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Category Archives: Health & Wellness

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 Mystery of Hubig’s Pies

The Mystery of Hubig’s Pies

Happy New Year, Dear Readers!

Did Santa bring you everything you wanted? Yes? Good–that means he liked the cookies. No? You were a little too naughty last year. Change that, and learn to bake. Me, well, Santa knows I can bake, so he’s always nice to me, no matter how naughty.

Did you ask Santa for a waffle maker? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Of course, in Houston, it was 80F Christmas Day. I turned on the AC. Good thing I didn’t need the big oven. Because nothing says “Christmas” like ice cold watermelon chunks. It was roast chicken, sweet potatoes and yeast-free brownies this year. Nothing special.

At the last minute, I decided not to bake a pan of Nicole’s gluten-free Cranberry Bliss Bars. I did manage to get one of them at Starbucks, though. . .maybe another time. At least I know I can bake them for my birthday or another time if I really want them, right?

If you’re thinking about a new diet this year (and who isn’t?) this article in The Times of India discusses new diet trends for 2016. And. . .I think I’ll pass. I don’t care if it does make me “out of step,” I am NOT eating seaweed and bugs unless I’m in an emergency situation, or on a TV show like Survivor. I’ll stick with “last year’s fashion,” low-carb, somewhat paleo, wheat free, gluten-free and as close to natural as I can get with the occasional chocolate bit thrown in.

If you like Tex-Mex, your new year diet can be the Taco Cleanse. OK, honestly, it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a book of vegan taco recipes, including tortillas, which may contain flour, corn and other high-carb stuff. Blonde celebrity Jennifer Aniston is all over this book, so you know it’s a winner, right? Yes, it’s a real thing, and comments like these make me actually want to buy the book for the sheer humor involved:

Many people don’t know that pictures of tacos can also be detoxifying to your body. From the moment I got this book I could instantly feel the leftover organic dinosaur kale in my body start to be pushed out to make room for tacos. The taco cleanse isn’t just a diet, it’s a way of life. If you have a dream board, put a picture of a taco on it, order this book, make a taco, and revel in a fulfilled dream.

Diet humor in a cookbook. Who’d-a thunk it?

Don’t forget about the yeast-free diet. Dr. Hotze’s people are doing Yeast Free With Me again this year. I may have to do yeast-free again soon (goodbye whole milk in coffee!) But I’ve written about it before, so if you want to try yeast free, you’ve got plenty of information available.

I did, on Christmas Eve, go to Academy Sports & Outdoors and found a kettlebell with a DVD by GoFit. I got the 15-pound model, and while I’ve only watched the DVD, I have been slinging it around using different routines I find on Pinterest to get used to using it. No bikini yet, and it hasn’t been every single day, but I did start my first workout with it on Christmas Eve–by walking around Academy looking for socks and other things I needed for 20 minutes. By the time I got to the register, I was panting, so that was my first “workout” with it. I did start slinging it around on Christmas Day, and have been using it most days ever since. I’ve seen a bit of muscle definition, and a couple of new little muscles showing. I was so sore I couldn’t move after my first set of Goblet Squats, but I’m getting used to the different muscles being activated. When I get better at it, I’ll start using the DVD.

The next big merchandising holiday is, of course, Valentine’s Day. I have seen Valentine’s Day things in Wal-Mart and one of the fabric stores (I think it was JoAnn’s on Bay Area.) Both stores were setting out V-D stock while the holiday decorations were being sold. Weird.

And if you are a New Orlenian (expat or living at home), you’ll notice king cakes coming out. Bakeries in Houston produce them, but they’re more like coffee cakes decorated in green, gold and purple, with the plastic baby not baked in the cake, as it should be, but taped to the cake board. WHAT?? (Liability issues.)  Well, anyway, the ones here are not as good as the ones in New Orleans, sorry. And the mix stuff you get in Cost Plus World Market may be passable, but it’s not the real thing.

It's Mardi Gras Time!

It’s Mardi Gras Time!

But bakeries like Randazzo’s and Haydel’s will ship them to you nationwide, all year long, no kidding. (Cream-cheese filled with blueberry or strawberry filling is a personal favorite, but I haven’t had any in many years.)

This post is about another New Orleans favorite that seems to have evaporated. But more on that later.

