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Category Archives: Grocery Shopping

The Meal Kit

The Meal Kit

Hello again, Dear Readers:

Well, after my post on a great New Orleans mystery, I have heard exactly nothing about Hubig’s Pies. . .but that’s why it’s a mystery. I even sent a link to their Facebook pages and. . .nothing. But a lawsuit is probably more important than a blog post, so I really didn’t expect anything. Maybe one day.

Neighbor E finally got around to trying the Hostess Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes, after being given a home made cake he couldn’t resist. He said the cupcakes were smaller than he remembered, and while they tasted like dark chocolate and raspberry, they weren’t overwhelming. Really. They were OK. He told me that if I wanted to try one, to stop by. I’ll be happy to see E anytime, I just don’t to try one. I’m afraid I’ll find them irresistable, and spend a lot more to stockpile boxes of them before they go away.

Our monthly gardening lectures have started up again, and last month I was able to ask a very enthusiastic lecturer about. . .composting. Something went wrong when I did that last year, and now I know what it was. (Shouldn’t have chucked all that in the bin, though!) Guess I’m going to start doing that again. Soon as I move things around in the kitchen and on the breakfast bar to accommodate the compost crock. One new attendee drove from Deer Park to attend (about 14 miles from here.) I also got to see new friend of the blog Miss Shirley, who is always a friendly face no matter what’s going on.

OK. . .this time of year, people think about cleaning up their diet and eating healthier. New year, new start. But it does seem like a daunting task, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. (Yes, I know when Valentine’s Day is.)

So let me ask you–do you dream of making an elegant, healthy dinner that looks like this?

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry (from The Food Network's website)

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry (from The Food Network’s website)

But for whatever reason, it usually looks more like this?

Enchiladas. . . .

Enchiladas. . .leftover, from the microwave.

I may have the solution for you.

The enchilada picture above came from a friend who texted me the other night, who said he was “cooking.” I asked him what he was cooking, and he said “enchiladas.” I envisioned a 9″ x 13″ pan of hot, bubbly, cheese-covered Tex-Mex deliciousness that he’d enjoy for a few days, like I do. Then he sent this picture. When I talked to him later that night, he mentioned that someone brought them to work and he took some home. I said, “that’s not cooking!” His response: “you and I have very different ideas about cooking.” To quote Mrs. Patmore from last week’s episode of Downton Abbey: MEN! (Didn’t know Mr. Carson would be such a fussbudget after the wedding, did we?)

Now let’s get serious about dinner.

I’ve been seeing ads on TV, in Martha Stewart Living and other places that offer what’s called “meal kits.” If you’re not familiar with them, the most prominent players are Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated. However, a quick search discovers several more:

You may remember the company Schwann’s and their little freezer-case trucks that drive around neighborhoods occasionally. Schwann’s is a bit different than these companies, as their food is frozen, much of it processed, and geared for longer-term storage once they drop it at your house. Crock Pot’s website similarly sells frozen meals that are intended for the slow cooker, and even offer an auto-delivery service. I find that a bit baffling–I mean, how hard is it to toss some ingredients into a pot and turn it on to cook all day? But everybody’s different–some folks actually like their dinner connected to the WiFi, too.

I just found this delicious recipe on Schwann’s website, and I made some. Pretty good, but chop the garlic fine, or you’ll be eating chunks of raw garlic and not kissing anyone for a while.

I found a lot of good information on The Kitchn, and a lot of reasons why–and why not–meal kits by mail are a good idea. Let me back up and explain a little.

Remember Graze.com, the snacks-by-mail company? They’re still around, and I’ve even seen TV commercials for them recently. They’ve changed things just a bit–the boxes are now eight snacks instead of four, and yes, the price has gone up, but they’re actually less expensive than buying two boxes, and the shipping is less than two little boxes of four. They’ve expanded their offerings, too. . .and if you find something called a “flapjack” in your snack box, you’ve hit the mother lode of snacking. (Especially the cocoa flapjacks–oh, my GAWD.)

Disclosure: I have NOT tried any of these meal subscriptions for myself, but may find them useful at some point in the future. I present this completely un-sponsored information for anyone who has seen these and considered trying out one of them for reasons known to you. I’m also not encouraging you to run out and try these services–but if any one of them appeal to you, and you decide to try one, I would love to know which one(s) you tried and how you liked it.

Anyway. . . .

The basic premise of the meal kit is similar to Graze’s subscription service, but what comes in these boxes are ingredients to cook full meals with no waste. Everything is included, including recipe cards with instructions, all the ingredients, down to tiny packets of spices and condiments, and the recipe and instructions to make it. (That’s a bone of contention with some folks.) If the recipe calls for one celery stalk, that’s what you’ll find in the box–one stalk, not a whole bunch. The packaging is also recyclable and compostable to further reduce waste (you can also return the packaging to them for re-use.) The means to make a fresh, home-cooked gourmet meal comes shipped in dry ice, and I think it takes about 30 minutes to prepare (but don’t quote me on that one.)

There are no leftovers, and no containers of that spice that you probably wouldn’t buy again unless you were making this particular dish again, one day, and wanted to make sure you had that spice around. If the recipe calls for a half-teaspoon of celery seeds and a quarter teaspoon of celery salt, that’s what’s included, in tiny little containers. (Salt, pepper and oil are assumed to be already in your kitchen and are not included.)

The companies all offer menus, and you pick from those menus based on preferences, dietary restrictions, etc.The shopping and prepping has been done for you, and shipped to you in an ice-packed box that is waiting for you when you get home. Easy, right?

One advantage–which may or may not be appealing–is that there isn’t a “broker” between you and the ingredients (that is, your grocery store.) Ingredients tend to be fresher (from what I’ve read) than buying them in the grocery store. Think about it–once that bell pepper or fennel bulb is in your grocery waiting for you, it’s traveled from heaven knows where, and may not even last long enough for you to buy it. Grocery stores toss out a fair amount of soggy, limp produce–but the meal kit gets the ingredients are directly from the producers and into your hands days before you’d find it in your local market. Shipped with dry ice, it’s ready for you to open, cut, peel and cook.

You can sign up to receive free recipes by email from Blue Apron, and you can check out their cookbook online for free. Blue Apron also has an online market where you can purchase kitchenware, bakeware, tools, pots and pans, books, binders, spices, and of course, lovely blue aprons, for yourself or for gifts.

