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Here I talk about places I’ve eaten and how much I like–or don’t like–them.

The mGuard User Conference in Houston

The mGuard User Conference in Houston

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

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

And away we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bubble.

A bubble.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A closer look at the delicious cannolli:

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

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

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

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

Me and the wonderful Dr. Musgrave.

Me and the wonderful Dr. Musgrave.

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

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

The pie of mystery.

The tart of mystery.

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

Blast off to heaven, y'all.

Blast off to heaven, y’all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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photo

photo(2)

 

photo(1)

You’re welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

Then I saw it–dessert.

IMG_2102[1]

Isn’t it beautiful?

Say it with me: Flaaaaaan. . . .

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

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

For use while working on your Virtual Private Network.

Intended only for use with Virtual Private Coffee Pot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

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The Woodlands Wellness Lunch

The Woodlands Wellness Lunch

Hello, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fabulous menu from Chef Michael's Gourmet Kitchen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway. . . .

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

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

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

Is that not an amazing cake?

Isn’t that an amazing cake?

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

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

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

The cake, with a cake peacock on top.

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

Really, really well made and beautiful

Really, really well made and beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!!

 

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The Post for Neighbor K

The Post for Neighbor K

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

I hope all is well with everyone. It’s been a busy week, but I hope everyone is well and enjoying the sunshine. Remember it wasn’t too many months ago that people were freezing even down here in the south of Texas. Now that you can feel your feet again, put them in some fresh grass or warm sand while you can.

I’ve often written about Neighbor K, who literally lives right next door to me. She has a lovable pug, while I have the GER’s somewhat aloof rescue cat. K works in one direction, and when I was last working (and where I went today downtown) we literally went in opposing directions. We talk about all kinds of stuff, compare notes, and keep each other out of trouble. K has fed Jezebel the step-kitty, and she lets me walk the lovable pug.

K is more of a serious athlete than I’ve ever been. I only recently started walking and working out again because I walked into Vitamin Shoppe a month or so ago and asked for something for pain. What they gave me, Solgar No. 7, works like a charm. Now I’m trying to exercise daily, mostly with walking and strength training; I’ve also got some yoga and Pilates DVDs that I use when I feel up to it.

K runs, jumps, swims, bikes, lifts weights, beats up engineers and finds yoga kinda boring. She can lift that 25-pound pug like a sack of flour, and pretty much anything else short of her car. That’s why I have been known to ask for help with lifting and moving stuff when I know she’s home.

Mostly she eats pretty good stuff, although I did tell her about being gluten free and all that. Now and again, I know she orders pizza. . .and more than one person has heard me ask her, “Are you feedin’ my dog pizza?” (He gets little pieces of crust–but I’ve seen him try to stare K down while she’s eating pizza.)

The other day K mentioned that she’s just trying to eat clean, which is what a lot of us strive for. Me, I generally avoid wheat, soy and mostly, sugar, as well as high-carb stuff. Mind you, there are times when you eat what’s available–and occasionally, when someone is nice enough to make me a sandwich, I just say “thank you.” (But then I avoid wheat again after that.)

So today was the first time I’ve been back downtown since February, and a few things have changed since the last time I was there. The first thing I noticed is that the Seattle’s Best Coffee shops are now called Amilie’s, at least the ones I saw. The fixtures are the same, but I didn’t stop in. I thought about it, though, but didn’t have time. I made it to the building in plenty of time, and it turned out to be the same building, but not the same company, that I visited the last time.

When I got off the bus, I passed by My Fit Foods down in the tunnel, and planned to go back there for lunch after looking at what was in their fridge cases. Then I hiked it all the way over to the other side of the tunnel, taking the yellow branch to get to the sky blue branch to get to the building. (Thankfully, I didn’t see anyone I know.)

The interview went well, I thought, and it lasted for nearly 2 hours. Nice place, nice people, but we’ll see what happens.

In that part of the tunnel, near the Allen Center, is a nice little round food court area with a number of places to eat. Another one of the newly renamed Amilie’s coffee bars, a branch of the Houston Shoe Hospital also populate this round area. But where did I end up eating lunch? I saw a place I wrote about last fall: Snap Kitchen!!

Yes, they have a little storefront next to Amilie’s, and when I got out of the interview, that’s where I got a spot of lunch. We don’t have these down in my neck of the woods, but I hope one day we do. It’s awesome takeaway designed to be healthy, clean food in disposable microwave-safe containers. There are microwaves there in the store–you can heat them up there, or eat them cold, your choice (and the heating instructions are on the package.) The two young ladies working there were so nice, and of course, I FORGOT to ask their names!