Speaking of Valentine’s Day. . .OK, remember a couple of years ago when Twinkies came back, and there was a lot of speculation about what the new owners were going to do with the Hostess line of treats? They’ve brought back the original Twinkies and treats, but have also added to the repertoire, partly thanks to their newly streamlined manufacturing practices.

A couple of months ago, there was Pumpkin Spice Twinkies. Well, they’re at it again–now Hostess has two new limited edition flavors for Valentine’s Day. Ladies and gentlemen, those who know me recognize that I believe the ultimate dessert combo is chocolate with raspberry. Well, I’m in big trouble:

I am sunk if I find these.

I am sunk if I find these. Gluten-free doesn’t even figure in here.

Yes, that’s right–dark chocolate and raspberry. Amy’s ultimate dessert combination. Here’s a close up:

Close up of the most dangerous junk food in history.

I really don’t like pink but how am I going to keep my paws off these?

And they’re dolled up to show the one you love. . .your love. Raspberry not your thing? There’s also chocolate and strawberry, which may also need to be sampled in the HeatCageKitchen:

If the chocolate raspberry wasn't enough to get your blood sugar spiking.

If the chocolate raspberry wasn’t enough to get your blood sugar spiking.

I first had the chocolate and raspberry combo sometime in the early 90’s in the form of flavored coffee. I think that’s when I discovered Orleans Coffee Exchange, which was in the French Quarter at the time. One of these days, I’m going to order more of their delicious decaf flavored coffees, including Chocolate Raspberry, of course. (If I win the PowerBall this week, I’ll order 5 pounds of each.)  Naturally, not everyone sees it that way–I made the mistake of giving my parents a pound of Chocolate Raspberry coffee for Christmas one year, and I never heard the end of it. My dad complained for months: “It took three days to get that taste out of the pot!” Obviously, I never did that again.

But if your one and only (or one of a few) brings you some of these limited-edition sweet things, you KNOW it’s for real. (Let’s hope the GER doesn’t get a wild idea and drop some of these off at my door.)

Oh, and I received the February issue of Martha Stewart Living last week. Guess what? Six chocolate cake recipes for V-D, one gluten-free, and one. . .chocolate raspberry cake. No kidding. That one may be made soon for testing.

Anyway, you can read more about the new limited edition Hostess Cupcakes here on Delish.com. (Try not to drool on your keyboard.)

Now, remember the fury that surrounded the Twinkie’s absence and return? People selling them on eBay for hundreds of dollars, just a couple of months before they came back? New Orlenians have been subjected to a similar torment, but this one has lasted a lot longer than a few months. There aren’t any pies on eBay, but if you type in “Hubig Pie” in the search box, it shows two pictures for sale and a beaded necklace with a number of New Orleans food icons on it.

If you’ve ever visited New Orleans, you likely saw (and maybe tasted) a Hubig’s Pie. They were sold at convenience stores all over the metro NOLA area, and they were just. . .always there.

Just like this.

Just like this. (Source: WVUE New Orleans)

I had a few when I was a kid, but knowing they were, shall we say, “not a health food,” kept me from eating one too often (not to mention frequently not having an extra 60 or so cents to spare for one–how long has that been?) I preferred chocolate, apple, cherry, and occasionally lemon, peach or pineapple. Really, it was whatever was available at the convenience store you were visiting at the time.

Yum.

Yum. Is that chocolate?

They also offered seasonal flavors like coconut, sweet potato (no thanks), and at one time also made and sold whole pies. But like a lot of things, Hubig’s Pies are what locals will call “real New Orleans.” They just are. They’re just there.

An original Hubig Pie.

An original Hubig Pie. (Source: Facebook)

Until one day, they weren’t.

A lot of people don’t know that the pie company actually started in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1922 by a man named Simon Hubig, a WWI vet who emigrated from Spain to the US. Yeup–Texas. (Source: Wikipedia.) There were actually nine locations, and the New Orleans location was the only one to stay open during the Great Depression, since it was the only profitable bakery of the lot. It stayed in the original location until. . . .

The original bakery on Dauphine Street.

The sign in front of the original bakery on Dauphine Street.