Now the big question: how much does it cost? Well, they vary from company to company. You can see Blue Apron’s pricing plan here for two people and for a family of four. It works out to $9.99 per meal for a two-person kit, and $8.74 per meal for a four-person kit. Terra’s Kitchen offers farm-to-table ingredients, shipped in a “reusable, eco-friendly vessel,” and their online menu shows a range from $11.99 per meal to $17.99 per meal, although a better explanation is in their FAQs. Terra’s Kitchen also offers gluten-free, vegetarian and Paleo menus. PR Newswire also has this article on Terra’s Kitchen, and explains that you’ll spend $160 for 10 meals from 5 recipes, which assumes dinner for two for a week, or $16 a meal.

Now, why would someone use a service like these and spend that kind of money? The answer is obvious: convenience. However, after reading comments on this article on The Kitchn, I realized that it’s not just urban yuppies who are too lazy to shop (although I’m sure there are a few of those in the mix.)  This comment was particularly telling:

I wouldn’t call myself a lazy person. I am able at times to get to the store to buy the type food the send weekly. But I am handicapped, am my illness prevents me at times to even think of what I’m going to once my feet touch the floor in the morning. So please b4 you comment think of how convenient it is for some people to have food delivered to your home. It’s healthy food and preparing it helps exercise my mind.

Never thought about that. Seriously–how many shut-ins who can’t get out like they used to could benefit from delivered meal kits? It would also make a nice gift for newlyweds, new parents, etc.

Another suggestion in the comments was for folks going to a vacation rental to have a meal kit delivered to the location with a few days worth of supplies so that you don’t have to visit restaurants every night, and can cook for yourself a few times. Not bad, right?

And another comment was about learning to cook with guidance from these meal kits:

A friend of mine who doesn’t cook told me about this, and for the convenience of them doing the shopping for him, giving him the confidence or learn how to cook, this is a great idea.

Are they worth it? That depends on you. Blue Apron’s menus are limited, but Plated’s are a little more flexible, from what I read.

If you’re considering utilizing one of these services, The Kitchn has two articles on the subject (here and here) with lots of comments from people have used Blue Apron and other meal kit companies. Read the article AND the comments before you put up your credit card. A lot of folks who have used these services have a lot to say (not just complaints), and their different perspectives might be what you need to know before you decide.

With all of these companies, I noticed that you could cancel at any time, (it’s not like the infamous “forever” gym membership) and they will work with you to resolve any issues like missed deliveries. Much like Graze, you go online and tell them if you want a future delivery, get more boxes, or if you want to skip a week (which, I think, is 3 meals in one packaged delivery.)

Again, I haven’t tried these companies out myself, but I might try a few of them in the future, just to see what it’s like. I’m used to thinking about something I want to make, shopping for it, cooking it up, and enjoying it for a few days. For me, it’s kind of tough to wrap my head around–you’ll make beef noodle something, and here is exactly what you need to make it. There are so many subscription services available now that you can get pretty much whatever you want in a little box delivered. No kidding–coffee, tea, doggie biscuits, pantyhose, makeup, shaving blades and kits–the list is endless. If there’s something you want delivered regularly, do a search, and you just might a subscription for it. That’s on top of Amazon’s Subscribe & Save service, where you can have things you use regularly like grocery items, health & beauty things and baby stuff like diapers sent to you on a recurrent basis, often at a discount. For instance, a few years ago, when I couldn’t find the shade of L’Oreal hair color I wanted in stores, I set up a regular delivery of it, and it cost less than it did when I bought it locally.

Back to the foodie part.

If you’d like some of the benefits of these meal kits but for less money, there is another option called GatheredTable. It’s an online custom meal planner that includes a grocery list, recipe library with collections like “Crave Worthy Winter Salads,” “Date Night In” and “Game Day Favorites.” You can start out with a free subscription and get to the recipes, but to continue and get the full benefit of the site, it’s $86 for a year’s subscription paid at once, or an option to try it out for 99 cents for the first month, and $10 monthly after that. What you get for the money are weekly meal plans, “smart” grocery lists that are based on what you like to eat, “curated” recipes that are tested (as well as user-submitted recipes in the library). The benefit is that you save time and money by planning more, eating out less and create less waste. There is a huge library of recipes, and you can submit your own as well. You can clip and save your favorites and find new ones you might like. But you’re back to doing the shopping. Since my meal planning adventures include cooking for a week, I don’t know that it would necessarily benefit me. If I suddenly found myself cooking for a family or a group, then it would probably come in handy. Up to you.

Another option (if you like free) is in this article on using Google Sheets for meal planning and shopping. Note that you’ll need a basic idea of using spreadsheets, but since it’s cloud-based, the list can be shared among two or more people. Would that help? Best part–it’s free, all you’ll need is a Gmail account.

Meal kits are another option for folks who like to cook, but may not necessarily have the time to do the shopping or prep work involved in nightly meals. If you’re interested, do some reading, and if you know someone who’s tried it, ask them about it too.

Meantime, I think the time is right for some Pea & Pesto Soup for me. It’s a beautiful winter day here in Houston, and I’m ready for some.

Happy Dining!

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Pizza. Waffles.

Pizza. Waffles.

Happy Monday, Dear Readers:

So after my waffle and Thanksgiving post, have you started thinking about your own Thanksgiving celebration? I’m still intrigued with the idea of the pizza waffle, so I kept going. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute. But Thanksgiving is coming up quick–if you haven’t started thinking and planning, better hurry up!

The GER has been informed of Thanksgiving, but has not responded, even though I’ll be making a delicious pecan pie on Wednesday. If he doesn’t show up, I’ll go get him.

Want to give a quick welcome to new friend of the blog AC. She’s in California this week with her parents, but she’ll get around to reading this one eventually. She’s a longtime friend of LK, and is also a longtime Buddhist like we are. Woo hoo! I’m glad she’s in our district now, and glad she will be enjoying (or reviling) my posts.

Wal-Mart has a site with some additional tips and hacks that can help you out, including a quick way to chill a bottle of wine. Cover it with a damp towel, stash it in the freezer for 15 minutes, run it under cold water again, remove the towel, and enjoy.

BuzzFeed also has this article on making an entire Thanksgiving dinner in a Crock Pot. No kidding, it serves 6 to 8 people. It’s like any other Crock Pot recipe–you chop it up, layer it, put the lid on, turn it on, and leave it. (Instructions are included.) Uses boneless, skinless turkey breasts, thighs or other parts you like, and potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, the whole bit. Add cranberry sauce and a nice dessert, maybe a nice salad, and you’re good. Better than Thanksgiving In A Box, which I’ve seen once in Wal-Mart. I offer suggestions where I can, and just maybe one of my readers will be able to do this. It requires a 6-quart or larger Crock Pot (yes, I have a round one) and it is not gluten-free, since there’s bread and flour involved for gravy.

Doesn’t look bad, and maybe it could be made gluten free, right? Consider this option if you’re looking to make something but not a big, fancy dinner, and not a huge 20+ pound turkey. I haven’t tried it, but it looks pretty simple to do, and one of you dear readers may be looking for it.

