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Category Archives: What’s for Dinner?

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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Pesto and the Quinoa Pizza

Pesto and the Quinoa Pizza

Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers!

Have I got some updates for you–with pictures. Real pictures with the digital camera, not with the iPhone. Yes, this includes pizza, and it IS gluten-free, but stick with me, so I can explain the entire process.

For whatever reason, I was able to select and load all the pictures with one click of a button, instead of one at a time like I normally do. I was amazed that all I had to do was let them upload, and they did, although it took a while. Maybe I’ll use the digital camera more often.

You know, I haven’t had watermelon in a long time. I think I should get one–maybe a bigger one and cut it into pieces to nibble on all day. (Have I just created “The Watermelon Diet?”) I love watermelon, always have. Musician Herbie Hancock even wrote a cool jazz instrumental called Watermelon Man. (The whole song is there, but the comments can be a bit rude.)  I know there’s a whole ridiculous PC thing about watermelons, but. . .watermelon is good. People from all walks of life like to eat. . .watermelon. Maybe it’s just a southern thing, I don’t know. But is that so bad? If you don’t like watermelon, that’s OK–just don’t eat it. More for the rest of us who really like (or just LOVE) watermelon.

OK, enough of that.

The HeatCageKitchen garden looks like a jungle, particularly the tomato bushes, which are in excess of six feet tall, but not terribly productive. Last week was the July gardening lecture at the library, and they gave us some pepper plants. I got two, and intended to give one to the GER, but being the fussbudget that he is, he declined it. So Neighbor K got the bigger one, called “Holy Moly.” She likes that hot stuff. I have a smaller one, and I should put it into a bigger pot, but I haven’t done that yet.

The lettuce experiment has ended for the time being. It is, as they say in TV, “on hiatus.” In last week’s gardening lecture, it was mentioned that lettuce is. . .a winter crop. With tomatoes being a primarily spring/summer crop, how lettuce and tomato became a common salad, I dunno. What really irritated me was that the last stub that Neighbor K gave me shot up to a foot high–I even wrote about it. Later in the afternoon, the really tall leaf was broken in half and hanging down to the soil. What I figured out was that some nasty worm got in it and ate the leaf at the halfway point, causing it to bend. I trimmed it, and continued to water, but it finally dried up and that was it.

I planted the rest of the basil seeds last night. Darnit. I’ll try again in a couple of months when the temperature goes down.

This is one of the tomato plants, with just three tomatoes on it. I think it’s the Chocolate Cherry plant:

They're coming, soon, I guess.

They’re coming, soon, I guess.

This is the top of the Sungold plant:

More flowers, but no tomatoes. Yet.

More flowers, but no tomatoes. Yet.

I’ve harvested all the Anaheim/Hatch chiles, but there are more flowers and more peppers behind them. I’ve got to go on Central Market’s website and find some recipes to use them up.

The one bell pepper is growing nicely:

Weird, yes, but it will be delicious.

Weird, yes, but it will be delicious.

I plan on leaving it on the plant until it turns red. I like red bell peppers.

Now, the Key Lime plant has several in different stages of growth:

I think the last lime count was 9.

Here’s a closeup of one of them:

IMG_2687

Now, something’s weird with the Meyer lemon plant:

They're turning yellow too soon

They’re turning yellow too soon

For whatever reason, these two seem to be ripening before they’re finished growing. Last year, I got four, they became the size of grapefruits, THEN they turned yellow. These are the size of lemons you get in the grocery store, and there are no more flowers. I’m guessing this is all I get in the way of Meyer lemons this year, but we’ll see.

Now, at my last gardening lecture, I was given a nice basil plant, which wasn’t the same sweet basil we’re all familiar with, but it smelled the same. This is how big it got in a month:

The unspecified basil plant

The unspecified basil plant

About two feet high. Now, I just made pesto about a month ago, and while the other plant started growing back (and the worms found it) I still had a significant amount:

The basil I already had growing

The basil I already had growing. Mint and celery are doing pretty good, too.

So I think you can guess what happens next. Yes! I made more PESTO!! (Can you tell that makes me happy?) I went out and whacked down almost all of that basil, and brought it inside. If you’ve never seen pesto being made (or have no idea what it is), I’ll walk you through it.

The hack job

The hack job

Pulled all the good leaves and washed them good:

Ahh, beautiful basil!