If you two are reading this, I do apologize. I was a bit flustered after the interview, and, DUH, I forgot. Y’all are very nice, and it’s appreciated.

After prowling the fridge cases for a minute and talking with them, I decided on beef–specifically, Naked Beef!

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No kidding that’s what it’s called. Yes, it was really tasty and filling:

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Cooked sugar snap peas can be mushy, and so I prefer them fresh. However, these were not mushy, and the cauliflower had a bit of scorching to it. Delicious!

Now, if I’m going to splurge on lunch, even if it’s a healthy one, I want dessert too. Get a load of this:

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Yes, you read that right: Goat. Cheese. Cheesecake.

Oh, my.

Now, you know that when you try something new, the law of probability will tell you that there are three possible outcomes: you will love it, you will hate it, or you won’t care either way. But I had to try it, just once.

Gluten free, sugar free, egg free. So far, so good.

Ya’ll, I LOVED this cheesecake! The nuts and coconut are ground up on the bottom to form the crust. Since goat cheese has a slight tartness to it, not nearly as strong as, say, feta cheese, I had to find out for myself. The cheesecake is sweet, but not overly sweet, thanks to the agave syrup. The little red things on top are pecans, in strawberry puree, I think.

All I can tell you is that this is a great little thing to try. Rich, creamy, sweet–everything you expect cheesecake to be. I don’t know if it’s baked or not, I didn’t ask; it might be closer to the “no bake” variety. Honest, it didn’t matter when I took that first bite.

Realizing that Snap Kitchen is mostly in Houston, most folks won’t have access–but really, with anything new, splitting it with friends may be the way to go to find out whether or not you’ll like it.

But no Snap Kitchen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something new. Look–I have friends in Australia, one born in New Orleans like I was. They’ve been all over the world more than once visiting friends and relatives. You think they haven’t tried something new? So you find something you don’t like–make a note and try something else. You might just surprise yourself–and you will find something new to enjoy.

Now–I also mentioned to these two nice ladies working there that I’d been in Snap Kitchen before, and they knew exactly where it was. I also mentioned that I write a food blog, and try very hard to be gluten free. I told them that mostly because. . .I knew what Snap Kitchen was, and also mentioned the Epic bars, which I failed to remember earlier. I did extoll the values of the Epic bars to one of the young ladies who wasn’t sure she’d like one. A bit weird to have “meat bars,” but they really are great.

After I’d thanked them for their help and tossed out the used containers, the other lady gave me one of their gluten free brownies to try–on the condition I write about it. I didn’t ask, she offered!! (I don’t ask for stuff like that, I think it’s rude; if I’m offered a politeness, then that’s different.)

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After walking nearly 3 miles this evening, I did have that delicious brownie–but it did have sugar. Of course it was good! A little different than my favorite yeast free brownies, but no less delicious. It wasn’t a big brownie like you’d get in a bakery, but they sure do pack a lot of flavor in it.

And, even before I told them I was a blogger, I was going to write about Snap Kitchen anyway–it’s one of my favorite places to grab a bite.

I texted K on the bus and told her about it, but forgot she’s never been there, and maybe she’s forgotten last year’s blog post. Heck, I forget some of them, too. So I’ve got a couple of their brochures for her for the next time she goes into town for work.

Somehow, I can’t see taking the GER into Snap Kitchen, but you know, maybe he’d like it. I don’t actually take him anyplace anymore, but if he asked, I’d probably take him. (Maybe on a leash.) But my friend LM, a college professor, drives into town to shop at Whole Foods now and again, so I wonder if I told her about Snap Kitchen. I’ll ask.

So tonight, this post is for Neighbor K and anyone else who want to “eat clean.” Here in Houston, it’s Snap Kitchen, but wherever you are, you might be able to find something similar, like MyFitFoods (we have one down here by Barnes & Noble.)

And you know what? Even if you don’t try to do the healthy food thing the way people like me and K do, I bet you’ll find something you like.

Enjoy!

 

 

Steppin’ Out

Good evening, fellow Foodies:

Yes, I know it’s Thursday, but this is the first chance I’ve had to write. This past weekend was Labor Day in the US, and boy did I labor! Laundry, carpet cleaning, dusting, shredding, taking out multiple bags of trash, tidying up–you name it, I probably did it.

The closest I got to sewing anything was returning a pattern to Hancock Fabrics that I can’t use. It’s an elegant coat, but I can’t get something called loden cloth locally, and, well, since it would be about $32.50 a yard to order it from the UK, I don’t need it that bad. The coat calls for 4½ yards, and then there is shipping from the UK (Scotland, I think.) I just don’t need a new coat that bad; it’s not like I don’t have coats, I just like making one now and again. Burda patterns are designed and made in Germany for a European market, but they are easily available here. I like them, mostly, but this one was just not going to happen. Fortunately, I kept the receipt and only looked at the instructions–that’s how I realized that it was made just for loden fabric.

