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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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Herbal Essence

Herbal Essence

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers:

Wow–I apologize for the length of time in publishing. I just realized it’s been nearly a month! I’ve been busy on the copywriting side, just last week making the decision to change markets after pursuing something that just isn’t happening. Cross your fingers. . . .

Well, the rain finally stopped, and now Houston will be hot, dry, with occasional afternoon “pop-up” showers as the TV weather folks like to call it.  During TS Bill, members of the Eyewitless News Teams were everywhere, scaring people to death, causing panic buying of supplies and insisting that they watch TV 24/7 or DIE! Sheesh. . .we’re fine, and now I’m back to watering the HeatCageKitchen by hand, with a big plastic watering can with a sprinkler spout.

My friends in New Orleans will be blessed with a Trader Joe’s next year. Woo hoo! The store will be located in Metairie, a few miles from where I used to live, and you could tell a whole lot of folks were happy about that one. Baton Rouge already has one, and The E Man has declared it great. But, really–after all the driving I’ve done to get to Trader Joe’s, I could not explain enough how lucky they were to get one that wouldn’t be an hour or more away. Of course, there were complaints: “why did it have to be in Metairie?” (Because you don’t make money in low-dollar neighborhoods.) A few commenters on the WWL-TV Facebook page complained about having to drive maybe 15 miles across the river to get to it. Oh, please–try driving an HOUR in Houston to get to one! (It’s why I only go when I am already planning to be near one, and stock UP.) And then a large number of commenters asked, “What’s a Trader Joe’s?” That’s REAL New Orleans.

Continuing with the Karma of Spare Parts, I ordered replacement parts for my Cuisinart blender/food processor as well as my toaster oven two weeks ago. GRRR. . .but now the floor of the toaster oven is clean, the pan is new and not worn down from scrubbing, the blender works correctly and the food processing attachment isn’t cracked anymore.. I’ve been meaning to replace the baking pan and drip tray for a while. I just didn’t think I’d have to replace another part of the blender already. But parts wear out, as we all know, and no, this was not due to doing something stupid. (Like last time.)

Neighbor K has also had her own Karma of Spare parts to deal with. In the last year or so, she has been required to replace:

  • Air conditioner
  • Washer
  • Dryer
  • Dishwasher (just last week)
  • Mattress and box spring
  • Something in her car

K has been injured twice in the last calendar year, once requiring physical therapy. She has also had take the Daft Pug to the vet recently for a back strain. DP also has liver issues, requiring additional medication. Poor little pug. He just doesn’t seem as enthused to go out with me in the afternoon these days, but it is hot, and pugs don’t do well in hot weather. We keep it short, and he does what he needs to and we go inside.

Now onto more fun things.

Summer is the time for salads, and this recent article in The Wall Street Journal discusses the simple, fresh, green salad, which, we hope, makes a comeback. Keep the pasta, tuna, and other salads and just return to the simpler salad, you know? As they say in the copywriting world, “don’t over-think it.” Dressing for salad HeatCageKitchen style is a light sprinkling of any kind of salt you like (kosher is handy by the stove), 1 tablespoon olive oil from Trader Joe’s and 1 teaspoon of Alessi’s Raspberry Blush vinegar (if you can find it) or Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar. Shake it up, pour it over your salad, toss it really well, and eat it in front of the computer like I normally do.

Just don’t put too much basil in your salad, or you’ll regret it. I speak from experience. One or two finely chopped leaves in ENOUGH. Seriously.

Anyway. . . .

The garden, as you might expect, is in full bloom and doing stuff. For the first time ever, I have a bumper crop of Anaheim chile peppers.

Anaheim, er, Hatch chile peppers

Anaheim, er, Hatch chile peppers

I’ve used a few, and harvested a few more. I don’t let them get as big as the ones in the grocery store, because a) I don’t think they’ll get that big, and b) they’ll turn red and get hotter. So I pick them and make grapefruit salsa, but I also have to find more uses for them. One of my first creations went, naturally, into the Crock Pot. One packet of chicken thighs, two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, and two seeded and ribbed Anaheims finely diced:

There we go. It was pretty good. Now to figure out what to do with the rest of them.

I recommend the boneless/skinless variety, and cooking about six hours. While I like the skin-on version for roasting, the skin gets rubbery when you slow-cook it in liquid for 6 hours. But because I was just itching to cook something, that’s what I did.

Seen recently in a magazine:

Give a woman a fish, and she’ll eat for a day. Teach a woman to garden, and everybody gets tomatoes.

Have you ever known someone to have so many tomatoes they couldn’t deal with it? Yeah, that isn’t me. However, I have been getting some tasty little tomatoes in spurts:

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

The little ones have thinned for a while, but I see flowers on the grape plants, so I’ll be having more soon. There were three of the bigger ones, called Cherokee Purple. Here’s a closer look at that one:

A Cherokee Purple Tomato. Looks red to me.

A Cherokee Purple Tomato. Looks red to me.

The bottom end of the Cherokee Purple

The bottom end of the Cherokee Purple

No, I don’t know why it’s called “purple,” but they sure taste good.

Pretty much what any tomato looks like, right?

Pretty much what any tomato looks like, right?

 

I did save some seeds from the last one, and will find something to store them in later. Like the Chocolate Cherry, it has a rich, deep tomato flavor that might only need a very light touch of salt. Maybe. Keep my fingers crossed that more are coming.

The jalapeno plant finally has one growing, but I don’t know how long to leave it grow. The ones you buy in the grocery are about as big as a finger, so it might have a while to go. Sage is doing well, I’ll use that soon in a compound butter to roast some turkey thighs (yes, again.) I have moved the bell pepper plant over by the tomatoes, and guess what? I’ve got a bell pepper coming, and one or two more behind it. It’s a red bell plant, so they’ll be attached for a while.