The filled, fold-over pies were fried, then coated with a glaze that made the crust a little extra sweet and gave it a light crunch when you bit into it. There were a number of flavors, including apple, cherry, lemon, peach, chocolate (with a curd-style filling), pineapple, and a few others. They were a part of the landscape, like a view of the Lakefront.

And if you snickered when you read  “the Lakefront,” I know you’re from New Orleans. (Please keep those details to yourself.) Anyway, this is what emerged when you opened the waxy wrapper:

The perfect Hubig's Pie.

The perfect Hubig’s Pie. (Source: WVUE New Orleans website)

First, Hurricane Katrina knocked them out in 2005. From Wikipedia:

When the city of New Orleans was struck by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the bakery’s ventilation system, an exterior wall, and the roof were damaged. Production of Hubig’s pies was halted and did not start again until more than four months later, January 4, 2006, after the neighborhood had clean water, reliable electricity, and sufficient gas pressure. Hubig’s pies increased slightly in cost after the storm, and the variety of flavors offered changed. About 30,000 hand-sized pies were made a day to be delivered on the next day.

And New Orleans was happy again. Until July 27, 2012, in the early morning hours, when a fire completely destroyed the factory.

HubigFire

Source: WVUE New Orleans website

And, to date, Hubig’s Pies are no more. A new location has been acquired, but. . .that’s it. Nothing more. And New Orlenians are sad. Twinkies? PFFT–Hubig’s Pies are more important.

What’s happened since then? Well. . .not much. Hubig’s Pies are still a mystery, and a memory.

They say they will rebuild. They keep saying it, too. In October of 2012, the owners met with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and posted it on Facebook:

Hubig's Owners with the Mayor.

Hubig’s Owners with the Mayor. (Source: Hubig’s Facebook page)

The owners have settled on a new place, and received approval from the New Orleans City Council, but there have been. . .delays.

There are two “official” Facebook pages for Hubig’s. Neither have been updated in well over 2 years. I’ve attempted to contact the owners of both pages, to no avail. Nobody responded to my private messages. (Not like I’m Hoda Kotb, though.) The company’s website is a blank page as well.

A recent article in The New Orleans Advocate quoted the last factory manager, Drew Ramsey, as saying he “has no good answer” for when the pies will be made again. They have no idea, despite the new location they found, because they just can’t get all the gears together yet.

I asked an unnamed friend of this blog if he’d heard anything–he hears stuff and knows people, you see–and he has a friend of a friend who knows stuff about the Hubig’s folks. What he’s heard through the grapevine is that the Hubig’s team is now looking for the manufacturing equipment they need to get the pies rolling again, but are having difficulty finding exactly what they need. That, too, is understandable, since it will likely be custom-built equipment for the new facility which hasn’t been built yet. So fans cross their fingers, wish for a Hubig’s, and patiently. . .wait.

Honestly, in my experience, everything takes a lot longer in Louisiana. Always.

Additionally, the article states:

Tangling things further is an ongoing lawsuit filed in late 2012 by Hubig’s against the supplier of its plant’s fire suppression system, alleging that the system failed to protect its facility. While that suit continues, Ramsey said, options to dissolve and reform the brand are off the table.

I hope that if and when they do come back, they don’t mess with anything like the new Hostess folks didn’t. New Orlenians will absolutely HOWL. Guaranteed.

Remember back when the Twinkies went away, and suddenly there were similar products being produced? Recipes and pans were also available to make your own DIY Twinkie-style cakes at home. You know. . .that option is available, too.

Hubig’s Pies are what we now call “hand pies.” I’ve seen them in Martha Stewart Living on occasion, but have not made them myself. According to this article, they’re becoming more of a “thing” nationwide. And you can also find out what restaurants in New Orleans have been making something similar to a Hubig’s, although some are more of a fancier dessert than the absent paper-wrapped confection.

For the DIY crowd, you can easily make your own by getting yourself a pie crimper tool that makes these easy to put together. (This version gives you square hand pies, and for Valentine’s Day, here’s a heart-shaped mini-pie maker.) I have no experience making these. Admittedly, I bought two from my former Avon Lady the last time I had a boyfriend, intending to make either a star-shaped or heart-shaped pie for him. That never happened, he’s gone now, and I eventually gave them to the Salvation Army.

