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Category Archives: Special Occasions

Valentine’s Day–again???

Valentine’s Day–again???

Good afternoon, Dear Readers from everywhere:

I just realized that Valentine’s Day is this weekend, and that I should drop in and talk about it just a bit. But first. . . .

There are some changes coming to this humble blog, and a big thanks to friend of the blog AK and another one of our writer friends, whom we know on Facebook, but I haven’t met in person. I don’t know if JM reads this blog regularly, but I know she has once, for sure. I’ve got a Facebook page set up just for HeatCageKitchen, as well as other social media accounts. I’ll tell more once I get it all done. The blog is growing up.

Last week was the open house for the Drs. Davis at Woodlands Wellness and Cosmetic Center. Much as I enjoyed it last year, this year I didn’t go. BUT–they posted pictures on Facebook, and once again had an appropriate show-stopper of a cake:

PeacockCAke

A good time was had by all, and I’m glad, even if I didn’t go. But I’m sure I’ll be visiting again one of these days for blood testing.

In other news. . . .

This isn’t really food related, but it might have been. When I say a cat is a cat is a cat, I’m not kidding. This wily cheetah decided that the back of a Jeep was a great place to hang with the humans recently. Honestly, it’s no different than when Catmandu and Kismet used to hop up on the back of my futon and park it there for a while. Cheetahs, as I understand from comments on the Daily Mail site and Facebook, are much friendlier to humans than other species of big cats. But as Big Cat Rescue will tell you, approaching big cats is never a good idea–and anyone caught petting one at their Tampa, FL facility is escorted out immediately, including staff. If you have a kitty cat that has ever turned on you while you were petting it or scratching it behind the ears. . .imagine the force behind a paw-swat from a 500-pound Siberian tiger. It can, as they say on FB, “escalate quickly.” ‘Nuff said. But this time, it turned out fine, and the short video is pretty amusing. Because. . .that’s a cat for you.

Now back to Valentine’s Day. Or as my brother called it yesterday, “women taking advantage of men” day. Oh, well.

If you’re looking for advice on romancing, proposing, or how to ask out someone you fancy, that’s someone else’s blog. This blog is for the day you decide to cook for that someone special, you already are going to cook for them, and you’re looking for something special for your date. You’re on your own on the romancing/proposing part, so search through WordPress for that kind of advice blog.

Do you have plans for Sunday? Are you going to hang out at home and watch a good DVD or two with your sweetie, or risk your life and head to a restaurant? I can hear it now: “Oh, Amy–what’s wrong with that?” Even Waffle House serves steaks and takes reservations on Valentine’s Day–and in some more rural areas, that’s the best and only–restaurant in town. (NOTE: I am not disrespecting Waffle House by any means.)

I’m not going to deny that it’s something special to go out for Valentine’s Day. But hear me out–when I was an administrative assistant, I was required to “go out with the bosses” for Administrative Professional’s Day. I really didn’t want to do this (particularly at an insurance company I worked for, where they took us to McCormick & Schmick in the Galleria and didn’t give us a choice) because it was a reminder that I was still in the steno pool. But at Boeing, that wasn’t always a bad thing. My Boeing supervisors were frequently busy, so we didn’t always go on that Wednesday–and that was a good thing. Why? Because you’re elbow-to-elbow with everyone *else* who’s doing the same thing; service is going to be slower, too. The last time, I had to request that Monday, because the next day, I was getting on a plane to go somewhere, and I wouldn’t be in town for AP Day. (I got to choose the restaurant that year.) Another time, we went two weeks later. Know what? We nearly had the whole place to ourselves! We could chat without yelling, and the service was better.

Want proof? This article from The Kitchn verifies what I just told you. Like retail stores on Black Friday, nobody *wants* to work that holiday, so you may get pinch-hitters who aren’t as experienced. And you’ll be elbow-to-elbow in a crowded restaurant on that one day a year when things could go wrong for you. Just something to consider if this is a really special date.

Once again, Starbucks is at it again with the #StarbucksDate. Create a special .GIF file (similar to an e-card, they’re all the rage now) to send to someone you’d like to meet up with (it could be your best friend, your elderly neighbor like Neighbor R, your brother/sister, or, heaven help you, the GER) and make a date to meet them at the Starbucks on your street for one of the new chocolate drinks they have this week, through Sunday. (They’d like you to put it on social media with #StarbucksDate, too.)