Ahh, beautiful basil!

I also ran them in the salad spinner, then dried them best I could with clean, dry dish towels. I toasted up some pine nuts and put them in a cold bowl before I started the rest of the process. My newly refurbished blender performed perfectly!

Load it up!

Load it up!

Turn it on, and then drizzle in the olive oil:

IMG_2692

This was extra-virgin olive oil from Trader Joe’s. EVOO is best, since it has that potent olive flavor.

It takes a few minutes, and my blender shuts off if it runs too long, but I tilt it and shake it a bit, then turn it back on, and the process happens pretty quickly:

IMG_2693

Look inside, take a deep breath, and enjoy it:

Pesto! But it's not yet finished.

Pesto! But it’s not yet finished.

Dump it, scrape it and drip every last drop of the green deliciousness into a bowl and add some Parm cheese:

Now it's finished. Just mix.

Now it’s finished. Just mix.

Stir it all together (or leave the cheese out if you can’t have dairy) and pack it up for storage:

Done!

Done!

These Clip-Art Freezer Labels are from Martha Stewart’s website, and a “Good Thing” from the magazine in September 2004. I bought the paper and made a batch several years ago, and they’re great for this kind of use. However, sticking them on the OUTSIDE of a freezer container or bag means the adhesive gets cold and falls off. But for this, it’s great. Seal it up and freeze:

Ready for the winter!

Ready for the winter!

My last batch of pesto was made just in June, and the prior batch, which I’ve used once for Pea Pesto Soup, was made back in September of 2014. By planting the rest of the organic basil seeds, I hope to make at least one more, and hopefully, two more batches of pesto for the winter.

Now–who wants pizza? No, Don’t call Papa John’s. . .

Someone posted the video for this on Facebook last week, and I just HAD to try it out. I did–twice. Yesterday, I made it a second time, mostly to take pictures and report on it, and partly because. . .I wanted some.

Now, when you say you want this pizza, you have to plan ahead, OK? You soak the quinoa overnight; Sunday’s was 24 hours, and it seemed to taste a little better. So here we go.

The setup.

The setup.

Pour 3/4 cup of dry quinoa into a bowl, and cover with water to soak for at least 8 hours (a full 24 is better, the crust had a better taste.)

IMG_2666

After I’d set the quinoa aside to soak, I used my mini food processor–the one for which I replaced the cracked bowl recently–and the slicer blade to slice up the sausage:

Perfectly sliced sausage!

Perfectly sliced sausage!

And then I grated cheese:

Perfect!

Perfect!

And packed them both up for the fridge:

Oops.

Oops.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Amy, why did you buy Monterey Jack cheese for a pizza?” Simple–when I was in Target, I saw a block of white cheese with an “M” on the wrapper and grabbed it. I didn’t actually READ it. It wasn’t bad, actually–but the second incarnation yesterday actually had Mozzerrella cheese on it.

Closeup of the sausage label

Closeup of the sausage label

I bought this sausage at Cost Plus World Market, and it’s pretty good. I had a $10 “shopper’s coupon,” so I went back for more, plus a few other things I needed.

After the soaking (the next day), drain the quinoa and rinse well:

IMG_2702

Add it to your food processor, along with 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup of water, and blitz it for two minutes:

This is the one that I replaced the bowl for recently; it uses the blender's motor with a gearbox on top.

This small food processor uses the blender’s motor with a gearbox on top.

After two minutes or so, stop it, and you should have a batter like this:

IMG_2707

You’ll need a 9″ cake pan for this, not your regular pizza pan. Spray it with a bit of cooking spray, line it with parchment, then spray again. Now you’re ready to pour in the pizza crust batter:

Yes, that's what it's supposed to look like.

Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to look like.

Smooth it out, and then bake it at 425F for 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven, and remove from the pan:

Careful with the crust at this stage, it's still kind of mushy inside. A big spatula works best.

Careful with the crust at this stage, it’s still kind of mushy inside. A big spatula works best.

Flip the crust, remove the paper, and put it face down back into the cake pan, returning it to the 425F oven for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the crust is browned and golden.

IMG_2712

Should look like this:

The baked crust

The baked crust

Take a closer look:

Not thin, but not real thick, either.

Not thin, but not real thick, either.

Ready for some pizza? Now it comes together:

Essential toppings.