I am still doing battle growing lettuce, but the last stub that Neighbor K gave me has grown about a foot high. Woo hoo! I’ve got one more started in the soil, and one didn’t make it. Two more romaine stubs were put in water just last night and I hope to plant them soon. The re-grown celery is doing well, but it’s not growing like the stuff you see in the grocery; it’s mostly leaves and thin stalks. I also need to get more green onions for plantable roots, since the ones I have seem to be fading off.

I killed the cilantro, unfortunately. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

Since January, I have been attending monthly gardening classes at the local library. (This Thursday evening is on fall vegetables.) Lecturers are brought in by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and the Harris County Master Gardener Association. (I missed April’s lecture because I had to be downtown early the next day for a copywriting event.) I’ve enjoyed all the classes and listening to the different instructors and their helpful info. I literally happened upon the info in the library one day in January and have made it a point to attend every since.

I just looked up those websites, and realized that there are resources there I never looked at before. DUH.

Last month was the June lecture, and they brought in a nice lady who talked about growing and using herbs. (No, not the kind you smoke–get your mind out of the gutter!) Longtime readers of this humble blog know that I love my pesto, and have struggled to grow cilantro. Well, guess what I found out? Cilantro is hard to grow here because it’s so hot! I’ll try again in the fall–fall to spring is the best time for cilantro, not during the summer.

The instructor (whose name I forgot to write down) said that she occasionally gets a call or visit from a chef asking for cilantro. She points said chef in the direction of HEB to buy some. And when I used my little scraggly cilantro growth a couple of weeks ago for grapefruit salsa, it never grew back like basil or parsley. Darnit. Fortunately, cilantro is cheap in this part of the country. (You can find that one on the recipe page too, called OrangeOnionSalsa. I use grapefruits more often, because I have them around, but oranges are also very delicious.)

I did get one very valuable tip from this lady: water in the morning, not at night. DUH! I’ve been doing that (once the monsoon was over) and I found only one persistent pest this morning. (Gave him a free flight to his new hunting area.)

One pointer: if you don’t have quite enough basil for your recipe, you can use Italian flat-leaf parsley as a filler, and it’s good, too. I forgot about that, and the recent first basil harvest/pesto night used up most of the basil and parsley and gave a nice yield. It’s now in the freezer; I’ve used up all but one of my previous pesto batches, dated with plastic wrap over the top and sealed up in a little square glass container.

The lecturer offered attendees some small basil plants that were grown by a group she works with, but she wasn’t sure what type of basil. Smells like basil to me. I don’t care; I just said “thank you.” I’ll have another pesto day soon, since my original basil plant is growing back, the new one is about a foot tall, and the parsley is also growing back nicely.

That’s when I found myself needing spare parts again. Remember when I stuck the wooden spoon in the blender and broke the cutting assembly? Thought I was good on the blender until then. Well. . .while I was trying to blend up that pesto, the blender would start and then “slip,” like a wonky transmission on a car when you shift it. Then I saw and smelled smoke. . .and nothing was lit. Seems that the the “blender collar,” which screws onto the bottom of the jar and holds the gasket and cutter assembly together to sit on the motor base, was worn down for whatever reason, and was causing the “slipping.” You can see the blender and spare part listing here.)  Because it’s also been used and worn, plus cracked in one place, I added a new food processor work bowl to my shopping cart, as well as a replacement drip tray and crumb pan (which is more like the bottom of an oven) to the cart. I wasn’t planning on doing this again, but. . .I can’t use my blender without it. I was going to replace the worn-down toaster oven parts eventually, so I did it all at once.

Oh, and the pesto was completed in my food processor, which, when I win the lottery, will also be replaced, probably with a Cuisinart or other upscale version. When you buy cheap, you buy twice.

I harvested plenty of basil, and got to work with it.

Parsley and some basil

Parsley and some basil

Thought I had more pictures, but really, pesto making is not that exciting–unless you’re me, of course.

There was a lot of great information in this lecture, so finally, I’m going to share it before Thursday’s lecture on fall veggies. <hanging head>

One point that was made that I knew about 20 years ago–do NOT attempt to make flavored olive oil at home. The risk of bacterial growth is great; companies that do that have sophisticated processing equipment that eliminate the possibility of toxicity, and it’s not possible to create flavored olive oil at home for Christmas gifts. You could indeed make someone very ill–and we don’t want that!

However–flavored vinegars are a great holiday gift, because I’ve done it. The vinegar kills any possibility of bacterial contamination on contact. Back in the 90’s, I got the idea from one of the Christmas Martha Stewart books, and after researching it discovered that oil wasn’t a good idea. I collected wine bottles from friends that I knew drank wine, soaked them clean and proceeded to make them for Christmas. Everybody enjoyed them. . .at least, that’s what they said. Now I know to use a Champagne or similar vinegar; plain white vinegar is a bit too strong.

If you’re going to make flavored olive oil for yourself, just make a small amount to use within a week. It will NOT be safe to make a month in advance for gifts. Those, you buy for Christmas.

I’ve added to the recipe page PDF versions of two of the handouts we were graciously given. One is a recipe for HerbJelly, and the other is a page of links to additional information, plus a number of recipes using fresh garden herbs. Yes. . .including pesto. It’s not the one I use, but it’s pretty darn close. I’m not saying this recipe is or isn’t better than the one I use; I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly good pesto recipes out there. If you have one you like better, by all means, use it–just make that pesto and freeze it for the winter!

Of course I made some Pea and Pesto Soup. You KNOW I did. Used up the end of a container after filling up a new one.

Pine nuts are expensive, but if your grocery has a bulk section, buy just what you need and use it right away, or buy a larger amount and immediately freeze what you don’t use. (I strongly suggest a glass or plastic container intended for use in the freezer; the thinner grocery bags can become brittle in the freezer and you run the risk of losing an expensive ingredient when the bag crumbles and/or breaks. Yes, I speak from experience.) If you don’t like pine nuts, walnuts are also good in pesto.