I also found the blog ProbablyBaking and the guy who writes it. He decided to duplicate the Hubig’s Pie (warning: a bit of language) and made apple, lemon, and in a tip to Vietnamese food, Pho. (“Faux Pho?” OK, Dude.) The recipes are also listed, and got blogger and Loyola student Beau Ciolino a write-up in The Times Picayune. (No, I’m not jonesing for the TP to pick up HeatCageKitchen, and sure as heck not waiting for the Houston Chronicle!)

Not interested in DIY? As I detailed in the previous Twinkies post, there are alternatives. I found one this weekend in my local Food Town:

From the same company that makes duplicate Twinkies.

Chocolate? Really? (No, I didn’t.)

From the same company that makes Twinkies duplicates, TastyKake also has similar hand pies.  Apparently they’re baked, not fried, but they are about the same size as a Hubig’s. I don’t see Chocolate on their webpage, so maybe it’s a regional flavor, or leftover from the holidays. But they’re available if you’re really missing the Hubig’s. I know, they’re not the same, but they’re something.

People have indeed been missing Hubig’s Pies pies something awful:

T-shirts, anyone?

T-shirts, anyone?

And there’s also this bikini if you’re daring enough. Babies have been dressed up as Hubig’s pies, as well as. . .bread:

HubigTribute

But it hasn’t happened yet.

The original Hubig’s site on Dauphine Street is slated to become. . .condos. Yes, earlier this year, the former Hubig’s site was approved to become fancy condominium development called Bakers’ Row. Because, after all, in a city with a per-capital income of well under $50K a year (US Census estimates of Orleans Parish median household income at $44,874, and per-capita money income at $26,500) New Orleans needs more half-million dollar condos. Because they’ll be snapped right up and occupied in no time, right?

It’s been done before, with the same result–long-term empty real estate. Developers found that out the hard way after Katrina.

So while fans of the fried confections wait patiently for the bureaucratic red tape to be untangled. . .well, there’s nothing to do but wait, if you really want them back. There are alternatives, as I mentioned, including making your own or finding similar versions.

But If Hubig’s Pies were going on sale first thing tomorrow, I might be tempted to go and find me one, like we did with Blue Bell Ice Cream, but it’s been so long since I had one that I’m not sure I’d be interested. (Note that they’re NOT in any way gluten free, adding to my disinterest.)  They’re sweet, crunchy and filling, like a good pie should be. . .but it’s a New Orleans thing, like king cake.

OK, let me clarify–REAL king cake, the kind they make in New Orleans, not the tri-colored coffee cake you get here in Houston.

And much like the absence of Blue Bell ice cream on Texas this past summer, I feel your pain. If you’re a reader in New Orleans, and you know someone involved, you’re welcome to forward this post to them. Remember, I’m just a little ol’ blogger in Texas, I’m not Food Babe or The Pioneer Woman, but I’m holding up the flag for you, too.

You know what? I’ve written nearly 3,000 words on sugary snack foods. I think I need some insulin! But never fear, I’m thinking about making my next column not only healthy, but easy. Meantime, if you’ve not been waffling anything, you know there are some healthy things you can waffle. If you haven’t tried it yet, go back and read the first and second blog posts on the subject and give it some thought. I did manage to waffle a pizza last week, from the dough I put in the freezer last year, and it came out great after a bit of fiddly rolling.

So, Happy New Year! Let’s make 2016 a better year for food, clean eating, health and wellness, fitness, and all the other things we resolve for this time of year.

Enjoy!

 

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Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers:

I know, I said I wasn’t going to publish again until after January 1, but you know how these things go. This is a shorter post than usual. I am, as always, anxiously awaiting this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Husbands of River Song. When I found out what the title was, all I could think of was, “she’s had more husbands than me? I thought she was just married to The Doctor.” Well, at least she gets to travel in time and space. I get to drive around Houston occasionally. Mostly in my little knothole.

I also have an idea for another post that I may publish next week about a New Orleans foodie-related mystery that’s been going on for more than 3 years. Heck, my humble blog may get it moving again. More on that later.

Now to answer why I’m posting on a Sunday. This is an EMERGENCY blog post–I have to tell you what Nicole over at Gluten Free on A ShoeString has done.