Essential toppings, with an ice cream base cooling in the white dish on the back burner.

Start by spreading some pizza sauce on the crust:

Add the sauce. . .

Classico’s is pretty good and easy to find, but I didn’t think to make my own. Next time.

IMG_2718

Then add some of the sliced sausage, or whatever you like instead of sausage:

IMG_2719

Until you have neat concentric circles, or whatever I ended up with here:

IMG_2720

Now, add. . .CHEESE!!

This one has the *right* cheese on it, OK?

This one has the *right* cheese on it, OK?

Bake it for just a few more minutes at the same 425F until the cheese is melted. If you want to add other meats (ground beef, raw sausage) or veg, like mushrooms or bell peppers, you should cook it ahead.  You’re not cooking it, at this point, you’re just melting the cheese.

Are you ready for some pizza?

Tah-dah!

Tah-dah!

That’s it, fresh out of the oven. I borrowed this from Neighbor K to cut it:

The OXO 4-inch pizza wheel

The OXO 4-inch pizza wheel, which I gave her, originally.

Because I wanted it to look nice on camera. Except I think I didn’t get a picture of me actually cutting the pizza. So I go with the remains of the plate:

Ahhh. . . .

Ahhh. . .fresh pizza!

Truth to tell, hot out of the oven, I immediately cut one of those four slices in half, and brought some to Neighbor K and her significant other, and that piece you see cut on the right was rushed over to Neighbor R. K and R are the official HeatCageKitchen taste testers, and I only asked for their opinions in return. R must have been hungry, because she gobbled that slice right up–she said she loved it! I got a text from K later that she loved the pizza too–so two thumbs up from the taste-testing team. What about K’s boyfriend? “He doesn’t eat healthy food.” Oh, well.

And I had the rest of it today. The pizza is gone, but I can always make another one. It just takes a bit of advanced planning.

Now I also want to warn you about something that Cooking Light doesn’t mention. Because of the carbohydrate nature of the pizza, you may very well fall asleep if you eat more than one or two slices. Honest. Last week, when I tried it the first time, I was thrilled at the result and gobbled up a third slice. This was in the afternoon, like 5 or 6 pm. A little while later, I found myself needing a nap, and had to crawl to the futon where I passed out cold–I couldn’t help it. I woke up when the phone rang about 7:30, and I didn’t want to answer it until I saw that it was friend of the blog AK, calling from Ohio. (THEN I was happy to answer it.) I strongly suggest having some protein with it, or at least a good salad to offset the sleepy effect you might get.

Yes, it’s good. Yes, it’s gluten free. Yes, it’s fussy, but it’s really worth it.

Remember, too, that it will NOT taste like wheat. It will not taste exactly like Papa John’s, Domino’s or DiGiorno pizza. Ever. But if you like quinoa (and I do) this is a nice alternative, especially if you have to go gluten-free.

I’ve added the recipe for this pizza crust and my favorite pesto to the recipes page so you can reference it easily, and if you like, print a copy for yourself. Credit is given, of course, and the pesto is from Giada de Laurentiis’ first book, Everyday Italian. I’ve used it for years and it works perfectly every time.

So. . .it’s not for a big family, and if you have a toaster oven, this is the perfect project for it. Remember that you have to soak the quinoa for at least 8 hours; I recommend the full 24 hours, because it seemed to taste better. Plan ahead, and you and your friends or your SO can have some gluten free pizza soon.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

Good morning, Dear Readers!

Listening to my favorite morning DJs earlier, they were talking about increases in salmonella and “bird flu” cases and using. . .foul language. (Get it?)

Seems that people are petting and kissing their pet chickens. No kidding. You want a pet? Get a cat. Chickens are NOT pets. . .chickens are broilers, fryers, parts and feathers. Don’t go kissing your chickens, OK?

Enough of that silliness. But that’s true–people are hugging, petting and kissing their chickens, to the tune of 450 cases. Anyway. . . .

I forgot to mention last night that the new Starbucks opened on my street a week ago. Woo hoo! Big, clean and bright, it’s a short walk or drive up the street. I’ve been there a few times, and because of the recent star dash, have upped my points and netted another free thing, which will be a nice crisp salad.

Our new Starbucks!

Our new Starbucks!

Very bright and white:

Nice!

Nice!