The esteemed Washington Post recently ran an article about Houston as one of America’s great food cities. Well, DUH!! Of course we are!  Phoenicia’s two locations got a mention, as well as the Hong Kong Food Market, a chain grocery with multiple locations serving the large Asian community (and they don’t mind if this redhead pops in from time to time, either.)  Houston, like New Orleans, has a large Vietnamese population, migrated after the Vietnam war. But smoked brisket, barbeque and modern cuisine is also covered. I’ve not been in any of those restaurants myself, but I’ve heard good things about Underbelly. So there! And Houston is now #3 in the US, not #4, because of the inbound migration from other US states.

If you’re a fan of local raw honey, you may be able to find more of it one day. I already knew that Central Market on Lovers Lane in Dallas has a rooftop beehive that produces raw honey for sale. But I just found out that the Waldorf Astoria in New York is doing the same thing, and using the honey in the hotel’s kitchens. Pretty neat! It was, at one time, illegal to keep bees in NYC, but that’s changed, and the busy bees are making honey and pollinating all of New York. Could “rooftop beekeeping” catch on elsewhere? It’s always possible, especially for the rest of the Central Markets in Texas. But with more people starting and expanding urban gardens (some including backyard chickens), beekeeping may also not be far behind. Culinary seller Williams-Sonoma has an entire collection of what they call “Agrarian,” which includes beekeeping supplies. You can learn more about beekeeping in this section of their website. If you’re considering beekeeping, of course, you’ll need to do a little more research.

Switching gears. . .

If you like holiday humor, I discovered many (but not all) uncut episodes of one of my favorite Britcoms, My Family, is on YouTube. It aired on BBC America and PBS for a while, but they stopped. It’s one of the funniest sitcoms ever, although it’s probably not for kids. Only series 1 through 4 are available on DVD in the US, but a boxed set is available of the entire series, including 9 Christmas episodes, in the UK. You can order them from the UK, but of course, you have to have a region-free DVD player in order to play it. So. . .one of my goals is to one day a) get a region-free DVD player, and b) order that series as well as some other UK-only stuff and c) binge-watch all 11 seasons of My Family. Repeatedly. It’s that funny.

The series revolves around a dentist, his wife and their three children. The daughter drops out of college when she is pregnant with her son Kenzo, the eldest son is an idiot, and the youngest is a smart, conniver who his always up to something, usually involving money and his computer. The series ran until 2011 when they ended it, and of course, I don’t know how it all wrapped up. Yet.

In the early-series episode called Ding Dong Merrily, there is a particularly amusing scene when the wife/mother, who sees herself as Britain’s premiere gourmet home cook, (and she isn’t) is stuffing a turkey for Christmas lunch. The husband, a dentist, walks in and asks what kind of a turkey it is. The wife responds, “Chocolate Raisin Turkey. It’s Moroccan!” Then the husband says, “Oh, no, look–your cookbook pages are stuck together. You’ve gone from poultry straight to dessert.” The wife replies, “That’s how great discoveries are made!”  Then he goes into the living room and looks at the TV schedule, and finds “Carols From The Oil Rig” in the TV schedule.

When Christmas Lunch is finally served, the mother asks the pregnant teenage daughter what part of the turkey she’d like; the daughter responds, “I’m a vegetarian, Mom.” The mother responds: OK, Janie, help yourself to vegetables.” When she asks the smart-aleck youngest son, he responds the same way. The mother replies, “I wish you’d told me before.” The son responds, “I wanted to see what it looked like first.”  It’s a half hour, and there are short commercial breaks, but if you really want to watch it, this show is what I’d call “probably not safe for work.”  There’s minimal swearing, not very much, no nudity or anything like that, it’s just more for grownups. Oh, and the phrase “up the duff” means the same thing as “knocked up” does here.

Happy Christmas!

Now, I’m still intrigued with the idea of pizza from a waffle maker, so I had to try it myself. Ree Drummond actually made one recently on her Pioneer Woman show on The Food Network, in an episode called Dorm Room Dining. Her eldest daughter, Alex, has left the ranch and gone to Texas A&M for college, so I guess this episode was just for her. There are also waffle-maker quesadillas and paninis, as well as what she calls a Wafflet, which is eggs, ham and mozzarella cheese. See? WAFFLES!! They’re sweeping the country!!

Well, almost. I went into our new Sur la Table here in Baybrook Mall for the grand opening, and was checking out some of their pizza things. I mentioned to two ladies next to me (one of whom was in a wheelchair) that I’m fascinated with pizzas made in a waffle iron. The one pushing the wheelchair gave me a rude look and said, “I guess that’s good if you’re single, huh?”  My response: “Depends on the size of your waffle maker, I guess.”  No, Toto, we’re not in The Woodlands, either. But they did sharpen my big knife for free. (First one is free, the rest are $5 each, all year long.)

So what happens when the star food blogger in the HeatCageKitchen gets a hankering for pizza? That’s definitely one of those things I miss having, but of course, there are alternatives to ordering from Papa John’s. So she goes on Pinterest and finds what she wants. This time, my new taste tester, Neighbor E, also got to try some pizza waffles. I’ve stocked up on pizza sauce, but will get more cheese soon,so I can make it anytime this winter, along with Pea & Pesto Soup.

Let that roll around in your head awhile, OK? Pizza. Waffles. Or, Waffled Pizza. Or nearly instant pizza from the waffle maker, depending on what recipe you use.

Pizza. Waffles.

I’ve uploaded these two to the Recipes page, one is a scan and one is a PDF created from the blog it came from. One is a thick crust pizza, the other a thin, crispy crust. I liked both, and so did Neighbor E, but Neighbor R wasn’t crazy about the thick crust. So here’s the first one, thick crust and easy.


The new function in WordPress, a “mosaic.”

I discovered that the quinoa flour called for in the recipe is about $13 a pound, but oat flour can be used. Well, I have used oat flour for many years, and it’s about $3 or $4 pound, depending on where you buy it. So guess what I used? I also don’t have sweet rice flour, so I used the brown rice flour I have.

Really, this is pretty simple, you just mix it up, pour it on the waffle maker and waffle it. Top it with whatever you like, and stash it under the broiler to melt the cheese.

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PIzza!!

The first time I bought Classico’s pizza sauce, but when I went to HEB last week, I discovered their store brand, (organic, no less!) for sixty cents less a bottle:

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Echoes of future pizzas.