Ok, back to the foodie thing.

This week, my favorite newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, ran a story about how Greek yogurt is taking over--literally–and it’s getting on people’s nerves who like regular American-made yogurt. (Wonder how long it took them to come up with *that* clever headline. Get it? “Culture war?”) A couple of weeks ago I decided to try something new–Icelandic-style yogurt! YES!

Icelandic yogurt?

Icelandic yogurt?

No kidding, you can read more about it here. If I remember correctly, it was $1.89 for that cup–not cheap, but definitely a treat. No strong yogurt taste like your regular stuff, and enough raspberry to make it pink. It has cane sugar, but not as much sugar as your usual yogurt–which usually has that poisonous high-fructose corn syrup anyway.

So, how was your Sunday?

Me and my debit card, oh, we got around this weekend. See, when I go to World Peace Prayer on the first Sunday of the month, I also do some shopping if I need something, or just want something. Sometimes I come straight home–but no, this past Sunday was a shopping weekend for sure. Me and my debit card went to town, literally, in this order:

SGI-USA Houston Buddhist Center  (I only needed some incense for my altar)

IKEA Houston (only for some catalogs, didn’t buy anything)

Snap Kitchen

Whole Earth Provision Company

Sur La Table

Crave Cupcakes (Kirby Location)

Trader Joe’s (South Shepherd location)

What a day!! I started out at about 9:00 am and didn’t get home until, oh, heck, 4? Maybe 5? Oh, it didn’t END there–I dropped everything and went to get someone’s mail, then to Super Target in League City, then to the post office to mail his stuff and ship two IKEA catalogs to friends in New Orleans. THEN I realized I’d forgotten to look for fresh tarragon after Trader Joe’s didn’t have it, so I was also at Kroger getting me some.

Are you understanding why I’m still tired on Thursday? Monday was all housework, all the time. But the cat appreciates the shampooed carpet. I guess.

I was going to have lunch at IKEA but it was way too crowded, so I kept going. I went looking for the subject of my next blog post, which I’ll share more about when I write it. But in my search, I went first to Snap Kitchen, and ended up eating lunch–by this time, I was really hungry. Know what? I’m going to go back sometime. Healthy food, freshly prepared, plus some healthy (sort of) snacks, and takeaway in BPA-free packaging you can put right into the microwave. No, I probably wouldn’t, but you get the idea.

Let me tell you, it was hot this past Sunday, so instead of an entree, I found myself at the cooler case, and this is what really hit the spot with a bottle of water:

IMG_2078

Caprese salad was cool and delicious. Egg salad isn’t something I would normally go for, but both of these are soy free, and the Caprese is dairy free, too. The egg salad also had chickpeas and hummus in it. Pretty good, and both these small sizes were just enough.

Hit.The.Spot. Nailed it, in fact. And their menu is, according to the flier I took with me, 99% gluten free. You gotta like that.

Snap Kitchen has several locations in Houston and Austin, and you can see their complete menu here. With dishes like Grassfed Bison Quinoa Hash and Almond-Crusted Goat Cheese Cakes, well, gluten-free doesn’t have to mean taste-free. I’ll be back–and I hope they put one down in my ‘hood one day.

Next stop was Whole Earth Provision Company, an outdoor store which is right next to Trader Joe’s, but for some reason I failed to realize this. That’s OK–next was up the street to Sur la Table, where, yes, I purchased their coffee tamper for my aging cappuccino machine. Just to make sure it would fit, I brought the little grounds container from the machine and tried it out. Perfect, and the little machine seems to be working better since it’s got better pressure to make the espresso. Frothing is much improved, too. DUH. Maybe one of these days I’ll go find the instructions and finally READ them again.

I got the bug for something sweet.

Last week in the office we had mini-cupcakes from Houston’s Crave Cupcakes, and whilst I fell off the gluten-free wagon again, I am back on it. This is what somehow ended up right by my desk:

CraveMiniCupcakes

No, they are not gluten-free. The white ones were originally believed to be coconut, but they were more like vanilla. The pink were strawberry, with a drop of strawberry jam in the middle. Yes, they were worth it.

Nevermind how many I ended up eating before they were gone. The white ones were the best.I am going back on the Draconian Diet Drops again soon, so I’m enjoying what I can now.