Oh, and my apologies for the pen markings on the PDF. . .I’ve been doing that since I was at Tulane. Can’t help myself, and my cookbooks are also marked up pretty good. Yes, even the new Clean Slate book. I also add the date and my initials along with comments whether I like or dislike a recipe. Hey–why not?

Whether you grow them yourself, or hit the farmer’s market on a regular basis, herbs are great, and for more than just basil pesto. Between the links and the recipes I’ve provided, you can easily learn more and learn to enjoy more herbs. What are you waiting for?

Enjoy!

 

 

Epic Bars, the HeatCageKitchen garden, and other updates

Epic Bars, the HeatCageKitchen garden, and other updates

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

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

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

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

Look closely.

Look closely.

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

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

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just jumped right out at me!

It just jumped right out at me!

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

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

Yum.

Yum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway. . . .

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

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

Food of the Gods, Vegan Style.

Food of the Gods, Vegan Style.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now if you really want healthy, keep reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can't wait to dive in!

Can’t wait to dive in!

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

Now you can see what you're getting.

Now you can see what you’re getting.

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

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

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

Sesame Chicken with BBQ. . .also sounds wonderful.

Beef with apple and uncured bacon? YUM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Til next time–Happy Dining!

 

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The HeatCageKitchen 2015 Garden

The HeatCageKitchen 2015 Garden

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers!

Well, it’s mid-March, and St. Patty’s Day came and went without incident for me. That is, nobody pinched me for not wearing green (I was, and have green flecks in my eyes), and I didn’t punch anyone for pinching me. So it was a good day!

I’ve seen the GER a little more recently, and yesterday, he brought me a big box of cracked pecans from his backyard.

Some women get flowers. I get pecans. You can have the flowers.

Some women get flowers. I get pecans. You can have the flowers.

Non-GMO and all that. They are cracked, but not completely shelled. This means that if I ever stop EATING said pecans, I will sort them out into pieces, cracked ones, and the minority that did not crack. I’ll finish the shelling, then bag them up to freeze, then turn them into some delicious gluten-free treats. The GER brings the lot to someone who charges him sixty cents a pound to run them through a machine to crack them. Friend of the blog RR says I need to make him a pecan pie. I told him to bring over his Puerto Rican Mama so she can teach me to cook some tasty Spanish food.

Actually, I’ve told RR for many years that if I ever date a man of Hispanic origin or descent, I’m heading over to his house in Katy for cooking lessons from his Mom. He sort of agreed, but I bet he hasn’t told his Mom about it.

So it’s that time of year, and for us urban gardeners, time to figure out what the heck we’re going to grow this year. I’ve been attending free classes monthly at my local library, and I’ve already learned a lot. Crop rotation is important–don’t keep putting garlic into the same spot or pot year after year, plant your tomatoes there and garlic elsewhere. I have made compost for the first time (with a little help from that class in January plus Urban Farm magazine.)  Just emptied my kitchen compost crock into the container again this weekend, and it looks. . .well, you know, it’s decomposing plant matter. It’s compost.

The Meyer lemon plant that gave me four beautiful lemons that I turned into a cake last year is already cranked up for more action this season:

The fantastic Meyer lemon plant.

The fantastic Meyer lemon plant.

 

There are even some tiny lemons growing now, but there will be some drop-off before I get to harvest any full-grown lemons.

See the tiny lemons?

See the tiny lemons?

I’ve seen a few hungry bees looking for nectar, which makes me happy, but citrus trees are self-pollinating. The lime tree I bought last year is starting to bloom, too:

The key lime tree. I'll be very happy if it gives me some.

The key lime tree. I’ll be very happy if it gives me some.

Let’s see if I can lower my lime cost this year. I buy at least a dozen at a time, but had to curtail last year when the price went way up. However, if I can get some limes growing, I’ll soon be having Mojitos:

Mint roars back

Mint roars back!

I recently trimmed back the mint plant and added more soil. We’ve had a good amount of rain here in Houston recently, and when the water comes back, so does the mint. Watering the mint when it’s dry helps, too. That plant is about five years old, I think.

WARNING: put mint into a container, or it will overtake the garden. RR found that out last year when he had a huge swath growing against the fence. (He posted it on Facebook.) The GER says he’s got mint thriving with some ornamentals. I hope he didn’t spend much on onrnamentals. . .or he learns to love Mojitos. (I can teach you how to make those, just ask, OK?)

I’ve also started seeds for jalepeno peppers, yellow teardrop grape tomatoes, bell peppers, sprouting garlic cloves, parsley and sunflowers. If we get sunflowers, they’ll grow against the wall that separates our patios so Neighbor K can have some if she wants. Last time I grew some on the front patio, someone came by and broke the beautiful bloom off the six-foot stem. So now they will be planted in the back patio.

I could not resist a little Jeff Dunham humor. I put in a little tag that says “Jalepeno on-a-STEEK.”

I’ve also planted some Mesclun mix lettuce in a pot, so we’ll see what happens there. I should have planted some kale for Neighbor K last fall, but didn’t think about it . Neighbor K loves kale; I like it, don’t love it, but will try next fall to grow some for us.

The GER suggested lifting the trees in pots up off the ground a little so they can get more sun, so that’s what I’ll be doing this week. All of them, if I can get enough bricks, and they’ll all be happy with lots of sunshine.

I will need to buy some basil plants, because you KNOW I want plenty of pesto this year. At least three, maybe four or five plants. I’m not messing around–I am serious about my pesto!

Here’s a childhood memory: my parents LOVE avocados. Before I was born, they lived in a house that had had an avocado tree in the backyard. They feasted on avocados when it produced, and fondly remembered that for years (until the fat-free thing came along and doctors told them  to leave them alone.) Every time my Mom would buy an avocado, she would keep the seed and try to get it to root. They were in nearly every window–four toothpicks stuck like 12, 3, 6 and 9 on a clock, water in the bottom, and she waited for it to root, then planted it with the greatest of hopes. Did this for my entire childhood, until I left home. Never had an avocado tree. So keep that in mind while I tell you more.

