people know about him and who ordered. Anyone who is on the receiving end of Chef Michael’s food knows how lucky they are, too. . . .

The other thing I got ahold of were these tasty little sandwiches:

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

Yes, they are gluten free. Here’s what was in them:

2015-02-19 11.35.55

They were just delicious, and yes, I could have eaten one of those trays myself, after the hummus. But I didn’t. OK, maybe half the tray, but I stuck with one or two.

I myself have not made the almond bread yet, but I plan to one day. I hope it comes out half as good as Chef Michael’s.

Chef Michael’s website also has a section for yeast free/gluten free menu, and you can read about it here. No wonder Dr. Davis contacted him for catering the party!

Remember about yeast-free and gluten-free that some things are that way “by default,” that is, wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have the offending ingredient in them anyway, like hummus. Flour is used in a number of places as binder or to thicken, and I’ve used it myself on occasion (but not for a while.) So when it says “gluten free,” it might have always been so. Salsa, for instance, or butter. Make sense? The other way is to make the item with alternate ingredients that make it act like the gluten version (i.e., bread) so that the gluten (or other ingredient) is simply avoided. With this party, I knew everything was healthy, but when you’re cruising through a grocery or health food store, you must read the labels and ask questions (or you’ll end up with sugar in your tomato paste.)  Chef Michael understands what Dr. Davis was asking for and provided it, but not everyone you encounter will understand that you’re trying to avoid wheat, flour, sugar, soy, etc. So you have to ask if you’re not sure.

Anyway. . . .

Chef Michael’s website is ChefMichaelsGK.com. You can email Chef Michael Matthews or his very nice wife Rosemine at cateringbychefmichael@gmail.com. They do catering on the north side of Houston, including The Woodlands. If I can find it next time I go up there, I’ll stop in to see them. You can also call them to place an order at 281-660-8680 or 281-794-1771.

If you have a special event coming up and you live up there, or have an event planned for that part of Houston, CALL THEM FIRST. After lunch at Woodlands Wellness, I highly recommend them.

Now, while Chef Michael also does dessert, this time, he didn’t–it was by none other than my *other* Woodands favorite, Frost Bake Shoppe. Get a load of this:

Is that not an amazing cake?

Isn’t that an amazing cake?

I hate to over-use the word “amazing,” but it really was. And, wait for it–GLUTEN FREE!

I have written about Frost’s delicious gluten free treats before, ever since I attended the lecture with Dr. William Davis, the Wheat Belly guy. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to the GER, and mentioned that I was going to this activity in The Woodlands, the same place I got the cupcake he enjoyed the last time I went. In fact, he said, “bring back a dozen!” (My response: “Dude, they’re $3.50 apiece.” But you know they’re worth every penny.)

Now, this trip to The Woodlands did not end up with me stopping at Frost, because this beautiful creature appeared in the lobby. Take a closer look:

The cake, with a cake peacock on top.

Those were actually chocolate and vanilla mini-cupcakes, with the little sugar “feathers” on top, comprising the tail:

Really, really well made and beautiful

Really, really well made and beautiful

Remember when I said Dr. Davis likes the peacock the way I like tigers and cats? (That’s what I was told when I asked a staff member one day.) The cake was made to match the office’s beautiful decor. Now do you get it? The Peacock Cake!

I’m not getting married, of course, but if I were. . .that might be what I’d want for a wedding cake. Maybe my birthday cake when I turn 55. From Frost, of course. You can see a gallery of their delicious treats here (indexed by type.) And if you are up that way, stop in for a real feast for the eyes and soul. Gluten free, of course.

Oh, how many did I have? I might have accidentally eaten one of the “feathers” and um, one or two or four of the mini cupcakes. They were the tiny ones, which means I really only ate *two* cupcakes! Neighbor K gave me a funny look when I told her that. With the same look she gives the Daft Pug, she said, “just because they’re gluten free doesn’t mean you can eat them all.” Yes, I know, and I did NOT eat them ALL. Just enough to not make a trip to Frost before I came back to Clear Lake.

I did make one more stop, at Trader Joe’s in The Woodlands, and bought. . .a bunch of stuff. You know, the kind of thing I like to stock up on: olive oil, the cocoa powder, things like that, since they’re cheaper there. Neighbor R also asked me to pick up some of their $3-a-bottle Pinot Grigio, which I happily did. It’s her favorite, and I’m happy to do so for an 80-year-old firebrand with bum knees.

If I call her “a little old lady in Clear Lake” again she will hit me with said bottle. Full. Then I’ll be going to see Dr. Davis for a head injury. Oh, wait, Dr. George is also an ER physician. . .maybe I should go see him, right?

Many thanks to the Drs. Davis and their wonderful staff for a fantastic open house, Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen for wonderful, tasty, and healthy well-made food, and Frost Bake Shoppe for an incredible, beautiful and delicious cake that none will ever forget.

If you’re gonna have some food, make it something good.

Happy Dining!!

 

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