You know, I probably shouldn’t say “Starbucks on your street.” We have several in my neighborhood, including one two blocks from my front door. But I have a friend in semi-rural Louisiana who is about 20 miles from the closest Starbucks. I’m sure he’s not the only one.

This year’s offerings are three new seasonal chocolate-infused drinks:

And because I couldn’t wait, I personally sampled the Mocha Chocolate Latte this morning. Highly recommended. Unlike the famed Pumpkin Spice Latte, this was very good and not overly sweet. If your honey doesn’t drink coffee, there is the Molten Hot chocolate option as well as other dessert options. But remember, Starbucks has their “signature” hot chocolate all year long. Yes, they really do–it’s just that this particular variety is a “seasonal offering” for Valentine’s Day.

I am actually planning to take myself out for a #StarbucksDate. I’ve got a couple of books to read, (one by master copywriter Bob Bly, his newest book of great witticisms) and that might just be the place to do it. I’d like to have another Mocha Chocolate Latte, then get brewed decaf coffee (and free refills in my stainless steel travel mug) until I’m sick of coffee, or I finish the books. They’re not long books, but. . .there are less distractions in Starbucks than at home.

What if you’re going to camp in with your honey?

I’ve got some recipes posted on the Recipe Page, and there are others scattered throughout the blog; a search will help you find them. (The Sweet Potato Supper is a good one, and quite simple.) Then again, websites like The Food Network, MarthaStewart.com, AllRecipes.com, and TheKitchn are great places to start if you don’t find anything listed here. Really–the culinary world is at your fingertips, and a quick search will show you that.

Looking for a special treat? Found on The Pioneer Woman’s Facebook feed this week, these Chocolate Sugar Cookie Hearts are an easy treat, especially if you have kids.

chocolate-sugar-cookie-hearts-09

Source: The Pioneer Woman website (note: NOT gluten free!)

These are really easy, because there’s no rolling out the dough–you bake it as a sheet cake, then cut them from the baked cake. Frost them, put some sprinkles on top, and you’re ready for your honey. NOTE: keep this recipe in your back pocket for other occasions, cut them in squares, rounds or other shapes, and you can frost them like cupcakes and use other appropriate colors and designs for, say, a birthday, graduation, or something else like St. Patrick’s Day (which happens in about a month.) Heck, your dog’s birthday, just don’t feed them to the dog. But for now, they’re for your Valentine.

Now, if these cookies aren’t your thing, there are a couple of things in the HeatCageKitchen archives that are delicious and gluten-free, including my all-time favorite, YeastFreeBrownies (I just uploaded it.) The recipe is no longer available on Dr. Hotze’s site, but I’ve got the PDF file for you on the Recipes Page.

Another good choice is last year’s Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes. First, I re-blogged a post from GF and Me last year, and then I made it myself. Of course, mine didn’t come out as pretty as Brenda’s, but they sure were good–even the fussy GER said so. The trick is finding hazelnut flour, or buying the hazelnuts, roasting and skinning them yourself, then grinding them up really good in the food processor–but not so far that you get a paste.

Click around on Brenda’s GF and Me site and you’ll find lots more delicious food and desserts for Valentine’s Day.

If you have more time to prep, I highly recommend the sugarless, Crock-Pot made Chocolate Fudge Custard I talked about last summer. You have to make it a day or two in advance, but it’s quite tasty and easy to make.

You didn’t forget your waffle iron already, did you? If Santa brought you a waffle maker (or the Cuisinart Griddler with the waffle maker plates, like mine) consider waffle brownies. If you haven’t read that previous post I linked to, please do, and you’ll learn more about waffling. You’ll also find this recipe in the post that I made and reviewed. However, if gluten-free isn’t your thing, brownies from a box–yes, like Duncan Hines or Jiffy brand–can be made in the waffle maker, fast and easy. You can also use boxed chocolate cake mix. If you’re thinking about a waffle maker,  Bed, Bath and Beyond also (still) has the Cuisinart Griddler bundle package, and if you have a coveted 20% off coupon, use it.