Now, the second one, from the fabulous new book Will It Waffle?, takes a little more work. (It’s the book I wrote about in the first waffle blog post.) The recipe isn’t gluten free–so if you just want regular bread flour, go for it. However, I wanted to try this recipe, which also includes instant yeast, just to see if it would work with a gluten free flour. For this one, I picked up a bag of Bob’s Red Mill 1-for-1 baking flour, which, I think, ran about $4 in Kroger:

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This recipe involved letting the dough rise like you would bread. But since it was cool on Saturday, leaving the dough in a warm place to rise involved heating up the toaster oven, putting the dough in a bowl, covering it with a pot lid, putting it into the oven and turning it off for a couple of hours while I went out for a 2 hour bike ride:

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Worked like a charm, too:

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Then you punch it down, knead it, and you end up with six potential pizzas:

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Daniel Shumski does tell you that the recipe makes extra crusts. Well, I waffled two regular sized pizzas and one about the size of a donut, and the rest were packed up to freeze for a future pizza (just let the dough thaw at room temp):

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After that, it was pretty much like dealing with pie crust but a lot more delicate. Roll it out on a floured board (you don’t need much.) Then, like a pie crust, roll it onto the floured rolling pin, the unroll it onto the plate until you’re ready to waffle it:

Neat, huh?

Then you just proceed with the cooking process on a heated waffle maker:

Take it out, top it, and just like the prior pizza, stash it under the broiler to melt the cheese:

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PIZZA!!

Since I’d been on the bike for 2 hours (ahhhh. .  .) I ate a whole regular sized pizza and the donut-sized pizza. Stop it–it wasn’t THAT much! I gave Neighbor E and Neighbor R each half of the second pizza right out of the broiler.

Now, with the yeasted crust, it’ll take a while because you have to let the yeast rise. However, the crust can be made in advance and thawed. I haven’t thawed any yet, but it probably shouldn’t take long. Then just roll it out and waffle.

This crust came out a bit like a crispy pappadam, the crispy bread served in Indian restaurants. I didn’t think it was going to taste good, because the raw dough wasn’t tasty at all. But boy, once you apply that waffle heat to it, it stiffens up really good, and the toppings just make it.

Three thumbs up! (Mine, E’s and R’s.)

Shimski also gives an option for a cannoli-style pizza, which I haven’t tried yet either. But I might, adding some sausage, pepperoni or something else. Hmmm. . .waffled pineapple, maybe? (Yes, pineapple on pizza is good.)

But with the first pizza, you can have it in the time it takes to call out for pizza, and it’s gluten free.

So here’s where I’ll close this delicious and interesting post, and wish everyone in the US (or anywhere) a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy what there is to enjoy, and remember what you’re thankful for, too.

Don’t forget the best recipe ever for Leftover Turkey Chowder on the Recipes page, too.

And if you’re going out to Christmas shop on “Black Friday, ” please, please be careful–or reconsider. Sometimes it’s actually dangerous to go out shopping, and people have been badly hurt just trying to get at that great deal on a TV, DVD player, PC, or whatever. I might just walk up to my Starbucks instead, just to go for a walk that day.

Whichever pizza you chose, keep it in mind for a quick meal sometime. The fun is in trying something new, and experimenting with it. With or without salad, soup, or whatever else you might have with it, making pizza waffles is a neat way to make a pizza when you’re in the mood for it.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Dining!!

 

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Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Remember when I said the next post would be about waffles, unless I had something better to write about? I do–and I’m not reneging on waffles, either. In fact, after I finish writing this, I’m going to try out a gluten-free waffle recipe just for you! (Well, and me, too.)  I’m anticipating three or four different waffles on the recipe page, and one may even involve using. . .wheat. We’ll see when I get there.

Are you a Trader Joe’s fan? Well, I finally had a flash of inspiration, and decided to do something about the lack of a TJ’s down here south of Houston. I put a link on NextDoor.com, and suggested everyone in my area write TJ’s and tell their friends to do the same. So far, several people have, including Neighbor K, who became a fan after hearing me bang on about it, and made her first trip.  If you’re one of my local readers, do this now and tell EVERYONE YOU KNOW. If we get enough people writing, we might actually get one closer than the Montrose store. I suggested Friendswood or League City, but anywhere closer than Montrose or Memorial would be wonderful. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have TJ’s at all, and you miss them terribly, you can go to this link as well and ask about getting a TJ’s in your area. Do the same thing–tell your friends. Go to this link and send them a short email about where and why. Save the text on a Word document in case the site goes bonkers, like it did for me. It worked the second time.

A couple of weeks ago, I was strolling through Target and found this with a clearance sticker on it:

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Hershey’s? Ice Cream Maker?

End of the summer, an ice cream maker. However, it’s one that requires this:

It's GOURMET.

It’s GOURMET.

Now that we have Blue Bell back, we don’t need this. And of course, in fine print at the bottom, it says, “artificially flavored.” No thanks. I like my Cuisinart model and the recipes I have in cookbooks.

So anyway. . .guess who has more pesto in her freezer? Yes! ME! (You can envy me now.) As of last night, I now have SIX containers of pesto! No, I haven’t poured steroid fertilizers out back. I went on a little day trip on Monday. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve written about the monthly gardening lectures I attend at my local library, third Thursday of the month, 6:30 pm. Nice people, and sometimes, there’s munchies. (No, I passed on the cake last week.)  The lady who coordinates the lectures and attends every month is a nice person named Shirley Jackson. She’s always there, picks up the surveys, gives announcements and sometimes, she’s the friendliest face I see all day.

One of the announcements has been since the beginning the “open garden” day at the Genoa Friendship Garden in nearby Pasadena. That’s not someplace I normally hang out, and despite writing it down, I never seem to remember. Except for one day I dropped a pitcher of iced coffee on the floor, and. . .oh, never mind. Finally, Monday, I paid them a visit.

Sponsored by the Harris County Master Gardeners and Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension, it’s a little spot where all kinds of plants are grown, and they have plant sales–cheap. I spent a whopping $3.50 yesterday, for two tomato plants and a sweet pepper plant that I’ll put into a big pot this weekend.

Take a look:

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This was a cute little display:

A diorama!

A diorama!

Here’s a closeup:

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If you like eggplant, they’ve got a garden variety that, it is claimed, actually tastes good.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

Here’s another look at that eggplant:

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There are peppers of many kinds:

Sweet peppers

Sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

For the okra-loving folks.

Okra--the GER's favorite

Okra–the GER’s favorite

They grow green onions, just like I do, only more of them. I also got answers to questions about the garlic that never seems to grow well in my garden. One nice lady said it was probably critters. I’ll try again soon.

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A few shots from around the garden area:

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There’s an orchard, complete with berry bushes:

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

I think these are grapes, but I couldn’t find a label for it:

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And they didn’t forget the kitties, either! (I bet there’s a huge feral cat colony living there, somewhere, that comes out to party in the Garden at night.)