I also brought four of the little cupcakes to my elderly neighbor, who greatly enjoyed them. (She doesn’t get out like she used to, so I bring the world to her anytime I can.) I made it a point to head over to Crave myself on Sunday and get me a gluten free model. I even used Google Maps to figure out the best location during my trip and a better way to get there and avoid Kirby’s incessant traffic on a busy Sunday. Yes, I did have a gluten free model:

IMG_2079They come in this Tiffany-esque box that you open VERY carefully to release the delicious cargo:

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You knew it was going to be chocolate, right? They make chocolate-on-chocolate, which is what you see here, as well as vanilla-on-chocolate. I figured if I was going off the rails, I’d do it right–gluten free chocolate on chocolate.

I would be remiss if I didn’t show you the gratuitous chocolate picture:

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Yum. . .that’s my camera case to the left of this delicious thing.

One thing Crave does–see that button on the top? It says “CRAVE GLUTEN FREE.” However, the ones brought to my office last week had a logo on it, and the name of the building, which was celebrating 30 years being built. (Houston is anything for a party, you hear?) Some just had the building shape in that button, some had the name of the building. All of Crave’s cupcakes have that little button with a description on them. They also have a vegan model, although I think that “non-dairy frosting”  has tofu in it; I’d have to check some other time. There are actually two Houston locations, and you can see their entire menu here.

Much as I enjoyed this tasty cupcake–and I really did–I have to say I think the gluten free model I had at Frost Bake Shoppe in The Woodlands was better. I’m not sure why, and I may be comparing apples and oranges, but for some reason, I remember that one as softer, less sweet, and the icing much softer and butterier.

Is “butterier” a word? Sure, it’s a technical term.

But I got me a gluten-free cupcake. Next trip north, I’ll be hitting up Frost Bake Shoppe again, because I remember them as the best one. (I hope I’m right.)

Now, the last stop was the Trader Joe’s next door to Whole Earth, and I did that last because I was planning to buy cold stuff. You know, meat, veg, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, I forgot the small insulated bag I have from Target, and ended up buying one from Trader Joe’s for $6.99.

In Buddhism, we call this a ‘benefit.” Because that new bag is bigger, better insulated, and no squishing of anything. They even gave me two frozen bottles of water to keep everything cold!

I don’t know how much I spent all day (and I’m not going to add it up) but at Trader Joe’s the total was $84.95. Two bottles of regular olive oil, one EVOO, two containers of baking cocoa, some of their flouride-free toothpaste, oh, you get the idea. Oh, and 8 tins of Myntz, which I keep in my purse so that I can read and ride the bus (at least until I doze off completely.) I discovered flying on planes that the minty things keep my stomach on an even keel–and since Metro buses have neither lavatories nor barf bags, these mints are the best solution. They’re $1.69 a tin at Trader Joe’s, and I’ve never seen them anywhere else, so obviously I stocked up for a while. (I like the vanilla ones in the yellow tin.)

I had a piece of London Broil I bought on sale, but didn’t know what to do with it. I looked in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof and found a recipe for Mustard Marinated FlankSteak on page 126. It’s what I needed fresh tarragon for, and got some shallots at Trader Joe’s too. You let the meat marinate in the fridge in this mustard/olive oil/shallot mixture overnight, and OMG–it is SOOO GOOD!

I love having the best lunch around.

I couldn’t remember whether or not I had any Dijon mustard, so I got some at Trader Joe’s. And then I couldn’t decide which to get, so I got both:

Trader Joe's two types of Dijon mustard. Why get just one?

Trader Joe’s two types of Dijon mustard. Why get just one?

Looking at my receipt, the regular Dijon on the left was $1.69, and the whole grain mustard on the right was $1.79. It’s almost like IKEA for groceries! (Almost.)

One thing I did do and wish I hadn’t was get a carton of their TJ Coconut Milk. It looks just like the almond milk, and with that quick glance, you’d think you were getting almond milk, too. It’s not bad, and I’ll use it in my coffee and tea, but no more, I’ll stick with either almond milk or regular dairy.

Incidentally, if you’re lucky enough to have a SuperTarget in your area like we have in the Houston metro area, Target has a new line of organic products called Simply Balanced. I’ve bought the organic skim milk for my smoothies (subject of yet another future blog post) and while I like it, the cat doesn’t. I guess because there’s no fat in it, but she’s a fussy cat anyway.

Well, dear readers, it’s getting late and I will write again soon. Please take care, and eat good food anytime you can–unlike two of my travelers, who went to Midland, TX last week for a networking activity and had some of the worst food they could find! It was just one place, and not a slur on Midland. Just don’t make that mistake–eat good food, what ever it is.

Enjoy!

 

Tastes like chicken

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Sorry I haven’t written in a while; it’s been busy. Lots to tell, so let’s get started!