I’ve shown you these green onions before, but let me tell you a bit more about them.

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When I had a “boyfriend,” I got him to take me to Frohberg Farms in Alvin, TX. Aunt Ruth told me about the farm, and even though it was a drive from where I live, it’s still buying local. I need to hike it out there again one day; they have strawberry picking going on now, and I would love to pick me some. (And eat them!)  I bought a number of things, including some green onions. I’d read on the Urban Farm forum that by cutting off the white, rooted bottom of the green onion and planting it, you could regrow them and just cut what you need.

That was in 2010. . .I no longer have a “boyfriend,” but the onions are still growing, through everything, including rain, drought, no sunlight and pests. I bought some from the grocery a few months ago to make a recipe, just to make sure I had the right amount. And I planted those rooted bottoms, so now I have more. I bought the big fat ones, but they grew back very skinny. Who cares, right? Unless you’ve got to have the amount just right, you can go outside and cut some green onions, just what you need. They grow back forever.

Now, that brings me to a bigger subject that I missed writing about last year. Back in November, Urban Farm ran an article that I somehow skimmed past on re-growing food scraps. What do I mean by that? Well, the green onion bit is just one example–and just about anyone can do it. Rachel Hurd Anger’s article starts out with a lady who started re-growing lettuce after reading about it online. Now she wonders exactly what she can re-grow after shopping. Another lady grows lettuce and celery.

I gave the GER a subscription to that magazine for Christmas. . .I bet he saw it.

Have I ever mentioned that I just love salad? I mean, I REALLY love salad. So guess what I’m going to do soon? Couple it with the Salad in the Jar project I used to do, and I will be a rabbit-food-nibbling cat in no time. I’m going to get some organic romaine lettuce and celery in the next few days and sprout the ends in water. Once they start to develop roots, I’ll pop it into the soil, and wait for the magic to grow it back. I plan on doing this with a bunch of heads of organic romaine as well as a couple of bunches of organic celery.

If all goes well, I’ll be growing lettuce AND tomatoes and happily consuming them. If I’m lucky, I might have too many. . .then my friends will be blessed, too. Cross your fingers.

Now, the article goes onto to talk about other things you can grow from roots and ends, like carrots. Legumes, with the exception of split peas, will also sprout for you, and you can have a houseplant from dried chickpeas.

Another example is cutting the top off the pineapple and letting it grow in a pot. Remember this one?

The monster pineapple plant.

The monster pineapple plant.

The GER took it home where it. . .died. Dunno what happened, but he said he even took it to a Honduran lady who specializes in saving plants. She couldn’t save it. GRRRR. . .I was looking forward to some fresh pineapple from the GER’s back garden, too. Oh, well; we’ll try again. But that plant came from the top of a grocery store pineapple from Hawaii I bought one day on sale for $1. You like pineapples? Grow you some!

The article goes on to talk about other plants and seeds that you can re-grow, and mentions one source that never had any luck with the avocado. Well, I know all about that one, don’t I? (I have no idea if my mother is still trying to grow that tree in her 70s.)

While you wait for your garden harvest, there is a book mentioned in this article called Don’t Throw It: Grow It! 68 Windowsill Plants From Kitchen Scraps (Storey Pulishing, 2008.) Author Deborah Peterson talks about what you can grow from leftover pieces and seeds. If you have children, this might be a great way to show them where food comes from, and how to reduce waste, too. I don’t have it yet but plan to order it, since it’s not expensive.

When I looked up that book,I also found Vertical Vegetables And Fruits by Rhonda Massingham Hart. Also inexpensive, I think this will help me grow more in the suburban 8′ x 5′ plot I have now, as well as later, when I get to a much-desired larger space. (And, I think I can make the GER just a teensy bit jealous.)

Thinking about all this, I suddenly had a hankering for Pea Pesto Soup, so I’ve made some, even though it’s not cold anymore. I haven’t had it in a while, and because I had to go yeast free for a while to get rid of the heartburn, it’s OK.(There is cheese in the pesto, and peas are higher in carbs, so it will feed the yeast.) I’ve got one full and one nearly full container of pesto left in the freezer, so I need to get some basil plants this weekend, or I’m going to run out and be very grouchy.

I’ll close with this picture of a stove that would make Suzy Homemaker, um, green with envy, but also make her wish she was a grownup. I found it on Facebook the other day and promptly shared it on my wall:

Amy's fantasy kitchen stove. I don't even care what color it is, or how much it costs.

Amy’s fantasy kitchen stove. I don’t even care what color it is, or how much it costs. I want one.

We all have a dream, right? Now, I don’t have a house yet, and when I do, it’s not going to be a straight drive on I-10 like you think it will be. And if I can pull it off, Google Maps won’t find it, either. I’ve since posted a screen porch picture that had people inviting themselves over. One friend in California said she’d be “happy to share my new house.” Another friend in New Orleans said that between the food, desserts, the clothes, “especially when she puts in that new stove she posted a while back.” Those two ladies are Buddhists, so we’ll be chanting and enjoying the country. If Neighbor K comes over with Daft Pug, she can take him out while we do our prayers. And then we’ll be some happy, hell-raising women. In the country, where we can’t get into much trouble.

Between the stove and the porch and a few other pictures I’ve shared. . .maybe I should start downloading and maybe printing those pictures out for future reference.

So, if you’re still in winter, like my friend Frannie in Arizona, give your garden some hard thinking so you can be ready when the time comes. Start now growing your lettuce, celery and sprout your seeds indoors so you’re ready to go when the frost is over.