Still another optioin–a bit healthier than most–comes from none other than Graze.com, this dual-layered Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie might be just the ticket. It has a few steps, so make sure you read the recipe before proceeding.

What to make for dinner for the two of you? There’s a myriad of options available, just pick one–but don’t overthink this or make it too complicated. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll probably *want* to try something really fancy, complicated, and extremely gourmet. Foodies are like that. But if you’re a fan of the easy, make dessert early, maybe the day before (especially the custard) and consider Nigella Lawson’s Flash Fried Steak with White Bean Mash. I’ve written about this delicious white bean mash before, it’s one of my absolute favorites, and I even made it Monday for AC with mild Italian sausages from HEB. (I called it “Bangers & Mash,” which is actually sausage and mashed potatoes in the UK.) She loved it too, and will probably start looking for cannellini beans next grocery trip. Add a tasty salad like we did, and you’ll be all set. Wine? Your choice, but make it a good one, if you do.

One thing I started doing with the white bean mash is grating the lemon zest first, then grate in the garlic with your Microplane Zester. The garlic is more evenly distributed, spreading the flavor throughout the mash.

And you can say that you’re inviting him/her over for a steak dinner–it’s just not filet mignon, that’s all. (No, I’ve never cooked that one, for myself or anyone else.) And why not? If you’re cooking steak, say so! (Unless he or she is vegetarian. . .then you’ve got some extra work to do.)

Here’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: if you and your partner get along fabulously and enjoy each other’s company all year around, going all-out on Valentine’s Day is probably not needed–a nice dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine, a small, inexpensive gift, whatever you like. But if one or the other isn’t such a great partner all year long, but spends a lot of money on flowers, candy, jewelry, dinner out, etc., on Valentine’s Day. . .it’s money wasted. Be kind to each other, and, I hate to say it, but if things are just not working out well, you’re discovering you’re mis-matched, or you just don’t get along after the “honeymoon phase” is past, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. (Or, in my case, file a restraining order, ha, ha. Yes, I’ve had that kind of luck.)  It takes two to tango, and usually, neither is totally innocent, but if you’re wondering why you’re in this relationship, maybe Valentine’s Day will be awkward. Better to be alone on V-D than stuck with someone you don’t want to be with–ask me, I know. (No, not the GER.) “Better off as friends” is not a bad thing, if that’s the case.

I’m not telling you to break up with your significant other on Valentine’s Day, (that happens occasionally) but if that’s where it’s headed, or things have significantly changed. . .take some time to think and consider. Next year things could be completely different–you could be single and unattached, you could be with someone better, or you and your Significant Other will have a better relationship by then.

I know, Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, is merchandised to death in the US, but it doesn’t have to bully you (or your partner) into spending too much money.

Again, I’m not a relationship author–but I speak from experience on being in bad relationships. I’d rather be by myself on Valentine’s Day than stuck with someone who let their “good face” down and I discover that I can’t stand. The longest relationship I ever had with a male was. . .Catmandu, the Russian Blue. (RIP.)

And if you’re single and alone on Valentine’s Day–remember, you too could be stuck with someone you wish would just go away forever. If that’s the case, and you can, take some time and take yourself out for a #Starbucksdate. Better yet, use the .GIF creator and send it to one of your *real* friends for a #StarbucksDate and get something chocolate on Sunday. It’s OK to be single and unattached on Valentine’s Day, I promise.

You might be making these cookies or something else for someone next year, so be ready.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Starbucks website.

A Cranberry Bliss Bar, picture from the Starbucks website.

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

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

TARGET.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!!

 

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Thanksgiving Advice from the HeatCageKitchen

Thanksgiving Advice from the HeatCageKitchen

Hello, Dear Readers:

This time every year, home cooks all over America fret about Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the idea of cooking a turkey. Maybe it’s the idea of hosting the “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe it’s because they really, REALLY can’t cook. Whatever the reason, I’m here to try and shed a little light on having an enjoyable and un-harried time at your own party. One place to start–but by no means is the be-all and end-all–is this link to Martha Stewart’s website, with everything Thanksgiving. There are even meatless recipes for your vegetarian guests, or if you just don’t want to deal with a bird.