Ok, foodies, I have big news—Hostess Twinkies return next week! Along with Hostess Cupcakes (upgraded with dark chocolate) as well as a few other of your favorite Hostess goodies. The new Hostess, LLC, is rolling them out as we speak, and they are due to be in stores on Monday the 15th. Can you believe it?

You didn’t buy a bunch of them on eBay, did you? Well, soon you’ll be able to replace them with fresh ones.

Remember the joke about how Twinkies had a shelf life of “forever?” They really didn’t, but the new Hostess company is working on extending the freshness period. Originally, Twinkies had a shelf life of about 30 days. Are you ready for this? They’re going to deliver some of them frozen, so that stores can stamp their own freshness date on them, and extend the freshness date to 45 days, or longer.

Oh, YEAH!!! Just take some into your fallout shelter, and you can stay there a lot longer.

The new company is also going to start investigating different ways to make a Twinkie, including whole wheat , low-calorie, and yes. . .gluten free. That’s what it says in today’s Wall Street Journal. Woo hoo!

Friend of this blog MK says, “so now when the zombie apocalypse comes, you can be gluten free.” What a guy. The new versions of Twinkies may be available as early as later in the year.

Rest assured I’ll be on the case and report back to you on this important development.

In other news, I discovered a new taste to love. Cold-smoked salmon.

Sunday I did some shopping while in town, and I didn’t plan on getting hungry. Oh, well, I did. While in the area of a number of my favorite eateries (and the location of many more), I ended up having lunch at. . .IKEA. Yes, that Swedish bastion of the flat-pack and Allen wrenches, derided by many (and even parodied in season 10 of British comedy show Red Dwarf, an episode called Lemons.) I needed a couple of things and decided to have lunch while I was there in the café on the second floor. It’s simple Swedish (and some American) food, for the most part, and no, I didn’t have the meatballs. (That was only an issue in Europe, anyway.) Normally, I would have the open-faced shrimp sandwich on multi-grain bread. Topped with a hard-boiled egg, a mayo dressing and a sprig of dill, it’s one of my occasional indulgences that I have in IKEA, and occasionally, one of their interesting chocolate desserts.

Until now. Now I’m gluten-free. No bread. No cake. Now what?

I could get that sandwich and eat just the top of it. But, eat the filling without the bread? Well, that’s half the enjoyment of the sandwich. No, I would have to find another thing to eat, maybe the chicken salad. I didn’t make it that far. The gentleman in front of me went smoked salmon and dill dressing, and I decided to be brave and try something new. I got the one next to it, smoked salmon with a pile of lime-marinated tiny-diced veggies, sitting right next to what he picked up. Called Najad Salmon, this is how it was served:

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If you’re not familiar with this kind of thing, it’s a preserved salmon using salt and herbs that’s very thinly sliced crosswise with a flexible thin blade. Honest, I’ve seen Martha Stewart make this kind of thing on one of her early shows, but I’ve never had it before. Just not something that’s part of traditional New Orleans cuisine, you understand. So, I decided to be brave and try something new.

Salmon preserved in this manner is softer than you may be used to. Between the herbs and the salt, it softens the flesh and infuses lots of flavor into it, taking out the “fishy” taste that salmon has when cooked, in the same manner that ceviche does to shrimp. Being from New Orleans, I would have never known what this was without seeing Martha Stewart making it on her show and adding it to one of her many cookbooks. Still, being more familiar with baked/poached/fried salmon and the stuff in a can, this kind of thing just isn’t something that would normally cross my path were it not for Houston being such a diverse and international city. With an IKEA cafe’ right in the middle.

So, you likely have at least once in your life asked someone, what does (whatever they were eating) taste like? You may have heard the old yarn, “Tastes just like chicken.” (In some cases, the individual may have a sarcastic streak.) Well, this cold-smoked doesn’t taste like chicken. . .but it does taste like thinly sliced deli ham. No kidding, that’s what it tasted like to me. Ham, sliced. Go figure. It was salty, a bit sticky and quite delicious.

Guess what? It’s my new gluten free favorite at IKEA! (I hope.)

I did try to roll up the salmon, burrito-style, around the tiny diced veggies and eat it that way. Nothin’ doin’, the salmon was too soft. Ended up being like scrambled eggs at that point, but it was very tasty. Of course, if I had a tortilla, it might have worked, but it wouldn’t have been gluten-free, either.

According to the nutrition information on IKEA’s website, it has less than 300 calories. Not bad!

I added a side salad from the salad bar, which consists of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, croutons and sliced black olives. Added a bit of olive oil and what looked like balsamic vinegar and I was in business. Skipped dessert this time, and went on with my afternoon.