I’ve written about Nicole before (see this re-blog on Gluten Free Donuts), and I get emails when she publishes. Of course, she’s always baking up delicious things for us gluten-averse folks. If you’re interested in more gluten-free baking, hop on over and follow her blog, for she has lots of tricks up her sleeve to keep your baked goods dreams fulfilled.

Today, she reached the pinnacle of gluten-free re-makes.

Nicole has created a gluten-free version of my personal favorite, Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar. Why is this significant? Because. . .Cranberry Bliss Bars are a seasonal treat at Starbucks that are something to LIVE FOR. Seriously. (Unlike the heavy-sugared Pumpkin Spice Latte.) Take a look:

From the Starbucks website.

A Cranberry Bliss Bar, picture from the Starbucks website.

This is, of course, not a big treat, but it is big on flavor. One taste and you are a goner.

I first tasted this treat when I was sick, and coming home from the only doctor’s office I knew about near Hobby Airport. (This was a no-questions-asked walk-in clinic that would take non-insurance patients, long before I was going to see Dr. Davis at Woodlands Wellness.) They had an on-site pharmacia for patients, but it was closed that day. Driving my sick self home down I-45, I thought, “now where the heck am I going to get my prescription filled?” And then it dawned on me.

TARGET.

The Baybrook Super Target has a pharmacy AND a Starbucks! So. . .while I waited for my prescription, I got a nice, hot coffee. I was really sick, you see, with yet another painful swollen-gland throat infection (including fever) and I figured I deserved a little something sweet that day. It was that time of the year, and I just pointed to the red and white thing. It was carefully packed in a bag and handed to me as I paid my tab.

I sat in the corner, like the sick cat that I was, slowly sipped my coffee and took a little bite of this heavenly and festive triangle. I had never tasted such a combination, and immediately fell in love with it. I sought out at least one every holiday season (for they are not cheap and the price has nearly doubled this year) but ran into an issue in 2013 when. . .I went gluten free.

I passed on them in 2013, but I did manage one of them last year. Only one. And I may do it this year too, whilst they’re available. But now, I don’t have to worry–because Nicole has figured out how to make them gluten free. (Note: we get them down here in Texas at Starbucks, so I’m sorry they aren’t available everywhere, from what Nicole says.)

Nicole uses something called Better Batter, which I admit I’ve not heard of before (she uses a lot of different and cool stuff that I don’t know about.)  However, what I can put my paws on quickly is Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour, which has similar ingredients and does include Xanathan gum. (If your local grocer doesn’t carry it, you can also buy it from Amazon.)  It’s the flour I used for one of the recent pizza waffle recipes. One caveat Nicole points out is that if your GF flour doesn’t have Xanathan, you’ll need to add half a teaspoon (included in the recipe.)

I think there’s a bag of this flour in my grocery list this week, along with dried cranberries, cream cheese, and white chocolate. Holy Shish Kebab!!

If I make some, there will be some taste-tester deliveries. I doubt that the GER would be interested in something like this–he tends to prefer gas-station dining for some reason. (No, it’s not my cooking. It’s just his idea of convenience cooking.) But if I do manage to make them, I’ll be crowing about it here. Because now that we have a gluten-free work-around, Cranberry Bliss Bars are not just for the holidays anymore.

If you’re one of those people who loves the Cranberry Bliss Bars, now you can make them yourself, and even in gluten-free.

Merry Christmas!!

 

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A Gluten-Free Birthday

A Gluten-Free Birthday

Hello, Dear Readers:

My sincerest apologies for not posting over a month. I have, indeed, been messing around with the waffle maker, but, as they say, life happens. Boy, has it ever. Since October 4th, I have:

  • Lost an elderly family member
  • Nearly made a trip to New Orleans for a funeral (he was cremated with no services)
  • Lost the use of my dryer, after the washer went out two months ago, requiring me to buy another set
  • Discovered that a longtime “friend” really wasn’t
  • Changed my cell phone plan and that of the Android tablet that was a “gift” from said “friend”
  • Got my new AT&T  Internet service installed (and I’m no longer paying half the cost to someone else)
  • Bought a new headphone-attached desk phone (for the copywriting side)
  • Dealt with a long-standing plumbing problem, which took an emergency to be fixed–but it’s done.

At least now I can use that MagicJack the way I intended, as a business line. I do love my new portable desk phone. (All I need now is an income.)