Before we get started. . . .

Is Domino’s Pizza part of your regular dinner routine? Well, check out Domino’s new Ultimate Pizza Driving Machine. Four years in the making, it will ensure your pizza is hot and fresh with the built-in warming oven that opens to the outside. No passenger seats means that your pizza delivery person is solo, and there’s more room in the vehicle for what’s important–pizza, drinks, sauces, and dessert. If that’s what you do for a living, of course. Or if you just love Domino’s. I’m sure we’ll be seeing one of those cruising around Clear Lake one of these days.

What do I tell you about getting free coffee from Starbucks? Register your card!!!

Last week I got an email that Starbucks Rewards members could get a “free scoop” of this year’s Christmas blend in advance from stores from 2pm to 5 pm. I hopped in my ride and went (as well as one other stop), asked for it, and was handed a HALF POUND BAG. No kidding.

It's HERE!!

It’s HERE!!

See what you get for being a diligent Starbucks customer?

IMG_2456

The downside is that it’s regular coffee, not decaf, so I’ll be using it a tiny bit at a time. I’ve just about finished last year’s Christmas blend:

IMG_2454

Bought on sale AFTER Christmas for half price

Starbucks 2015 Christmas Blend will be available soon in stores. Rewards members can order it now (including decaf) from the Starbucks store online. I told Neighbor E about it–except that he doesn’t drink coffee. BUT–he went and got his half-pound, and now he has a gift for his sister, or anyone else he wants to give it to.

This weekend ushered in Houston’s real fall weather with rain and wind. It may be COLD for Thanksgiving, and if so, that will be great.  I made what I believe is my final batch of pesto for the year, because those plants probably won’t get any bigger–and will likely be gone in the next few weeks. But that’s OK, you know my freezer is stocked with delicious, freshly made PESTO. (Now to get sweet peas in the freezer instead of the “regular” ones.) Bring on the Pea Pesto Soup!

One of the new basil plants ended up being a feeding stem for the neighborhood slugs. I just left the poor thing alone, so that the slugs will eat that and leave my other two to grow.

Elsewhere in the garden, I have seven little jalepenos growing, and the Anaheim/Hatch peppers seemed to have slowed down a bit. That’s OK, I have some in the fridge, and will probably just roast them up and put them in another slow-cooked breakfast quiche. The jalapenos, I have no idea yet. The two Meyer lemons are ripening and getting bigger, and I’ll probably pick them in December. There are two bell peppers coming, and once they start turning red, they’ll be brought inside for. . .something. I made a pot of chili and used the first one, which turned a beautiful shade of red over a week.

The celery stalk that’s been re-growing for a while is probably in need of cutting and using. I need to plant more celery, the garlic and lettuce pretty soon, too. One of the pepper plants I received after our monthly garden lectures didn’t make it, but the one I bought recently seems to be doing OK. The parsley is growing back, and I’ll use that soon. There is one tiny Key lime on the bottom of the tree, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it. I’m re-growing some green onions and they’re already shooting up several inches. I’ll transplant the new ones into the container soon. The sage, which I’d hoped would be ready for Thanksgiving. . .well, nothing happened. Might need to go buy one at Kroger, along with some organic celery so I can grow more.

Now let’s get on with Thanksgiving. Again, remember two things:

  • You will prepare 29 other dinners in the month of November
  • A turkey is a big chicken. If you can roast a chicken, you can roast a turkey successfully

Several years ago, I was watching Nigella Lawson make an appearance on either Martha Stewart’s or Rachel Ray’s daily show. It was right before Thanksgiving, part of the promotional tour for one of her books. She mentioned that a British friend who’d moved to New York didn’t know how to roast a turkey. She called on Thanksgiving Day for help, keeping Nigella on the phone until the turkey was done. I don’t even want to know how much that phone call cost.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do that. Assuming you had Nigella Lawson’s phone number.