After I’d paid for the other things I went in for, I headed over to Trader Joe’s, where I proceeded to have another DUH moment while looking for almond flour. It’s considerably less expensive there, so I bought extra. I went to where I thought I picked it up last time, where all the bagged nuts are, and just could not find it. Looked around where I was standing, too—nothing. So I asked someone. . .and it was right where I was standing earlier, at knee level on me.

DUH!

Maybe I should have stayed home. Well, at least I have more almond flour to make some delicious Wheat Belly Biscuits with. Sometime.

Now and again, it’s good to take a chance and find something new. You might even find a new favorite.

Don’t forget:

THE TWINKIES ARE COMING!! THE TWINKIES ARE COMING!!! GET READY!!!

Happy Dining!

 

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Meeting an old friend again

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, it’s the holiday season and, honestly, I haven’t had much foodie adventure since The Tuscan Turkey got turned into soup a few weeks ago. But it’s OK, everyone loved it, and I just have some cut up Tuscan turkey meat left in the freezer. Well, OK, enough to keep me happy for a while, and make The Soup of Enlightenment if I really want to, but I don’t, since I had it at Thanksgiving, skipping over the big meal to that part.

I will tell you that I was just in Cost Plus World Market, using a $10 coupon to get stocked up on the fantastic Typhoo Decaf Tea from the UK and got me some microwavable steamed puddings–the real British stuff, produced in New Zealand. Really. I guess the Brits like it, but I never asked–but I’m having steamed pudding for Christmas!! (I’ll let you know.) Convenient, and just a little bit, enough to try it once. If I wanted to, I could use Nigella Lawson’s recipes out of her Christmas book, but really, I’m giving myself the gift of peace and quiet this year, and lots of sewing. Not to mention the Doctor Who Christmas Special on Tuesday thanks to a very nice neighbor who is out of town. I did offer to do a carpet cleaning for her while she was out, but she declined. Maybe I’ll just clean her windows before she gets home.

BTW, if you join their World Market Explorer program, you get those $10 off $30 purchase coupons regularly, including one for your birthday.

Oh, and while I was there, nibbling on the sample cookies, I talked to a lady who was going to get ingredients for a cranberry sauce. One of Paula Deen’s recipes from FoodNetwork.com. I love you, Paula, but fifteen ingredients, including Grand Marnier! I was shocked when I read that. She didn’t know what Grand Marnier was, either. I told her that she would have to get it at a liquor store, which are closed on Sunday in Texas, and that it would probably run $35 or $40 a bottle. She had no idea. . .so I told her to forget this one and go look up the recipe for my favorite Cranberry Ginger Relish and make that. Four ingredients, fifteen minutes, and make it three days in advance. Easy, and it’s sweet and warm at the same time.  “Can I get all the ingredients at Kroger?” she asked. Absolutely, including sherry vinegar. It sidles up to you all nice and sweet, then POW! Hits you right in the kisser. Everybody loves it, including me, and I always get requests for the recipe when I make it.

Now I want some, too.

Rest assured that some kind of diet will commence after January 1, and I will ease my way into it over the next week. Might go to a potluck next Saturday, we’ll see, and I’ll bring something good, if I go. Exercise too, Pilates is my preference, with some yoga thrown in for good measure, since walking will be impossible soon. More on that later.

So anyway. . . .

Last week I had my third interview in a different department at a major medical center here in Houston. I’m not going to say which one, but it’s big, well known, and they have great benefits. The interview started about 3:20 pm, and I left the facility at 5:30 pm, escorted by a Texas Medical Center (TMC) police officer. (I rode in the FRONT seat, OK?)  I was lost, and he offered. . .hey, I can trust a guy with a pistol on his hip!  Especially since I had on my suit and a crisp white collared shirt, not to mention sky-high heels. No t-shirt and jeans on this day–I needed to look sharp, and I did.

I believe I will be hired on soon, which means bus rides and walking around a lot. No way I’m driving to work every day.

My TMC copper got me back to the building where my vehicle was, and I checked out–at nearly 6:00 pm! I was very HUNGRY at this point, and decided to get a bite in town since it was high traffic and driving home was a bit of a nightmare. It was also the Friday before Christmas, and everyone is not only getting off work but heading to shop. (Bay Area Boulevard was a parking lot at 1:30 pm.)

As I drove up Holcombe towards Buffalo Speedway, I was trying to remember where I could find a good dinner around there. Hmmm. . .Burger King. No. Some kind of wing shop–no. Taco Bell (which required a left U-turn in heavy traffic)–bookmark for later. Spec’s Liquor Warehouse–no. Some little sushi place–absolutely not. I knew I could get to Rice Village if I turned right on Kirby, but having been there a week before and had much trouble parking, I kept driving.