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I was quite surprised to see an area of desert plants, separated from the rest of the garden:

That's the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I've seen since the last time I was in the desert.

That’s the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I’ve seen since I left California. In 1988.

Prickly pear cactus produces fruit–did you know that?

Cactus pears, also called "Indian Fruit."

Cactus pears, also called “Indian Fruit.”

Yellow flowers develop on top of the little fruit buds, that’s why there is an indentation. Then the flower dries up and falls off (just like zucchini or peppers) and the fruit buds start growing. When they turn dark purple, you can pick them and peel them, because they’re sweet. I’ve seen “Indian Candy” at truck stops in California and Arizona. (But not in a long, long time.)There were other desert plants, as well, like this, I believe is called an Ocotillo:

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Yes, those needles are indeed SHARP.

NOW–remember what I said about more pesto? Get a look at this:

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I mentioned to one of my “tour guides” that I grow basil for the sole purpose of making pesto and freezing it for the winter. I told him about Pea & Pesto Soup, and told him that if he made that for his wife, she would be very happy with him. He reached down and cut me a couple of huge branches, big as a wedding bouquet. (Don’t read anything into that.) I stopped on the way home at Randall’s because I knew I didn’t have enough pine nuts to make two or three batches. I might start using walnuts one day–I like walnuts too, and they’re less expensive than pine nuts.

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!!

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!! (Tomato plants in the foreground.)

Another one of my tour guides (listening to my discussion of said soup) asked me, “how do you have time to do all that cooking?” I smiled and said, “I’m single.” He was delighted to hear about Pea & Pesto Soup, but insisted that I make some and bring it to him to try. I’d guess he was in his mid-70’s, and he was not about to go online to find the recipe. (Most of the people working there were women.)

There are several varieties of basil growing, like this one:

It's basil, but. . . .

It’s basil, but. . . .

As I’ve done so many times, I picked a leaf and tasted it. Suddenly behind me, I heard a woman’s voice say, “That’s not culinary basil.

AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

It wasn’t poisonous, but I did indeed spit it out quickly and ask about it. She said, “I’ve never had anyone pop a leaf in their mouth like that.”

I got to ask lots of questions, and I found out a lot of things I didn’t get from the lectures. First, I’m under-watering my plants. DUH! Second, there isn’t enough room for all the water to drain properly, so I have to get a bigger drill bit soon and drill bigger holes in the bottom of the paint buckets. If I have time next month, I might go take a ride, now that I know where it is and how easy it is to get to from here.

I went into the greenhouse to get some plants, and there were some free seeds, limit 5. That was all I needed.

French breakfast radishes!!

Sage and French breakfast radishes!!

Lettuce will be happening again, soon, too, thanks to the seeds and the cooler weather that’s coming.

It’s not a big greenhouse, but there were plenty of plants for sale. I missed the kale, though. Sorry, K.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Now, to give you some perspective on why gardening can be a good thing, consider the Meyer lemons that I’m hoping will get bigger. I’ve got seeds from last year’s lemons, and I may need to prune the tree a bit. But on a recent trip to The Fresh Market, I found some Meyer lemons:

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I hope to grow more and more.

I sent that picture to Neighbor K. She was quite surprised to see how much they were. NOW do you see why I want to grow them? I do hope mine grow full size before they completely ripen.

You can find out more about the Genoa Friendship Garden at this link. The Garden is open to the public on the third Monday of the month from 8:30 to 11:00 am, and they sell plants cheap. If you’re looking for something to do in Houston, there are two gardens; this one is on my side of town.

Time for fall gardening, and I’ll be hoping that radishes finally grow back there. They grow quickly, and best in the cold winter. Fingers crossed, and I’ll tell you all about it. . .if it works.

Enjoy!

 

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Rapid Ragu and the Cafe Nervosa

Rapid Ragu and the Cafe Nervosa

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

Are you ready for fall? Or are you already sick of pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING?

The other night I was in Target, and saw the new “limited edition fall frolic” scent of cat litter that one of my writer friends posted to Facebook last week. I opened the bottle and took a sniff. Not bad, smells nice, and I wouldn’t mind it in a candle. But don’t be surprised if you change to this “fall frolic” scent and your cat starts avoiding the litter box. Their little noses don’t like scented stuff like that. I know–I had cats. I did that. They let me know about it in their own “specially scented” way.

I’ve had the old Steely Dan song Deacon Blues stuck in my head since reading the Wall Street Journal’s article the other day. (Don’t let that old “long-haired-hippie-freak” picture throw you too much–they’re old men now.)  I haven’t heard that song in a long time, and at over 7 minutes, it’s a big earworm. The song was quite complicated and layered, especially for the time, and will forever be associated with the late 1970’s. (For anyone younger than 40, that also means no Auto-Tune. They actually had to play their own instruments, and usually wrote their own music.)  However, since I hadn’t heard it in years. . .now it’s stuck in my head.

You’re welcome.

I suppose I should pull out their Two Against Nature CD and put it into iTunes so I can listen on my iPod sometime. I bought it the day it was nominated for a Grammy, but haven’t played it in a while.

After our two-day autumn tease last weekend, with Sunday morning a wonderful 62 degrees, summer is back for a while, with hot, muggy days and warm muggy nights. And lots of those annoying snails. One of my neighbors suggested today getting some deer whiz from someplace like Bass Pro Shops. (Yes, I said “whiz,” but I could have called it something else less polite.) I’ll let you know what happens if I try it.

This week I have been plagued with alimentary issues, some of which I won’t discuss, but will lead me to the yeast-free diet again. I start Monday, I think, soon as I figure out if I’ve consumed all the dairy stuff I made. I think I did. But I’ve got some Yeast Control, and I’ll be on it. Started Labor Day weekend, and I actually noticed it when I had a glass of wine with Neighbor R. It just never went away.

I conquered the heartburn but yesterday found myself with horrific nausea. After a quick search of using powdered ginger (all I had handy) I came across this comment on a LifeHacker article:

I’m a huge hypochondriac, and over the years I’ve come up with the perfect concoction for whenever I feel the slightest bit sick:

  • Hot water
  • honey
  • lemon juice
  • powdered ginger (~1/2 tsp)
  • cinnamon (~1/2 tsp)

It will seriously make any ailment better.

It worked.

Who has time to run to the store when you don’t know what time the next wave will happen? Thank heavens for the Internet. If you’re not familiar with Lifehacker.com, go take a look next time you need to learn how to do, fix, or figure out something. I forget that sometimes. People share all kinds of articles there. You just might find out something you didn’t know you needed.

So, I’m going to watch the final Harry Potter film this evening, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, and then I’ll be done with them. I guess I either figure out what to borrow next, or wait for the end of Downton Abbey, which as we all know will start its final season soon in the UK,and in January here in the US. (It will also be released on DVD in late January.)