As I mentioned in the last post, your humble waffle-making appliance can be redeployed to open up to a whole new world of helpful culinary possibilities. This includes Thanksgiving–especially dessert and any breads or rolls you may be considering serving. My suggestion would be to do some research now, roll it around in your head, and test out one or two (or more) recipes beforehand. So when it’s time to start preparing and cooking for Thanksgiving, you know how the waffled brownies or stuffing waffles will come out, and you’ll be ready. If you are cooking for a family, they’ll enjoy trying out the new recipes, too. (Unless they’re like my eldest brother, or the recipes don’t work.)  Many things will cook faster in a waffle iron, and if you need more than one, ask your friends, relatives and/or guests if they would bring one for you and your Thanksgiving Day “staff” to use. (The simpler the machine, the better.)  Don’t worry about if they’re all square or round. If you have more than one and they’re mixed, use the square machine to produce breads, and the round ones for dessert–that way you can keep track of what everything is. And that book on waffling wouldn’t be a bad thing to get, either–lots of good recipes for both bread-y things and sweet things, too. All I’m saying is give it some thought.

Think about that for a minute–hot, crispy waffles from stuffing. Hot, crispy cornbread. . .waffled. Even mac & cheese, waffled. The possibilities really are endless–and unique. (Just keep them warm in the oven or toaster oven until dinner.)  Start trying recipes now and you’ll be ready for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of appliances, consider your Crock Pot, too. I have a low-carb recipe on the recipes page for a chocolate custard that you make in the Crock Pot a day or two in advance and refrigerate. There are more recipes available online for anything you want to make for Thanksgiving. Borrow a Crock Pot from a friend who’s not using theirs; ask nicely. Again, planning ahead, give it some thought, maybe even making a schedule (which is a good idea for a big affair.) Will you have to cook something overnight? Make sure you plan for that.

A frequent suggestion from people like Ina Garten is to make as much as you can in advance. (Hint: The Crock Pot is perfect for this!) Cranberry sauce, for instance, can be made and refrigerated three days ahead. This recipe for Cranberry Ginger Relish has never failed me. (A printable copy is also available on the Recipes page.)  It’s simple, it’s absolutely delicious, and can even be made sugar-free (If you have some, SomerSweet is wonderful, but other comparable sweeteners can also work–try them out first if you have diabetics attending.) I highly recommend finding sherry vinegar for this recipe–I found the last bottle at Cost Plus World Market, but any upscale grocery like The Fresh Market, Central Market, or Whole Foods may have it as well.

You can find downloadable planning guides from Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma at these links. (It seems I kept the paper one from 2007; wonder if I should toss it.) Martha Stewart’s website has  Everything Thanksgiving, and The Food Network also has a “make ahead Thanksgiving” to make and freeze. And everyone’s new favorite redhead, Ree Drummond, has your back with more recipes and a section for what to do with it the day after.

And that’s just off the top of my head. Even grocery store websites have them, like Texas-based HEB and the east-coast grocer Publix. You may have your own favorites, too–that’s OK. But start thinking now, and make your lists and schedules before you realize it’s tomorrow!!

I will also remind you of the day I had the GER over for Thanksgiving two years ago. We’re still friends, thank heavens, but read what *not* to do in that post. Like start a glass of wine and keep refilling and drinking it. While cooking. He’s still not over that one.

Don’t forget about spatchcocking a turkey. Yes, it works for any bird, but with a turkey it’ll cook a lot faster than the standard roasting. I did it last time, and got no complaints about the turkey from the GER:

Looks a bit strange, being flat, but it cooks a lot faster

Looks a bit strange, being flat, but it cooks a lot faster

If you have a turkey roaster like I used to, it can, all year long, double as a secondary oven. Roast your turkey in it at the holidays, but use it for whole chicken, turkey parts, or other things the rest of the year. (I got rid of mine when we no longer had the “Buddhist Thanksgiving.”) Remember–110 vs. 220. If you have enough room, and a large family, this is a good thing to have around. Our hostess one year put that roaster in the laundry room–but that’s fine, because it kept it out of the way. But once or twice a year? Spatchcock that bird and get it done faster.

Turkey roasts at 350F and comes out just fine, whether you spatchcock it or leave it whole. Honest, my mother still believes that you have to cook the turkey at 200F for 8 to 12 hours to “kill all the germs.” Don’t do this–350F is a better temperature to do that, just like a chicken. Here’s a basic primer on roasting turkey, from The Food Network.