Then I remembered a little place that used to be there when I worked for Baylor all those years ago. Would it still be there? I started thinking. . .it was by a grocery store, but which one? I knew it was on the left. . .I saw Rice Epicurean Market, but no little place. I kept going, and saw the Randall’s Flagship about a mile or so up the road, along with a Barnes & Noble in the same strip mall. Then my eyes saw what I was seeking–their name on the marquee. It was still there, after all these years, in a city where permanence is fleeting. It was a sight for sore eyes that day.

Prayers get answered one at a time. Gifts do not always come in a box wrapped in paper and ribbon. Trust me on that.

This little place is called Yapa Kitchen-Fresh Take Away. When I worked at Baylor, we used Yapa’s catering for our activities, and everyone loved the sandwiches and lunch boxes they brought us. There was one occasion that for some reason, we had to use a different catering company. (I think someone higher up told us to.) We were very disappointed and made sure we called Yapa after that.

Once in a while I’d go get a sandwich over there if I was driving around or running office errands. Their sandwiches were delicious, unbelievable cookies, and great chef-prepared food in the case. The store is actually quite small, and hasn’t changed since the last time I was there–maybe 2001?  I held the wheel tightly and kept thinking about what I could vagely remember from my days working in the VA Hospital (as a Baylor employee.)

It came flooding back when I walked in the front door. It was pretty much the same as I remember it. Some of the cookbooks look old now.

I gazed in the case and saw all kinds of delicious things. I was thinking about a crab cake, since it wasn’t too expensive (not ready for $25 a pound pepper crusted tenderloin yet, but will celebrate when I get my new job.) I asked if there was anything else to look at. “Well,” the young bloke said, “we have a few sandwiches over here.”  There were four. I saw two chicken salad sandwiches, one turkey with cranberry, and a roast beef.

THAT’S WHAT I WANT.

I grabbed the last roast beef, and asked about dessert. They still had that little case on the side, and I remembered having their delicious creme brulee once. But their cookies were in big jars on the counter, and I got a chocolate chip and a white chocolate/macadamia nut cookie. He asked me if I’d like some horseradish sauce; I declined. There was some already on the sandwich, and it was just enough and just perfect.

That, dear readers, is what hit the spot and scratched the itch on Friday, December 21st at about 6:15 in the evening.

The sandwich, on a really great whole-grain bread, was just as good as I remembered it. Ditto the cookies. Next time I get two of those slightly soft and chunky white chocolate/macadamia nut cookies. Both were good, but I liked that one better.

To the observer (or the guys working the counter that night), it was just a sandwich and cookies to have while I sat at a table and flipped through my magazine. To me, it was like finding an old friend again. No, I didn’t go in all the time when I was there, just once in a while, and it was a nice little refuge, even though they were quite busy during the day. The food was good, the people were nice, and it was just up the street. You can get a delicious lunch or dinner to eat in or take home with you.  I once bought three of their cookies and brought them to someone in the hospital, because I knew they were the best to be had that day, plus they were on the way to the hospital.

And it’s still like that. For this, I was, and am, very grateful.

Yapa is quite a distance for me to go now, since I’ve been in the suburbs since 2002, I’m in town about once or twice a month, and to be honest, I don’t go into TMC unless I have to, as I have for the past 3 Fridays. Should I find myself working back at TMC, I might have the opportunity to visit more often; we’ll see.

If you’re in Houston and find yourself in the Medical Center area for whatever reason, consider having lunch at Yapa; their menus are online, so see what they have and find what you like before you get there. They are located at the corner of Holcombe and Buffalo Speedway in the little building close to the corner. The address is 3173 W Holcombe Boulevard (77025) and you can call them at 713-664-9272.

Warning: While Yapa is a little place worth visiting, it’s not in the big building with Randall’s. Yapa is in the small one-off building in the parking lot. You know the type of building I mean, an auxiliary building. You can see it here–Yapa is in that building on the right, close to the big building.

Thanks for still being there, and feeding this hungry feline when she really needed it.

Happy dining!

 

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Sweet Tomatoes (restaurant review)

Well, now that we’re over the turkey/stuffing/cranberry coma of last week, time to get ready for the next big eating holiday–Christmas. I’m going to try to steer clear of as much of the bad stuff as I can, but have a little bit and enjoy some, too.

Those of you who know me in person know that while I can appreciate fine, upscale dining, it’s not something we do every day. But when I do eat out, I want to eat something good, no matter where it is. Plus, I absolutely LOVE salad.

Not *all* restaurant reviews have to be high-dollar, pinky-in-the-air establishments, now do they?