If you’re down here in the South, it’s time to start your garden. Get moving, and grow what you like to eat, and whatever grows best where you live.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2015 in Fresh from the Garden, Fruit, salad

 

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Cupcakes and the Honey Bunny

Cupcakes and the Honey Bunny

Good evening, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry it’s been a week since I wrote. I haven’t forgotten you or Graze.com. I sent them a link to the last blog post, and the email I got back was that they’ve passed the link around so everyone could see it. Woo hoo!

I’ve been at it, and sent out a proposal for copywriting work, but it didn’t go anywhere. Another potential client I wrote a sample article for had to say no, they’d lost a big client the day before, but check back in December.

But in foodie news, it’s been a week of good stuff.

First, if you’ve ever broken the glass plate in your microwave, take heart. I did that about five years ago, and just figure that one day, I’d buy a new microwave. Not yet. When the plate broke, I had no idea where to go to get another one for a 2003 Sunbeam microwave. Well, I bought a Corelle dinner plate at Wal-Mart and that worked fine until a couple of months ago when one of the little wheels came off the rotating ring assembly that turns the plate. This was probably caused by the imbalance of weight on the dinner plate, and two weeks ago, I did something about it.

Darn, it took moving the microwave out, snapping a picture of the model number on the back, and going online to do a search. Guess what? Appliance Factory Parts had exactly what I needed. The plate was back-ordered, so I called to ask if it was just temporary, or discontinued. The nice man said it was just back-ordered and should be in next week. They shipped it FedEx, and I even got updates as it made its way to my door. I met the FedEx guy out on the sidewalk. Fifteen minutes later my little microwave bought used in 2004 for $10 was good as new.

I also found a new replacement top thingy for a Braun coffee grinder on eBay. The coffee grinder is at least 4 years old, works perfectly and has been discontinued by Braun. The button on the original top is cracked, but without a replacement part, a new one was in order. But no, I got an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) part on eBay. Instead of tossing a perfectly good coffee grinder and buying a new one, my Braun looks new and works fine.

Repair parts: It’s a Good Thing.

Yesterday I had to trek up to The Woodlands, a place I like to go up to occasionally. One of these days I’m going to spend a weekend up there. But no, this time it was for yearly medical testing with the fine folks at Woodlands Wellness & Cosmetic Center, Dr. Sakina Davis and her terrific staff. And of course, I had to make a few stops while I was up there.

I should point out that I drove through some very heavy rains for over an hour to get there. You never know this kind of thing will happen when you make plans. (Ask anyone who’s planned an outdoor party or wedding.)  We had a big front come through, and dropped the temperature about 15 degrees. Mind you, this being Houston, I had sweat trickling down my back when I hopped in my ride to go on the freeway, and then after I got out of Sweet Tomatoes, I saw people in The Woodlands Mall by Barnes & Noble wearing long sleeves. It had not only dried out but the temperature dropped just a little. It actually got cool when I got home last night.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. . . .

First place I stopped when I got there was The Container Store for a couple of small things. I didn’t have time to do Sweet Tomatoes yet, but I hit the Starbucks across the street from Woodlands Wellness for a quick bite, because I was really hungry. I grabbed a Greek Yogurt Raspberry Lemon Parfait and ate it while I walked back across the street.

Turns out I should NOT have been eatin’ anything. I was supposed to be taking the starving blood tests, but I’ll be going back tomorrow after fasting all night to do the blood draw. I’ll take my laptop with me and head to Starbucks for some food and free WiFi so I can wait for the morning traffic to lighten up.

For a late lunch, I made it to Sweet Tomatoes, where I discovered some delicious gluten-free offerings and a new quinoa salad. After the late lunch, I went over to the mall to visit Karla & Anton Kharoufeh at Oil & Vinegar, but both were on the phone. However, Miss Kathy was free, and I talked to her for a few minutes. I really just wanted to say Hi, but I only got to talk to Kathy. Oh. . .bottles and jars of delicious things in there, so if you’re in The Woodlands, please go stop in and get something special and delicious. The Lemon EV Olive Oil mixed with the Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar is absolute heaven when you whiz it in the blender to emulsify it and pour it on a salad. Doesn’t take much, either.

When I left The Woodlands Mall, I headed out to Trader Joe’s, and shopped til I dropped. Neighbor R, who just turned 80, gave me $10 and asked me to get some of the $3 a bottle TJ’s wine, which she’s fond of. She likes the Chardonnay, but also asked about the Pinot Grigio. I brought back two of the Chardonnay and one Pinot Grigio, and she was very happy with that. I asked the very nice cashier to ring the wine up separately, because this was for a “little old lady in Clear Lake,” and she bagged up the receipt and change (about 27 cents, I think.)

I’m always extra-careful handling other people’s money, even if it’s 27 cents.

I bought extra of some things like toothpaste, cannellini beans, cocoa powder and olive oil. Never mind how much I spent on groceries–I’m stocked up on some non-perishables for a while.

Last stop: Frost Bake Shoppe. I actually got to talk to the owner, Terese Yates, and told her why I was buying so many gluten free. You KNOW that’s what I went for. This time, though, I brought some home to share.

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Deliciousness comes from this box.

Since the temperature dropped, and I had some refrigerated goods from Trader Joe’s in a bag with two frozen water bottles, I got four of the Blueberry Cheesecake cupcakes in gluten free, and carefully put the box in that zippered insulated bag on top. They made it all the way without a problem.

Yes, this really is gluten-free:

Blueberry Cheesecake Cupcake

Is this not the most one of the most beautiful cupcakes you’ve ever seen?

Oh, YEAH.

You can read more about Ms. Yates and Frost at this link.

At this point, the drive home begins. However, the weather was beautiful by this time, so it was only the traffic to deal with. And although it was very slow in a couple of spots, for the most part it wasn’t bad. Neighbor K generously fed Jezebel the step-kitty so I could go see the GER first. I didn’t tell her about the cupcakes until I brought her one.