As I’ll explain in the upcoming (and long-overdue) waffle post, friend of the blog ER becomes new blog taste-tester Neighbor E. There’s a lot of things we don’t agree on, but he’s a great guy, and we get on well. He’s been reading about my cooking for a while, so now he’s going to be taste-testing. Don’t worry–the GER is still around, and ER is *not* a new boyfriend. Don’t give the poor man a heart attack.

So what else is going on?

Much as I love sewing, lately, I haven’t made as much as I did before. I keep it for the weekends, and this past weekend, in addition to making a few small things, I finally, FINALLY, finished my first “real” quilt, called the Ticker Tape Quilt:

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It’s not a large quilt–it only measures 41″ x 51.5″, known as a “lap quilt.” However, what I do know is that now that it’s completed, I can take a nap under it, and turned sideways, it fits me perfect. This is the back of it:

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This quilt is found in Sunday Morning Quilts, and it’s the last one in the book. Why did I chose to make the last one? It was the easiest, in my eyes, and I had most of what I needed to create it, including the batting. The backing fabric and the binding fabric (around the edges) I bought, but I didn’t need much of either fabric. What took so long was sewing down each of those itty-bitty pieces until the top was full. I had them all pinned into place, but once I got off the edges, the pins were stabbing me, so I took out all the pins and just sewed them on one at a time to prevent blood stains on white fabric. I now see the wisdom of what’s called “quilt blocks” and will likely follow one of the other quilts in the book to use more fabric scraps for a queen-sized quilt. But at least this one’s done and ready for cold weather, and napping on the futon in front of a roaring fire.

Remember when I said I was already sick of pumpkin-flavored everything? Hostess takes the latest swing at bat:

They put pumpkin flavor in TWINKIES!!! IMG_2404[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because everyone LOVES pumpkin, right? Conservative writer, blogger and (handsome) pilot Bill Whittle posted this to Facebook a few days ago:

Because you love pumpkin THAT MUCH.

One for the petrolheads. And because you love pumpkin THAT MUCH.

Because every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man. My only question: does it come in 5W-30?

Three weeks ago, I went to Target, and discovered that I had in my coupon case a register coupon for $1 off a Pumpkin Spice Latte from a Target Starbucks. I thought, “OK, I’ll see what the big deal is about.” There are people who live their life for the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. I will not be joining that crowd. I had my first–and my last–PSL ever. Why? Well, it’s like drinking a candy bar with a LOT of excess flavoring in it. It was decaf, as usual, but it was still strong enough to make my teeth wiggle. Whipped cream did nothing to tame the intense, heavy flavor that was more sugar and calories than I needed at once. Verdict: I’d rather drink barium sulfate, which is that stuff they give you in the hospital to light up your insides for an X-Ray or MRI.

Switching gears. . . .

Longtime readers know that I’m a big fan of Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes are pretty easy, very tasty, and she’s a really nice lady. Guess what? Ina has a protege. Her name is Lidey Hueck, and I found out about her blog, called Lidey’s Table, on Delish.com. Lidey herself has a recipe for make-ahead oatmeal that’s right up my alley–cook it on Sunday, eat it all week. She has a few blog posts of her own, and does social media for Ina. And of course, Lidey has learned how to cook from the master herself. Lucky cat!

October 29th was my 3-year “anniversary” of blogging on WordPress. What started out as a fun project has become something more–but I don’t know what yet. But WordPress congratulated me when I signed on, so here I am.

That also means my birthday was last week. Woo hoo! Well, I didn’t cook at all that day. I promise, it was all gluten free. Here’s how it went.

First stop was the new Dunkin’ Donuts on Bay Area Boulevard, for my birthday reward coffee (they load it directly onto the app, and I presume, onto the plastic card as well.) I chose a decaf hazelnut macchiato:

Macchiato!

Ready to roll. . . .

Ready to roll. . . .

Dunkin’ Donuts puts graphic illustrations of their coffee drinks on a mat by the registers that shows exactly what the fancy Italian names mean. In this case, a Macchicato is a double shot of espresso, with steamed milk in the bottom and foamed milk on top. Of course, the machine that made decaf wasn’t working right that day, so it took longer. But it was my birthday, and I wasn’t in a hurry. No, they don’t have gluten-free donuts, but I wasn’t interested even if they did. It was the coffee I wanted, and I was quite happy on the way out. I also watched that large $3.69 cup ring up $0.00. It was a pattern repeated throughout the day.