Yesterday I headed to my doctor in The Woodlands, TX, a 50-mile drive from my front door. Long story as to why I see a doctor up there, but rest assured the drive and the expense are totally worth it. As I frequently do when I head to The Woodlands, whether to see the good doctor or to a concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion, I make it a point to try and have a meal at Sweet Tomatoes, which is in the Woodlands Mall parking lot.

If there’s a Sweet Tomatoes nearby, and you’ve never been in it, you don’t know what you’re missing. Of course, you should really *like* salad if you go there. Not that they don’t have cooked food, because they do, but. . .it’s a wonderful salad assortment.

There are four locations in the Houston area, none of which are near me. With my luck, one will appear the minute I move to The Woodlands and they’ll close The Woodlands’ location in order to open up one in my current ‘hood. But no danger of me moving anytime soon.

So what’s the big deal about a soup & salad place?

It’s not like a plain old salad bar–in addition to freshly cut vegetables, beans, cooked pastas, chopped eggs, shredded cheese, different accoutrements and variant salad dressings, they also have seven different freshly made soups daily, baked things like focaccia, pizza, cornbread and biscuits, and a few nice baked desserts. There was also some sugar-free chocolate mousse, which I passed on, as I’ll explain in a minute.

Warning: the brownies and muffins are SQUARE. I dunno why, they just use a square muffin pan. I don’t ask why. Don’t be alarmed. If this concerns you, there is soft-serve yogurt in vanilla and chocolate, cone optional.

Just because I could, and there were some cracker-sized pieces, I had a couple of pieces of the focaccia and one little piece of the pizza. DELISH, especially when I dipped the focaccia in the Italian Minestrone Soup. I only had a little of that, too.

Something odd I just noticed on the online menu: their delicious chili is “Not in Texas.” Wondered why they didn’t have any yesterday. That’s interesting–they usually have some incarnation of either beef or turkey chili when I go, but I guess because nobody bought it or folks complained about the beans. I agree–no beans belong in a true chili. But it’s good, or it was the last time I had it.

They have some featured tossed salads every month, and yesterday it was a tasty apple and walnut concoction with dried cranberries. A regular favorite is Joan’s Broccoli Madness, which is cooked broccoli with some delicious dressing, raisins, dried cranberries and a little garlic. FABULOUS, and I make sure I have some every time I go.

And that’s why I passed on dessert yesterday. Who needs chocolate and/or cranberry muffins when there are apples and walnuts and raisins and dried cranberries in your salad?

A couple of years ago I went to see Chicago at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion, and stopped in for some food before the concert at that same place. It was June, when Chicago seems to make it to Houston. It was the most incredible salad ever. I even called my brother to tell him about it. Why?

They put CHERRIES in my salad. YEAH!

The “salad du jour”, the month’s feature salad, much like the apple-walnut-cranberry number they had yesterday, had CHERRIES mixed in with the spinach and lettuce. I think there were walnuts or almonds involved, too.

I love cherries. It was SOOO GOOD. You don’t expect to bite into fresh cherries while eating salad, but it’s great when you do. I hope they bring it back in the summer so I can have it again. If I go up to The Woodlands. Or one of the other locations.

They always have something called “Wonton Chicken Salad,” which I don’t mess with because of the fried wontons; don’t know what’s in those. But on the online menu, it says, “Vegetarian in Tucson, AZ.”

Huh?

Someone explain to me how a chicken salad can be made vegetarian. I didn’t ask while I was there, I was too busy with the roasted garlic dressing and the sunflower seeds sprinkled over the top of the dressing. (That’s fantastic, BTW.)

The design of the Sweet Tomatoes restaurant is clean, with subtle colors, and a carpet patterned with. . .tomatoes. No kidding. I didn’t think to take pictures, but their carpet has a tomato print. Well, what do you expect, plain Berber?

The dining area is simple, with tables and booths and open areas where the food is. (The Woodlands’ location seems to have lots of employees buzzing  around and picking up used dishes when you’re not looking. Then again, it wasn’t crowded when I went, either.)  Clean dishes and utensils are stacked everywhere, so you never have to go looking for them. In addition to soft drinks (and my favorite–water) they also have coffee. I’ve never gotten around to actually having their coffee because I’m too interested in the salad bar, or a bit from the bakery.

Really, if you have one nearby, and enjoy the soup and salad thing, go have some. It’s fresh, it’s tasty, and all those veggies are good for you, you know. Eat what you know, and maybe try something new on a small plate. At Sweet Tomatoes, it’s all good (at least, every time I’ve ever been there.)

Happy Dining!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Restaurant Review

 
 
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