Last week I went to pick up the earlier Harry Potter DVDs and took a quick look through the library’s bookstore. You never know what you’ll find, and this particular day, I found a couple of good ones, at $1 each. Are you ready for this?

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It was a dollar. I could not resist. I always need funny. And, get this–it’s autographed by the author!

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“Husband Hunting?” It’s still a thing? Really? Guess Deanna found that man of her dreams. I’ll read it when I run out of movies to watch. Mostly as a defensive measure–if I know what to do to actually find a husband, I’ll also know what NOT to do.

It’s counterintelligence for a dollar. You just can’t get that kind of a bargain every day.

But the one I could not pass up, for $1 was. . .yet another cookbook. Yes, I know, I don’t need another one, but I could not pass up Cafe Nervosa: The Connisseur’s Cookbook. Fans of the TV show Frasier will remember the endless social interactions of the characters at Cafe Nervosa, and the two pompous brothers would occasionally drive the staff up a wall. (Am I the only one who was glad to see Kelsey Grammar rid himself of that steel wool mess on the back of his neck after the second or third season?) It’s still on in reruns on a number of cable channels. Frasier Crane is one of the longest-running TV characters on American TV, keeping Kelsey Grammar employed first through many seasons of Cheers, then on the namesake show. I used to watch it weekly when I could. . .ooh, maybe I should see if the library has those DVDS for me to binge-watch next?

The book itself was actually produced by Oxmoor House, (1996) once the publisher for Martha Stewart’s compendium books as well as other titles. On the front cover is a picture of our favorite psychos. . .I mean, psychiatrists, enjoying a cup at a table by the wall. Inside are color pictures of some of the dishes, which are quite fancy fare, some black-and-white pictures from the show, as well as bits of dialogue. The book tops out at 108 pages, including the index and two pages of metrics equivalents.

There are several recipes for biscotti, as well as breads, muffins and scones, along with paninis, sandwiches, salads, desserts (yes, Tiramisu is on page 75) and coffee drink variations, like a German and a Mexican version of Cafe au Lait. On page 98, there’s a recipe for Cafe Pontalba, which requires coffee and chicory. Do they drink coffee & chicory in Seattle? I doubt it–but since Oxmoor House is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, it’s more likely a southern recipe they added into a book about. . .Seattle.

I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but there are a few recipes I’d like to try sometime. Chicken Salad Au Vin on page 34 looks good, and Quiche for the Fine-Boned might work with some kind of gluten-free crust under it sometime this winter (or maybe no crust at all.) Lots of cheese, though, and a can of my favorite chopped green chiles. On page 66 is also a nice looking Chocolate Dessert in Creme Anglaise that might be nice to try one day. There are a couple of nice-looking ice cream desserts that might have to be attempted eventually, too.

Page 69 has this typical dialogue between Frasier and his brother Niles:

Frasier: Niles, I think you’ll find this Courvoisier is the perfect brandy to top off our evening.

Niles: It was an exquisite meal marred only by the lack of even one outstanding Cognac on their carte de digestifs.

Frasier: But think about it, Niles. What’s the one thing better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all night.

Niles: Quite right. Let’s savor it.

The jazzy closing theme song was not like other shows, with “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs.” There’s an explanation for it along with the complete lyrics here.

If you’re a Frasier fan, you might just enjoy this book.

Now. . .what did I make last weekend? Oh, I was prowling through The Fresh Market week before last and decided that I would make some of Nigella Lawson’s Rapid Ragu from Nigella Express. (Nigella’s newest book, Simply Nigella, comes out November 3rd, along with a raft of books from Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten, and I forget who else.)  I have only made Rapid Ragu once, and the reason I don’t make it more often is because of two things: ground lamb and sweet onion confit from France, bought once from Central Market. However, I decided to go for it, and instead of the French stuff, I got some of this, which I’d considered trying for some time:

A close substitute.

A close substitute.

I actually contacted Stonewall Kitchen (when I was contacting catalog companies as a copywriter) and decided to ask them about it. The comment came back as, yes, it would work, so I got some. To this day I hate the fact that I’d missed this product when Fresh Market sold it “buy one, get one free.” Darnit. They haven’t done it since. But at half the price of French sweet onion confit, I’ll deal with it. I’m sure Nigella wouldn’t mind.

Next up was the ground lamb, which I bought as two big seasoned burgers.

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There were two, and when checked out, it was enough for the recipe, as well as less expensive than going to Kroger for some:

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So here’s the rest of it:

The setup

The setup

Another exception to this recipe was the use of bacon instead of pancetta, because, after all, pancetta is Italian bacon, and I didn’t feel like springing for it. Target sells half-cup containers of cubed pancetta, and this recipe calls for a full cup–so that’s a good $10 or $15 for pancetta.

  1. The good stuff from Fresh Market.

    The good stuff from Fresh Market.

Bacon definitely works here, and I chopped it accordingly, with the kitchen scissors until I had a cup of the little darlings:

Yum.

Yum. I only cut half the package, just like that.

Then we cook: heat the oil up and fry that delicious bacon (or pancetta) in it until it’s crispy:

Bacon. Fried. In garlic oil.

Bacon. Fried. In garlic oil.

Then you get busy with the lamb.

See? Burgers!

See? Burgers!

Add that to the pan and break them up to brown, just like you would for sausage or ground beef for spaghetti sauce:

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Remember that these were burgers bought as-is, with parsley and rosemary already added in.

Add in the can of tomatoes, water, Marsala wine, lentils, and the onion jam (or carmelized onion confit, if you’re willing to splurge for it) and bring to a boil.

MMmmmm. . . . getting there.

MMmmmm. . . . getting there.

And let it cook for 20 minutes.

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Stir occasionally. It won’t be long now.

I wasn’t sure how much Cheddar cheese I had at home.  The recipe calls for either Cheddar or “grated red Leicester,” and I have no idea what that is, but I bet it would be expensive if The Fresh Market had some. So I got some Cheddar while I was there:

I don't normally buy anything "baby," but this was just what I needed.

I don’t normally buy anything “baby,” but this was just what I needed.

And grated it right up:

So glad I bought this blender/food processor combo when I did.

So glad I bought this blender/food processor combo when I did.

After grating up cheese and adding things to the dishwasher for the eventual washing up, IT was ready. I split it up into four of those food storage bowls I use, and added some of the grated cheese on top of each of them:

Lunch for three more days!

Lunch for three more days!

It was as delicious as I remember, and I’m glad I made it. I have more of the onion jam in the fridge, so I can make it again one day soon, should I find ground lamb on sale.

Dig in!

Dig in!