Generally, you allow 13 to 15 minutes per pound of turkey. That means a 10-to-12 pound turkey will cook in 2.5 to 3 hours. A turkey 20 pounds and up will take about 3.75 to 4.5 hours. You MUST check the temperature and make sure that the MEAT registers 165F in the thickest part of the breast or leg, without touching the bone. If you can “shake hands” with the turkey, that is, jiggle the leg, you’re probably done–but use that thermometer before you take it out of the oven. When you do, let it rest for 20 minutes or so before carving.

Now, how do you prep that turkey? Longtime readers will know I’m a big fan of brining a turkey, but you have to prepare well ahead of time–this takes a few days. First, if the turkey is frozen, you have to let it thaw in the fridge for a few days. THEN you prepare the brine. THEN you prep it for the roasting part.

You can make your brine or buy some. I’ve bought it when I’ve done it, but between The Food Network and Martha Stewart, you can find away to do it yourself. Oh, and don’t forget The Pioneer Woman’s turkey brine, too. But you can also find turnkey turkey brining supplies at both Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma (who also has smoked and pre-brined turkeys available, some in organic.)  Both Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma have lots of recipes on their pages as well–so there’s no shortage of ideas. Still–plan ahead, and make a schedule if need be.

“Stuffing,”as we know it, is probably not the best thing to make–cooking it inside the turkey, as we now know, can be problematic. Many people cook “dressing” on the side in a baking dish to prevent things like salmonella from undercooked parts. I’ll agree with that, of course, but many people don’t. I get that–but in my kitchen, I’d rather not risk making someone ill from one the molecule that didn’t get cooked. If you want to cook stuffing inside the bird, go for it–just don’t over-stuff it. There was, at one time, a stuffing cage available, but I don’t remember where I saw that one. You put the stuffing into the wire cage, put it inside the bird and roast it. When it’s done, you just simply pull the cage out of the bird and serve it.

But you know, stuffing waffles sounds like a lot more fun. I mean, why not? If you’re game, you can make more than one kind of stuffing, and waffle them up. Don’t like that idea? Consider Rachel Ray’s idea for Stuffin’ Muffins–bake the dressing in muffin tins, and everyone gets the crunchy part! (Here’s a along with an accompanying video.)  I’ve actually done my own stuffin’ muffins, but not that recipe, and they were well received.

Side dishes are as varied as the people who cook them. What do you like? What don’t you like? (Please don’t tell me about sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and other sugar-overload ingredients–that’s one of those things I hate and won’t eat.) Personally, I really like Ina Garten’s roasted Brussels sprouts–they’re roasted at a high heat for an hour, and they really are good when they’re salty like French fries. I haven’t made these in a long time, but they are hot, salty, and delicious, especially right out of the oven.

Oh–and another thing. You may find yourself with a vegetarian guest. No need to leave them out. Martha Stewart also has a selection of vegetarian recipes to chose from, which also may double as side dishes. That acorn squash recipe with the grapes is from Clean Slate, and I plan to make it with quinoa one day. If you know someone is vegetarian, you can easily plan ahead. If not, make one or two, and you’re covered.

I will say that when we did the Buddhist Thanksgiving, (which was also a potluck) you never knew what was going to show up. Sure, we had turkey, dressing, dessert, and some traditional things. But we also had Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Japanese rice balls, sushi, taco salad, and anything else someone decided to bring. Cultural diversity on your plate–delicious, and not entirely traditional, but it sure was fun.

Sweet potatoes are wonderful when they are roasted just like white potatoes, and butter is added, along with salt if needed. Why would anyone completely obliterate sweet potatoes with marshmallows, pineapple rings and Maraschino cherries? UGH. Here’s the best sweet potato recipe ever--use regular or smoked paprika, not hot, and don’t bother with lime wedges. Make sure your oven is working properly, and bake them in a single layer. You’re welcome. (There is also a Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe in Will It Waffle? that I haven’t tried.)

What’s for dessert? Depending on how many people you have, you may want to make small amounts of more than one dessert, or double up on one particular dessert, such as a pie or a cake. How complicated of a recipe are you willing to make? Are you the person who would pick the most visually appealing dessert and make it no matter what? A pie from scratch, including handmade crusts? Or are you asking people to pick up pie at the grocery the day before? Give that some thought–and include your waffle maker in your thoughts, too, like the Waffled Apple Pie. (Or anything you might find on Pinterest, YouTube or Facebook.)