First stop on was down to Galveston County to see the GER at the infamous, aptly named Funk House/Junk House. I called him on the way to make sure he was home, and I said, “I have something for you.” He said, “I have something for you, too! Some fresh fish and some home-grown grapefruits.” He’d been out fishing, as he usually does on Monday (and today, too.) Suddenly I felt bad–all I had was one cupcake for him! Well, I went. . .and I talked to him for a little while and explained that it was, indeed. gluten free, and he would thoroughly enjoy it. He did–and ate it in three bites. (I talked to him today and asked; he loved it!)

Then back to the homestead, and brought Neighbor K one of these delicious things. She said she would eat it in the morning after our early-morning walk. Unfortunately, I was so tired, there WAS no early morning walk. Just talked to Neighbor K, and she didn’t walk either, but did thoroughly enjoy that cupcake. At 5:30 this morning.

Last stop–Neighbor R, to bring her wine and the last of the cupcakes. (I’d already eaten mine, I couldn’t wait.)

So now, they know how delicious gluten-free cupcakes from Frost can be. That fish from the GER was broiled up last night and came out great.

The fish and produce were not the first foodie gifts I received since my last post, either.

Last week, I got a personal visit from the GER. No kidding. He emailed me last Monday, informing me that he’d received actual mail–and it looked legit–for me. Say what? He said it looked like real mail from a friend. Although it was a greeting card sent from Alaska, it had a piece of junk mail in it. I couldn’t seem to catch up to him to drop by the Funk House/Junk House to pick it up, so he ended up shipping it, and stopping by on Thursday. He also wanted to go to Vitamin Shoppe, which happens to be a mile away from me. It was much easier to let him drive us over there so he could see it, and I needed something anyway, so that’s what happened.

Shortly before the card arrived, he’d found himself with a beehive with lots of BEES. Yes, the kind that produce honey. He had to call professionals to come in and remove said beehive, and they gave him the honeycombs they removed from the shed he plans to eventually dismantle and replace.

So, I got him some gloves and set up a bowl with a strainer so we could filter out solid biological matter. (If you’ve never done this, well, don’t think too much about it, OK?)  While he was wringing out the honeycombs with some clean hair color gloves I gave him, we were chatting about different stuff. And, of course, I forgot to take pictures, darnit! But I can show you what we ended up with.

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I later filtered it out again, and then gave Neighbor K a jar and kept one for myself.

Incidentally, if you like those labels, you can find the template here on Martha Stewart’s website. However, they don’t stick well in the freezer. I just used one on this jar because I’d printed some once and they were just handy.

Now, a while back I kept a couple of pictures from Facebook of a couple of pictures of “cleanse” drinks. Then I had to clear out some of the photos (which is why I don’t have a pic of the bowl of honey before I bottled it, darnit.) I discovered that one, now that I have raw, organic honey, I can try.

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The honey is raw and organic because the GER didn’t know that hive was out there. It’s not certified organic, of course, just. . .he never did anything with it or to it.

Now, these things get passed around Facebook all the time; in fact, friend of the blog AK recently asked me for the Cranberry Cleanse, but that’s got a pear, an apple, a piece of celery and some other stuff I don’t have around on a daily basis.

But this one I decided to try. No, I haven’t lost any weight with it yet, but I have been mixing it up with very warm water to help the honey melt, then adding two packets of sweetener to cut the tartness. Then pour it over ice, because I’m sweaty and no way do I want something hot. I can’t say it’s harmful, but I’m drinking it after I get back in from the AM walks with Neighbor K.

Remember one of Amy’s cardinal rules: two packets of Sweet ‘N Low can kill the taste of anything. That’s helpful when you’re ingesting something awful that’s also medicinal. Been there, done that, tell you in another blog post later, maybe during flu season.

So, despite everything else, I’m still here, and still at it. We’ll be back on the walking trail first thing in the morning (yes, 4 am) and I’m off to The Woodlands soon as I get cleaned up and dressed. No eatin’ until they stick me, and I make appropriate comments about the peacocks in the office looking like poultry.

Happy Dining!

 

 

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Cookbooks and desserts

Cookbooks and desserts

Good evening, Dear Readers:

It’s a typical spring day in Houston today. Started out about 75 degrees, and by the time I went to get the mail about 2:30, it was about 55 degrees. No, I went out in my shorts. I don’t care. But I did wash the duvet again, and of course, put it back in the closet for the summer. Oh, well.

I’m still at it, and still looking for a “real” job, but haven’t found one yet. I’ve been concentrating on that, so I haven’t done much in the way of foodie adventuring. However, I have come across three books that aren’t new, but are fabulous–and do not involve celebrity chefs. (Plus a couple of other things to tell you about.)

Now, celebrity chefs are great–they’re actually famous for something they do or have done, not for getting arrested or some other thing you hope your kids don’t find out about. Except that one guy. . .oh, nevermind. There’s one or two in every group.

I found a neat tool I want. Doesn’t mean I’m actually going to ever have it, but I want one. Then again, I want a high-end stove and maybe a Vitamix. Not shopping for those yet. However, I think this little breakfast sandwich maker from Hamilton Beach is just awesome. Of course, for that to work for me, I’d need to be making my own gluten free English muffins, and I need a pan for whoopie pies so I can make the one out of the newest Wheat Belly cookbook. . .well, that’s for another day, right?

At one point I was fascinated with counter top breakfast makers, and was going to buy one for a boyfriend’s Christmas present. I used to see 4-in-one, but now they’re 3-in-one, with no popup toaster. He was adamant that he didn’t want one, so I got him a tie or something. (And he’s gone now.) That one is so cute–reminds me of Suzy Homemaker stuff and Easy-Bake Ovens! But no, I’m not getting one of those, either.

Incidentally, last week I had the opportunity to make Crosissant Bread Pudding, and boy was that a mistake. I don’t have the picture, but be forewarned–this is an incredibly delicious dessert to use up some leftover croissants. Holy Shish Kebab!! Make SURE there are plenty of people around when you serve it, OK? It makes a large amount, filling a lasagne pan with a rich, sweet custard and raisins. Great dessert for Easter, just use some day-old stale croissants for best results.