I guess I should mention that it happens to be gluten-free, but really, it was already, since there’s no flour or anything in it, right? But with the wine and the onion jam, it’s NOT low-carb.

But it sure is good.

You can find a printable version of this on the recipe page, if you’re interested, along with a number of others I’ve put to paper. Ragu is to Europe what chili is to Texas, I think, and although it has lentils in it, I don’t think the word “chili” would occur to anyone eating this delicious, meaty dish.

Oh, and since “bowls” are now a thing (as are “toasts,”) this will fit the bill perfectly for a day where dinner needs to be a dump-and-stir proposition. And with winter coming, this is a good one to keep in your back pocket for a cold night and a quick meal.

Enjoy!

 

 

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HeatCageKitchen Garden and The Return of Blue Bell Ice Cream

HeatCageKitchen Garden and The Return of Blue Bell Ice Cream

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

My sincerest apologies for the lateness in posts. I’ve been busy on the copywriting side, so writing here has been postponed. But I’ve got some things to tell you about, including the return of Texas’ favorite ice cream. I’ve got a new cookbook, which I’ll tell you about in a future post, as well as a new piece of kitchen equipment.

I’ve finally decided to start watching the Harry Potter films. I’ve read all the books more than once–the most addictive books ever–but I’ve never seen the movies. I ordered them from the library, and shortly I’ll be watching “Year 6” (Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince.) After that, the two halves of Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows should arrive, hopefully next week. I tried watching Mad Men. UGH. Five episodes of season 1 was all I could stomach. Like a lot of folks, I’m waiting for Downton Abbey’‘s final season to start. We are all distressed by this, of course, and hope Mr. & Mrs. Bates catch a break and the wedding of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes goes off without a hitch. (I think Lady Mary gets married, because in the trailer, I thought I saw a wedding ring on her left hand.) After so much Harry Potter at once, I’m now wondering where I can use the incantations “Stupefy!” and “Expecto Patronus!” in daily life.

Have you noticed the plethora of pumpkin-flavored everything yet? Starbucks has brought back their (in)famous Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), now with real pumpkin! Honest, I’ve never had one. Maybe when I win the lottery. However, after discovering a meme creator for my phone, I made another one of these, that we see every year:

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No kidding. Last weekend’s trip through The Fresh Market yielded this:
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Neither the Pumpkin nor the Chocolate Cherry come in decaf. Darnit. I didn’t check Pecan Pie, because HEB has a Texas Pecan flavor in decaf.

And because I couldn’t resist poking fun at the GER again, this one went on Facebook:

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That actually IS the GER’s  profile picture in my iPhone. Because I know he wouldn’t let me take one of him. If I did, he would break the phone. So the piggy pic from Fresh Market has to do. Yes, he knows. In fact, it was his birthday this week–he wasn’t interested in a cake, either. Oh, well.

So let me give you an update on the HeatCageKitchen garden.

As I mentioned last time, the recently planted organic spring onions have taken off:

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I’m not kidding when I tell you they’re easy to grow–just cut the white rooted part and stick it in water, or better, dirt. They’ll keep growing a while, until of course, you attempt to transplant them. Hopefully this container will last at least as long as the last one did, and I don’t have to buy more for five years.

More rain off and on, so no weeding yet. But soon.

Look! Basil!

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Both plants had lots of leaves, although the slugs have had a munchfest on the bottom leaves and on the little sprouts which are slowly getting bigger. I hope they get bigger before Christmas. . .MAN this is the longest I’ve seen seedlings grow past the first two leaves. Never fear. . .I also had plenty of parsley, and you know what that means!

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I measured everything and discovered I had enough for TWO batches of pesto! Some of it is parsley, but I don’t mind. Longtime readers know of my affinity for pesto, and for Pea and Pesto Soup. Hopefully the two big plants will grow back, and the seedlings will be nice and big so I can make even more for the winter. This, of course, means a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, for more of those little containers, but who cares? It’s PESTO!! (Can you tell I never had it growing up in New Orleans?)

In addition to the citrus trees doing whatever (the Meyer lemons are still the same, no change), the tomato plants are. . .well, I don’t know what’s going on with them. Let me fill you in:

  • The Sungold plant has given me some tiny tomatoes for seeds, and flowers indicating more to come
  • The Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple have done nothing since the initial harvest of a few
  • I’ve trimmed the dead stuff off all the tomato plants, two of which exceed six feet
  • The Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple have new growth from the bottom of the plants
  • The Tumbling TomTomato has given me four more full-sized yellow orbs
  • The Tiny Tom (red) has given me these alien-looking things that I hope contain seeds I can save for next year:

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The first ones I got were nice, round tomatoes. What do you call this nonsense? Seriously, have you ever seen anything so WEIRD? Take a closer look after I picked them and brought them in:

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I’ve gotten three or four like that, the size of the top digit of my pinky finger, and the ones that are coming behind it are round (you can see it bottom right, under the leaves.) What the heck do you call that?

In all seriousness, the very dry, hot summer has taken a toll on all the plants, and even though they were watered regularly, I’m guessing that wasn’t enough. Remember, my beautiful red bell pepper scorched, and I had to toss it. Can’t even put that in the compost bin (which I plan to re-start soon.)  However, there are more on their way. I hope:

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Already got one being worked:

Bottom of the baby bell pepper

Bottom of the baby bell pepper

Oh, and I think my sage plant is toast. Just shriveling up on me. Oh, well, I can find another one, I’m sure.

On the other hand, the Anaheim/Hatch chile peppers are coming back like gangbusters:

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One of many, MANY peppers that are coming in the next few weeks.

The thing about these is that they are the same color as the leaves, so I actually have to go out and poke around and feel through the leaves, otherwise I’ll miss one. It’ll stay too long and get red-hot. Not something I want in my breakfast casserole. There are little flowers all over this plant–I’ve never had that happen before with an Anaheim. If this keeps up, I might not have to buy the cans for a while.

Now we switch gears for something important.

If you’re in Texas, you know we’re celebrating the return of Blue Bell Ice Cream. Not everyone is celebrating, however–it’s in limited distribution and not all the flavors are available. lt’s only available in Houston and parts of Alabama, and only four flavors: Homemade Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate, Butter Pecan, Cookies and Cream, and The Great Divide (half chocolate, half vanilla.)  My favorites, Sugar Free Vanilla and MOO-llennium Crunch, are not currently available, but remember, they’re coming back from a complete suspension of operations. You can find out more with this locator can show you where it’s available now.

Neighbor K gifted me a pint last week, since I wasn’t feeling well all week:

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She wasn’t sure if I’d prefer chocolate or vanilla–chocolate would be my first choice, but since it was a gift, I was not going to be picky, and said “thank you.” It was wonderful!