If you’re looking for something less complicated than a multi-layered cake or hand-made pies, these Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Squares are easy to make and very delicious. Now, I LIKE pumpkin, I don’t LOVE it like some folks do, but this recipe is great. Canned pumpkin puree is available year-round. They sound a bit odd, but these came out delicious and perfect, and you can make them anytime you want them. This was an Everyday Food recipe many years ago, and I made them to bring to a Buddhist meeting. There wasn’t a crumb left, so that made me feel good.

If you are dead-set against anything pumpkin, here’s an easy, seasonal dessert that will have your guests asking for seconds–Pear And Sour-Cherry Flat Pie. Using frozen puff pastry, dried sour cherries and fresh pears, it’s pretty simple to put together, although you must keep the puff pastry cold until you’re ready to work with it. As always, read the directions before you start, and make sure you have a) all the correct ingredients, and b) plenty of parchment paper. I ran out the Thanksgiving morning I made this pie, and used aluminum foil instead. (I made two of them, of course.) I just didn’t have time to go get any parchment paper that morning. So we had to pick the pie pieces off the aluminum foil (and vice versa) when serving. But it still went over well. Also, the Dufor’s brand of puff pastry was unavailable here, so I got what I could find–plenty of Pepperidge Farms.

An apple cake is also a safe bet, and recipes abound for those too. I can’t seem to find the apple cake recipe I made ONCE that was from the October 1996 Martha Stewart Living, but I did find the applesauce that you use to make the cake. Since I was recently married, and working full time, I had to make the applesauce one weekend, freeze it, then make the cake the next weekend, or maybe the day before Thanksgiving. It was wonderful! My recently-widowed aunt raved about that cake for years. If I ever go back I might try to bring her one of those cakes, or maybe send her one for Christmas if I can figure out how.

Yes, this was long before I went gluten free.

Also, may I respectfully suggest getting as many of your ingredients as you can now, especially popular things like the puff pastry, cranberries, etc. Anything that you can freeze ahead of time would be a good thing to do. How do I know? As I say, I speak from experience. I know, particularly with something in Martha Stewart Living, that I’m not the only one who wants to make something and needs that one ingredient nobody buys the rest of the year. Grocers have no idea there’s an uptick in sales coming for that one thing, and they’ll run out because they were unaware it was going to be something everyone wanted. So if it calls for frozen puff pastry, cranberry preserves, or anything else that isn’t a regular grocery item, I get it in advance and make sure it’s in my pantry, fridge or freezer. Because if you wait for a few days before Thanksgiving, you’ll realize that a lot of folks got the same idea. Shop early, freeze or refrigerate whatever you can, and start early.

Additionally, you’ll want to check your regular pantry supplies and make sure that if you need something, you have it.  Make sure you have enough, and maybe extra, of staples–flour, sugar, salt, pepper, limes, lemons, etc. Anything you’re used to just reaching into the pantry or fridge for–make extra sure you have plenty. Here, I know that Kroger is open during the day, but in many places, there aren’t any stores open. Once again, I speak from experience.

Now–if you are NOT hosting a party, not invited to one, or will likely be alone on Thanksgiving–take heart. It’s OK to do that.

Read this excellent one-page article on the idea of the Orphan Thanksgiving from the November 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Living. It’s a different take on a non-traditional holiday. If you have friends who are in the same boat–no family around, can’t go, don’t want to go, whatever–consider starting a new tradition, or even just having Thanksgiving with your motley crew together this one time. That’s how the “Buddhist Thanksgiving” got started, for people not going anywhere that year. I got experience doing Thanksgiving for people who were happy to be there, enjoyed everything and went home and talked about it. I would not spend another wretched, dismal holiday with people (in this case, family)  who had nothing nice to say to me after a six-hour drive and two carefully crafted desserts (one a sugar-free cheesecake for the diabetics.) In 2005, when the idea was proposed, I jumped on it, and we started the Buddhist Thanksgiving that was great while it lasted.