And don’t say I didn’t warn you, either.

It’s a long story as to how I came across these four cookbooks, but I can tell you that they’re now on my Amazon wish list. Yeah, like I need another cookbook, let alone four! But there are reasons I like these books, and this is from the first one:

This involves cream, coffee, chocolate, egg whites, and sugar. Any questions?

This involves cream, coffee, chocolate, egg whites, and sugar. Any questions?

The recipe is called Mocha Tortoni Mousse, very quick and easy, from a book called Dish Entertains by Trish Magwood. She’s a personal chef and talks about catering a party for the actor Martin Short and his family; Tom Hanks was also in attendance at one activity. In addition to categorizing these chapters by subject (breakfast, dinner, dessert) she also breaks the chapters down in further by ease and occasion. In other words, the Mocha Tortoni Mousse is a simple dessert that’s great for everyday, and easy enough to do. Put those in fancy dishes or martini glasses, and even kids will enjoy them (although they’re not boozy.) There are other desserts that are a little more complicated when you want something a little more upscale. It’s an enjoyable book, and styled much like Australia’s Donna Hay. Ms. Magwood has a second book as well: In My Mother’s Kitchen, which I’ve also added to my Wish List but haven’t yet seen.

The second book is one that I haven’t cooked from yet, but it sure is interesting. Chicken And Egg by Janice Cole doesn’t ask the question, but she does talk about what it’s like to start raising your own chickens for eggs when you’re not familiar with it. That would be me, although I’m not in a position to have chickens. I have enough with the cat, and, well, I can just see this beastly little tabby, a former street kitty who would take on small dogs, chasing around chickens and trying to catch them!  The author doesn’t glamorize the topic, and she manages to get some good eggs from her three hens, but there are some setbacks as well. However, there is no discussion of “from pet to pot” as you might expect.

A couple of years ago, I saw a short review of this book in (of all places) The Houston Chronicle, and bought it. Similar in scope, but not all about chickens, Made From Scratch was one of the first books I picked up on the subject of modern homesteading and self-sufficiency. Bonus: there are good recipes in this little book, too.

I’m not sure how I missed The Homesteader’s Kitchen, especially since I’m a fan (and now a subscriber) of Urban Farm magazine. Every month they highlight new books on the subject of, well, city and urban farming. But it, too, is on my Amazon Wish List, along with Def Leppard’s newly released deluxe edition of Slang. They’re all there for the day I get another job and get caught up, or for the next time I need something (which is soon, but the books and CD will wait.)  I didn’t cook from that one either, but from what I saw, the recipes are wonderful uses of home-grown or farmer’s market foods. However, reading the reviews on Amazon, there are some misprints, so I’ll have to consider that before I actually buy the book.

Last week I was on the north side of Houston, and since I had the time, you can probably guess where I went.

Only the most awesome bakery anywhere--Frost!!

Only the most awesome bakery anywhere–Frost!!

Might be my last chance to visit Frost Bake Shoppe for a while, so I took advantage. I also went to Sweet Tomatoes FIRST for a healthy and delicious grazing of green stuff and Joan’s Broccoli Madness. The only place I’ve ever had broccoli, bacon and raisins in one place, and it WORKS. This particular day saw two gluten free cupcake flavors, and one of them was Red Velvet.

The most amazing, delicious, heavenly delicious gluten free thing there is.

The most amazing, delicious, heavenly delicious gluten free thing there is.

I enjoyed every bite. And while this is probably not gluten free, I really enjoyed the looks of this amazing cake:

Is it gluten free? Who cares?

Is it gluten free? Who cares?

I wanted THAT kind of cake in 1996. You couldn’t get anyone to do that for you, anywhere in New Orleans. Nobody knew what that was or how to do it, and “wedding cake” meant lots of frilly piping, no matter where you went. Eighteen years on, nobody cares anyway (the divorce was final in 2001.)

Oh, and I tried making some sugar-free/gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with a thick icing. New recipe, and guess what? They were awful–AND they kept putting me to sleep. I tossed the last three. Oh, well.

Well, since winter didn’t get the memo that it’s spring yet, I’m headed into the kitchen to tidy up and to make some Pea Pesto Soup tonight as well as put together the kind of meatloaf where you toss a bunch of things into a bowl and throw it into the oven for an hour and it comes out somewhat tasty. I don’t feel like doing much cooking this week, but if things get better, I might try a new recipe or two and pass it along. I’ve also got to reconfigure a resume for someone and get it to her by this evening.

Tomorrow, one, maybe two phone interviews, and I MUST get my taxes done, darnit! I got stuck on something a while back and now it’s stalled. Oh, well, let the I-R-S give me a hand on the phone then.

Stay warm and Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Trader Joe’s affair

The Trader Joe’s affair

Hi, again, Dear Readers!

Bet you’re surprised to hear from me again this soon. Me too. But I had an adventure, and you know me, I gotta write about it. I didn’t plan on going to Trader Joe’s today, but I did. I was supposed to be going for a job interview with a major hospital system here, for a job in Baytown. Guess what? Ten minutes into the interview, the guy said, “Oh, no! Who told you that? Oh, really? Oh, sorry.” After one curt comment without swear words, I picked up my stuff and left as fast as I could. Had I not done that, I would have let the entire floor know I was not happy with wasting my time going into town for no reason. In a suit.

If you believe in angels, I think they’re pointing me somewhere. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Yes, I’m still in a bad mood. But I’m getting there.

I had been thinking about a post-interview stop at Trader Joe’s on the way to town, since it was just a couple of miles away from the building I was in. I even brought a change of clothes so I’d blend in a little. Turns out I don’t blend in at the store in the Montrose area at all, that’s probably the main reason I prefer the store in The Woodlands. There’s nobody in The Woodlands with nearly floor-length red dreadlocks over the age of 65, not that I’ve ever seen. (It was a female.) But if you’re not in Houston, you might not understand that going to The Woodlands from the center of town would make for a very long trip home.