I did get more a couple of days later:

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I posted these pictures on Facebook, to the consternation of many folks, one of whom attempted to get some in Lumberton, TX, and was told, “go to Houston.” He was rather unhappy about that.

Another individual posted a rather bad picture of someone (possibly himself) with a half-gallon on the table, lid off, a belt around his upper arm,and a cigarette lighter under a tablespoon of ice cream. Yes, I agree, bad taste, although you do get a fair amount of dark humor on Facebook. But that’s how deprived we’ve been.

When I went back for another pint a couple of nights ago–eaten in three parts over 3 days–I intended to get more chocolate. While standing in line, I happened to look down and saw that one of the ingredients was. . .WHEAT!!

SAY WHAT????

Flour? In ice cream? OK, I’ll give on the Cookies & Cream–you expect that. But plain old chocolate? Oh, NO!!!

Today I called Blue Bell to ask about that very thing. Cheryl Ignasiak in Customer Relations asked around her office, and was told that flour is not actually added to Dutch Chocolate ice cream. But because the possibility of cross-contamination exists with the Dutch Chocolate, they have to list it on the label as an “ingredient.” Cheryl was very nice, and of course, I wasn’t out to do a “hit piece” on Blue Bell (I leave that for people in areas where they’ve never had it), I just wanted to know the score on this for folks who read this blog that do have problems with wheat, so they can know if they’re exposed.

Cheryl did tell me that Homemade Vanilla and my other favorite, MOO-llennium Crunch, are both gluten free. So that was good news. (But better news would be that they MAKE MOO-llennium Crunch again.)

Again, Blue Bell is not at full production yet, and they are working towards that goal. Eventually, everyone will be able to get some, and all the flavors will be available again. Cheryl was nice enough to email me a list of their products that are suitable for folks avoiding gluten, and you can read the PDF file here:

Nutrition Notes GLUTEN Ice Cream.

That’s quite a few flavors for folks with gluten issues. Good news, indeed.

I know, I know. . .the Great Ice Cream Lysteria Hysteria of 2015 is almost over. (Blue Bell wasn’t the only brand that was hit.) I did try to get by with other, lesser brands of ice cream. Admittedly, HEB’s Creamy Creation is not bad, but I didn’t think about it. I did make ice cream a couple of times, and on one occasion bought Target’s Market Pantry ice cream. Know what? I discovered that not only is a lot of air whipped in, making the container feel half-empty, one I almost got had. . .wheat flour. I put that stuff back and got something else. Blue Bell, when frozen, doesn’t feel “squishy.” It gets HARD, like ice cream should be.

If you are in the areas that get Blue Bell, rejoice and go buy some. If you are not, you have two choices: drive to an area that has some, bring your ice chest, and get some. Then, be patient–the house-elves are working as fast as they can to get everything up and running for full production.

Oh, wait–Blue Bell has employees, not house-elves, don’t they?

Nevermind–I’m going watch that Harry Potter movie before bed.

Happy Friday!

 

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Clearing the air

Clearing the air

Hello Dear Readers:

Today is a short, but useful tip for those of us who love to cook, but hate the after-effects. I’m speaking, of course, about cooking odors.

If you’re still smelling last week’s fish, or just a general funk when you come home after being away from it, your first impulse might be to spray an air freshener. It will cover up the smell for a while, but when the fragrance wears off, you’re still left with. . .that smell.

How do I know? I’ve done it. And it’s been an Achilles’ Heel for quite some time. Without an exhaust fan in here that removes the air. . .it stinks.

Air fresheners are, in fact, toxic, if you didn’t know that. Urban legends abound that the plug-in types start fires , although there was, indeed, one incident in Britain that could have been worse. I have a couple of things to spritz from (ahem) Yankee Candle, but I don’t like to use them often. I used it most recently when my appliance repair guru came by to take care of the dishwasher.

About a week or so ago, I came back from an early morning walk with Neighbor K and I said the same thing. “Gawd, it stinks in here.” I’ve opened up the windows, taken out the trash, vacuumed and cleaned up the carpet, and still. . .it stinks. When I roast my favorite turkey thighs or any kind of chicken, if I don’t open the windows for a good 10 minutes, I go to sleep with thickly poultry-scented air. (Remember, it’s summer in TEXAS.)  So  finally, I got on Pinterest and started clicking around.

What do I tell you about Pinterest? It’s NOT Facebook (although you can share stuff ON Facebook, Twitter, and other places if you want to.) You can find answers to all kinds of questions, learn new things, find new and creative projects (I’ve cooked and sewn many Pinterest projects, like the Meyer Lemon Cake), and find ideas to improve your quality of life. (YouTube also has videos abound that you can use to solve problems–and cute kitty cat videos to make you feel better when you can’t solve them today.)

What I found was a simple solution using. . .a Crock Pot! And, of course, the kitchen stalwart, baking soda. I don’t have one of those “little dippers,” so I just used the one I had, the 4 quart. I set it up and left it alone, although I checked the water periodically to make sure it didn’t run dry.

Just some water and baking soda--that's it, but you can also add essential oils, citrus peels or other natural fragrance.

Just some water and baking soda–that’s it, but you can also add essential oils, citrus peels or other natural fragrance.

 

Next day, we went out for our morning walk. I came back inside, and after a few minutes realized that I smelled. . .nothing. No kidding, I didn’t. OK–maybe it’s just a fluke, and I wasn’t paying attention. Went back outside, came back in, and didn’t smell it again. Maybe it was the early morning air. . .I had to test my hypothesis.

K was working from home that day, and later in the day, she texted to ask if I had any mayo she could borrow. (But, of course!) So when she knocked, I opened the door a crack and asked her to take a big breath when she walked in and tell me what she smelled. Guess what? No cooking odor–K actually said it smelled “fresh.” Eureka–It works!

This is not to say it’s a permanent fix, especially in here. I’ve kept the Crock Pot on for the better part of a week. This afternoon, when I came back from walking Daft Pug, I still smelled it. But I know I can get rid of it, and have another pot of fresh baking soda and water in the Crock Pot now, hoping it’ll be better tomorrow.

File this under “Crock Pot Hacks.”

Baking soda, with table salt and vinegar, also makes a fine drain cleaner for slow-running drains anywhere in your house. Like salt and vinegar, I buy big boxes of it, (store brands are bigger and cheaper) in multiples because I’m always using it for something *other* than baking.

This book by Christine Halvorson has more great uses for baking soda.

Finally, I found a good solution for a long-standing problem! I can’t say enough good about Pinterest. . .so much knowledge there, along with cute kitty cat pictures.

Use this kitchen tip anytime, but especially a few days in advance if you are planning on having company. No need to let them know what you cooked last week, right?

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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