Next top: the Freeman Library to pick up a Sherlock DVD I requested. I early voted the week before, so I was done, and headed to Baybrook Mall’s Denny’s for the famed Free Grand Slam On Your Birthday. Yes, you have to prove it. I got there about 11:00 am, and was served by a very nice lady named Linda. After checking my driver’s license to make sure I was telling the truth–yes, they really do ask–I was greeted with the news that Denny’s now has GLUTEN FREE ENGLISH MUFFINS!! No kidding–Linda said they have had them about 3 months, and assured me that they were good. I took a chance and ordered them, and asked for butter. Take a look:

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Yes! It really is gluten free!!

Linda was right–that gluten-free English muffin was hot and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It was heavenly with butter on it. Has to be the best one ever, and no swapping out stuff to make it “gluten free” Woo hoo!  Linda mentioned that she has a niece who has to eat gluten-free, and the stuff she has is usually like cardboard. I suggested checking out the Wheat Belly books, particularly the cookbooks, and read more about it, so she could better manage it.

But you know, I didn’t plan on making anything special this year like I normally do. With everything else going on, and the possibility of two six-hour car trips, it just wasn’t in the cards. HOWEVER–I ordered myself some dessert at Denny’s (and partly so I would be able to tip Linda, because, DUH, I forgot to bring cash again.) So, the most gluten-free and least expensive dessert was, in fact, just what I wanted–ICE CREAM.

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

And why not? Chocolate ice cream with hot fudge (marked “GF” in the menu) with whipped cream and a nut topping. I asked Linda, “Since I’m having this much chocolate before noon, does that make me a junkie?”

OK, you know I love chocolate, any time of year. The Food of the Gods.

After Denny’s, I headed into the mall for a quick stop at Sephora, who offers a free gift every year for registered participants. A couple of lovely lip pencils, which I will use. . the next time I wear lipstick, I guess. Monday was the second time I’d worn makeup in October, and that was the first time since. . .July? I don’t go many places where I need makeup. (I wore it the next day, but I’ll tell you about that in a bit.)

I did a bit of prowling in the mall, even getting ambushed by one of those kiosk people trying to sell me a $129 cosmetic product I don’t need for $39. I didn’t buy, but I am considering bringing a small spray bottle with me next time and filling it half with water and half with vinegar or rubbing alcohol so that the next time someone gets too close, I can let them know to back off. The smell will go away, but not the fear after they nearly assault me. I hate that. I know they have a job to do, but some of them are obnoxious.

Anyway. . .

Once I left the mall, I had a couple of quick stops to make, and I made the last stop to the Starbucks On My Street for my birthday reward. Starbucks shortened up the time window to use it, so I made sure I got it on my birthday. Instead of a coffee drink this year, I got what I really wanted–a Zesty Chicken & Black Bean Salad. YUM. . .I had it after my 90 minute bike ride. No kidding. . .I really did ride the bike on my birthday, because I enjoy the ride, and because after the ice cream Sundae, I REALLY needed it. The weather was cloudy and slightly cool after all the rain we had, so it was just perfect for riding, no sun in my eyes. I rode until I thought I felt rain, and came in. That salad tasted great after the ride.

The next day, it was time for a petrol fillup and a long drive to The Woodlands for some blood testing at Woodlands Wellness. Since I was  going up there already, I asked Neighbor R if she’d like some wine. Of course, she said yes, and I happily shopped for her beloved Pinot Grigio and got more of the stuff I use regularly, like olive oil, cocoa powder and the like. Trader Joe’s is also introducing seasonal items, such as the aforementioned pumpkin-flavored everything, and this item, which I’ve never seen before, but I believe is a seasonal item, since I was told by an employee “we just got that in.” (Aldi also treats baking chocolate as a seasonal item.)

Trader Joe's. . .chocolate?

I haven’t tried it yet, but I have to say the Aldi’s worked well for the Yeast-Free Brownies. I haven’t made those in a while, much as I love them, because the price of chocolate has doubled, and SomerSweet has been unavailable for nearly a year. I’m kind of afraid to make some until I figure out what other sweetener I can use that will be comparable. I’ll let you know if I find one.