Oh, wait–I could have gotten a gluten free cupcake at Frost. AAAAHHH!! See? I told you I was in a bad mood. But I made it home safely, and didn’t have any crashes or “road rage” incidents, since I didn’t want to talk to anyone anyway.

Since I knew I was going to be hungry on the way home, I went next door to Whole Earth Provisions so I could get a couple of the delicious Epic bars. I can’t get them down in Clear Lake anymore, not that I can find, so this was just a one time thing. Guess what I found? New Lamb bar with currants and mint, no foolin’:

Bison and the new Lamb Epic bars. Delicious!

Bison and the new Lamb Epic bars. Delicious!

Yes, it was quite tasty. Both the lamb and bison were fresh, since they were slightly moist, much like a Larabar would be. However, unlike Larabars, these have less than 10 grams of sugar, mostly from the dried fruit. Larabars, and Energetica’s other product, Thunderbird bars, are all dried fruit with nuts, so they have much more sugar in them, and fat from the nuts. However, I know that some folks are not wild about mint, so if you’re one of those, avoid the delicious new lamb bar.

I stashed those on the front seat, then went to Trader Joe’s next door. I got some of this fancier bottled water, it’s right across the aisle from the olive oil, which is less expensive than HEB’s and comes in glass, not plastic bottles

Plenty of water and olive oil, but not for the same thing

Plenty of water and olive oil, but not for the same thing

.See? It was fancier than the standard stuff:

Magic water enhanced with electrolytes. Because I was really thirsty.

Magic water enhanced with electrolytes. Because I was really thirsty.

Their regular bottled water is 17 cents a bottle. However, this was a bigger bottle at 99 cents, and since I was going to have two Epic bars, I needed plenty of water.

I may have shown you this before, but I have a shelf hung by the stove, with a knife bar underneath, to make the heavy-duty cooking easier. I refilled that little bottle with olive oil so that I can just use that instead of going to the pantry to get a bigger bottle and mess with that. Also, that’s a sugar shaker from IKEA with kosher salt in it. Easier than going for the square box, too.

Salt, pepper, Chipotle Tabasco, olive oil, and some Cajun seasonings, along with the knives. Love them all!

Salt, pepper, Chipotle Tabasco, olive oil, and some Cajun seasonings, along with the knives. Love them all!

As you can see, I have been coping with this morning’s disaster with some, ah, creature comforts. Now, if you’re not familiar with Trader Joe’s, one of the things they’re famous for is their cheap wine. Those bottles are $3 each; they used to be $2, and they’re well loved by TJ devotees. I got another can of those New Mexico hatch green chiles; I used one can recently, which is will be in a future blog post (like maybe this afternoon if I’m in the mood.) Delicious cannellini beans, and tasty little tomatoes to go with the rest of the lettuce sealed up in the fridge:

Canned beans at their best, with cheap wine!

Canned beans at their best, with cheap wine!

Yum. Now, that can of cat food on top the beans is a treat for the cat beast, and not included as part of any human food created or consumed in the HeatCageKitchen–despite the jokes I may make about doing such a thing on occasion.

Take a closer look at the tomatoes:

They taste as good as they look, honest.

They taste as good as they look, honest.

More comfort food, Trader Joe’s style:

I don't have them together, except in the freezer. The brie is just an incredible piece of cheese.

I don’t have them together, except in the freezer. The brie is just an incredible piece of cheese.

Admittedly, those went into the freezer, because I could eat both the entire package of sausage and that 4 ounce round of cheese at once. OK, maybe half the cheese and two sausages today, the rest tomorrow. I found some of the sausages recently in the freezer and enjoyed them; this is just a replacement. Still, it’s really good, and both are the same price, $2.99. If you haven’t had goat milk brie, try it sometime–you’re in for a treat.

I was going to buy some tahini, that sesame paste you make hummus with. Guess what? That little refrigerated container had. . .WHEAT! No joke. I thanked the man for finding it for me; he didn’t think twice when he said, ‘Oh, you’re looking for gluten free?” Yes. That’s the one thing nobody seemed to blink at.

From the toiletries section, some lavender soap for my nighttime shower, and some tea tree oil soap just because it was cheaper and smells nice. That’s actually a package of two bars of tea tree oil soap, and all of their stuff is cruelty free, that is, not tested on animals. To me, looking at the cat beast sitting by the patio door, and thinking about all the little furry animals in the world, I appreciate that a lot.

Natural toiletries, too.

Natural toiletries, too.

OK, so I took it by the toaster oven. I ran out of room by the microwave.

I have been a fan of Chocolate Cherry Kind bars for a while, and they are the only ones I want. However, while I had two in my hand, I passed on them in favor of something less expensive:

This packet was 99 cents versus $3 for two Kind bars. One taste of Kind bars and you'll understand why I grab two.

This packet was 99 cents versus $3 for two Kind bars. One taste of Kind bars and you’ll understand why I grab two.

I don’t know why the picture loaded up sideways. But I will tell you that there are two servings in that bag, and they were both delicious. Still,one serving has 13 grams of sugar, which is not bad for candy. Ice cream can vary from 19 to 30 grams of sugar, but you have to read the label. Yogurt with fruit on the bottom can run 40 grams of sugar for the little cup, all while being touted as “healthy.” Which would YOU rather have?

All in all, I spent about what I’d get at HEB, although I just realized that my checker, “Matty,” neglected to ring up the 4 tins of Vanilla Mynts I put with my order, although I’m not sure why. I have some for now, I’ll just get more another time, I guess.

Well, anyway, I’ve got that out of my system, and I’ll have a couple of gluten free stories coming soon. And a cookbook review if I think about it.

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

 

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