I decided too (on the six-hour drive back from New Orleans) that if I’m going to be alone on Thanksgiving, I’ll cook what I want, do what I want and watch whatever TV I want. Know what? I cook some favorites, (turkey thighs are the best!) maybe try one or two new dishes, watch some good old-fashioned British comedy, and enjoy the day. Watch whatever you like–football, reruns, maybe rent DVDs (or borrow them from your public library like I do.) For Christmas, I order several holiday episodes of Britcoms that I don’t have, like Keeping Up Appearances. And of course, at the end of the evening, the now-annual Doctor Who Christmas special. I try not to do too much housework on the actual holiday, like washing clothes or something, in order to enjoy a real “holiday.”

But if you are going to be alone, away from home, or away from those close to you, make the most of the day if you can. If you have to work. . .well, I’ve done that too. But if your Thanksgiving Day is going to be solitary, away from family and/or friends, or just not what you’d like, keep reading.

Have a nice dinner anyway, turkey and cranberry and the like if you can pull it off (even if you’re making–ugh–Stove Top.)  If you’d rather something non-traditional, roast chicken, pork roast (Crock Pot!) or even a chuck roast. Potatoes, or whatever YOU like as a side dish. (Quinoa is always good, too.)  For dessert–your favorite, whether it’s apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, a cake of some kind, or whatever dessert you like the best. Chocolate? Go for it. But enjoy the day YOUR WAY, whatever you can create or obtain. Doesn’t have to be expensive.

Make yourself a nice dinner. Enjoy it with a nice wine, if you drink. (If not, no big deal.) Enjoy your dinner, and be grateful for all that you have, even if it isn’t everything you want. (I’m working on that myself.) Be happy, even for a little while. Have a friend who’s alone? Invite them, if it’s possible. Watch some if you like, or go out for a walk if the weather’s cooperative. (And if you have snow, do enjoy it!) Enjoy what there is to enjoy, since all we have is today anyway.

If you’re in an area where it’s cold already, make some hot chocolate or something else warm to enjoy. (Like some decaf coffee, or cappuccino if you have one of these little pots.) If you have one, light the fireplace (if it’s cold enough) or just camp in and enjoy the warmth of the TV. If you’re in an area where it’s warm, and there’s a beach–well, go for it. Find a way to enjoy a holiday if you’re able to.

Holidays can be difficult on single people, or folks who are, for whatever reason, all by themselves. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. It’s up to you, and up to you to figure out how you want to enjoy it.

I’ll invite the GER again this year, but he may decline like he did last year. That’s OK–I’m going to enjoy turkey, cranberry ginger relish, and anything else I feel like making again. Dessert? Who cares? I’ll find something to make!

Whatever you make, however you celebrate it, do enjoy your Thanksgiving. Be safe, be happy, and be ready–the next day, all the pumpkin stuff goes away in favor of peppermint and Christmas everything, starting with the infamous “Black Friday.” Now you see why you need to be happy? If you’re going shopping the next day, you’ll need all the strength you can get.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

 

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A Gluten-Free Birthday

A Gluten-Free Birthday

Hello, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

So what else is going on?

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

IMG_2446

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

IMG_2448

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Because you love pumpkin THAT MUCH.

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

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

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

Switching gears. . . .

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

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

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

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

Macchiato!

Ready to roll. . . .

Ready to roll. . . .

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

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

IMG_2424

Yes! It really is gluten free!!

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

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

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

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

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

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

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

Anyway. . .

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

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

Trader Joe's. . .chocolate?

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

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

Anyway. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

Amy

 

 

 

 

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The Big Fish

The Big Fish

Happy Saturday, Dear Readers!

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

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

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

Isn't it a beauty?

Isn’t it a beauty?

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

The Inside.

The Inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GER's big fish

The GER’s big fish.

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

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

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

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

The setup.

The setup.

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

Gremolata a la Amy.

Gremolata a la Amy.

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

Big, BIG fish!

Big, BIG fish!

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

FISH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Crisco. . .coconut oil?

Crisco. . .coconut oil?

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

Crisco's new Organic Coconut oil

Crisco’s new Organic Coconut oil

 

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

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

But why now?

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

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

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

Wal-Mart. <insert frowny face here>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

From the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living

From the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

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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.

image005

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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