Much as I’ve been jockeying for a Trader Joe’s down here in Clear Lake, I kind of wonder if they’ll open it up right after I move out of the area. Well, that would be irony, wouldn’t it? Or I’ll never get out of Clear Lake, and there will happily be a Trader Joe’s. It would go a long way, along with the beautiful library we have, to making it tolerable.

Anyway. . . .

I had some more of Trader Joe’s delicious Goat Milk Brie (one of my favorites) and a got a large log of goat cheese to cut in half, and use one for a Corsican Omelette the next day (and use up some of the mint out back) and freeze the other half for another day. A basic stocking up on the supplies I use the most, and like the best, until the next time I go, or I have to hit up HEB and hope I can find it.

Oh, and friend of the blog LK was enjoying her tenure at the Williams-Sonoma this time last year, until they announced that they were closing the Baybrook Mall store, saying only that it was a “corporate decision.” With the expansion of Baybrook Mall (nobody knows *why* it’s happening, they’re just doing it) she figured that there was another vendor who wanted it, probably Sur la Table. Guess what? Sometime this month, Sur la Table will indeed be opening in Baybrook Mall.  I get their catalogs, and have since I started going to the one in The Woodlands. I noticed it on the new catalog this morning: Opening In Baybrook Mall Soon. We got our answer, Sur la Table will grace Clear Lake soon.

Then Wednesday, they turned off the hot water for a while. When it came back on, it was gushing in the bathroom. . .but that’s not going to get covered here. Thankfully, it’s over, and I hope it stays fixed for a long time.

Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks, and I will do my best to help you out. If you have any questions, post them here, or send me an email. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I will find out what I can for you. I’ll also be posting some recipes, including some delicious cranberry sauce that will have you throwing out the canned stuff. However, I want to emphasize two points about Thanksgiving (and really, for Christmas too):

  • You will prepare 29 other dinners in the month of November
  • A whole turkey is, in fact, nothing more than a big chicken, so if you can roast a chicken, you can roast a turkey

I saw turkey brine mix in Fresh Market yesterday, so I’ll discuss that as well. If you’ve never brined a turkey before, it’s well worth doing, and you can find directions on Martha Stewart’s website, and Ree Drummond has one here. I’ve not tried Ree Drummond’s, but read the whole article, since she makes very good points on the subject. (And her kids are smart alecks!)

Oh, and another off-topic item: if you’re a Def Leppard fan, their brand new self-titled studio album is just out. I don’t have it yet, but I will eventually. These bad Brit boys of arena rock have been bringing it for more than 35 years, and have no intention of stopping (even though three of them live in California and two are vegans.) They’ve been working on this one for a couple of years in between touring, and refuse to compromise or capitulate. I’ve seen comments on Facebook that it’s their best yet, but I haven’t heard it so I can’t answer for it. But I do have some of their CDs, including their last three, so I’m sure it will be the same high-quality fans are accustomed to. (For the record, they’re not “heavy metal” as some tend to classify them.)

OK, OK–if your idea of good music is Glenn Miller, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, or something they play on the smooth jazz station, Def Leppard probably isn’t your cup of tea. That’s OK. I actually like all three of those in addition to Def Leppard.  I’m just passing along info for the fans.

In the meantime, I’m going to get ready for bed, since I got an extra hour of sleep and I want to get to bed early so I can get up before the sun, like I used to do.

The waffle post is almost finished, and I’m also going to make some suggestions for waffling part of your Thanksgiving if you’re up for it. But no, not a turkey. You’ll be cooking til Christmas.

Thanks for sticking with me. I will try *not* to be too much longer with the waffle post. Or any other posts.

Happy Dining!

Amy

 

 

 

 

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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:

IMG_2333[1]

No kidding. Last weekend’s trip through The Fresh Market yielded this:
IMG_2309[1]

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:

IMG_2335[1]

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!

IMG_2340[1]

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:

IMG_2749

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:

IMG_2752

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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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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Crisco. . .coconut oil?

Crisco. . .coconut oil?

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

Crisco's new Organic Coconut oil

Crisco’s new Organic Coconut oil

 

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

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

But why now?

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

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

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

Wal-Mart. <insert frowny face here>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

From the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living

From the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

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