I haven’t asked, but I think this location is a bit bigger than the rest of the ones in my area, and with lots more light and plate glass:

This is called the "community table."  Lots of electrical outlets on the floor and attached to the underside of the table top.

This is called the “community table.” Lots of electrical outlets on the floor and attached to the underside of the table top.

The mural that tells you all about coffee.

The mural that tells you all about coffee.

They are not yet planning to serve the Starbucks Evenings menu, but three other locations in Clear Lake will be soon. When the weather cools in a few months, Neighbor K and I are going to take the Daft Pug over there and have a coffee outside, and he will have a puppucino. Of course, we can’t take the happy-go-lucky pug into Starbucks, we’ll go in one at a time and order. But it’s fine–he’s happy to go anywhere with his mama.

I am trying to get Neighbor K to understand the impact of the Starbucks Rewards Program. It’s fun, and a great distraction from the evils of the world that we were talking about just this morning (during our 5:00 am walk.) K just registered her Starbucks card last night and downloaded the app. I told her to keep an eye out for emails from Starbucks, particularly those that talk about getting extra stars, “star dash,” and accelerating her points balance, getting the free stuff and to the Gold Card level faster. Maybe it’s her handsome boyfriend that keeps her distracted from important things like this, too.

Anyway. . . .

Last night, I took my own advice and tried something new. I figured it would be good, and it is. So, shorter than last night’s post, the explanation of how I used some of my fresh sage from the garden last night.

I didn’t think to take pictures from the garden (DUH) but if you’ve grown sage.. .you know what it looks like. Just a green plant with round-oval green leaves a slight “stinky feet” smell when you cut it.

Compound butter is simply softened butter with some herbs mixed in to add different flavors to food. Frequently, restaurant chefs make it and drop a pat on top of a dish right after it comes off the stove or grill and after plating so that it melts on the way to your table. Generally compound butter is savory, but I’ve seen Ree Drummond (aka “The Pioneer Woman“) add fruit for a sweet version.

If you didn’t see it yet, there is a recipe for “Herb Butter” in the flier I linked in last night’s post, on page 2. I just used sage because. . .that’s what’s growing. If you have other herbs growing you prefer, go for it. Mint and lemon with lamb might be a good combo, right? Use your imagination, and if that doesn’t work. . .search online, you will find something you like!

While I had a breakfast cooking in the Crock Pot, I took out a single stick of butter, cubed it and let it sit out to soften. Later, after rinsing the leaves thoroughly and drying them with clean dish towels, I took my two-handed mezzaluna knife and chopped them very fine. Since I always buy unsalted butter, I grabbed the kosher salt from the stove side shelf and shook some in. Then I dropped the chopped sage in and mixed it well.

Compound butter with fresh sage and salt.

Compound butter with fresh sage and salt.

With that big red spoon, I divided that in half, since I had two big turkey thighs and wanted to make sure they were equally coated.

Two turkey thighs, less than $5 at the Friendswood HEB.

Two turkey thighs, less than $5 at the Friendswood HEB.

Again, I didn’t think to take a bunch of pictures, and didn’t want to coat my phone with compound butter, so pictures are skint for this one.

I oiled that baking dish, and started on the bottom side of the thighs. Using a little from each side of the dish, I was able to evenly coat both of them, starting on the underside, then turning them over and rubbing the butter under the skin, over the skin and making sure all the surfaces were coated.

I’m telling you, if you have the room, this kind of cooking makes the case for a countertop oven. Find one that does more than toast, and you can use to roast a whole chicken. If you’re in the South, you’ll understand.

I set the toaster oven on 400F, and cooked it for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Just because it’s cooked on the outside does NOT mean it’s cooked all the way on the inside. Not sure? Cut it open in an available spot and make sure you go down to the bone. I do let it sit for a bit before I mess with it. The hour and fifteen minutes did the trick. This is what you end up with:

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs.

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

And there you go. Dinner good any night of the week, and fancy enough for company. Add a nice salad, or any kind of sides you like, and it’s a good dinner, then lunch the next day. (These two thighs translate into four meals for me, but of course I’m also having salad or something else with it. Doesn’t hurt that I love turkey, especially turkey thighs.)

Here’s a cook’s tip: using two forks, carefully lift the crispy skin off the turkey thighs and put them on a couple of paper towels to drain a bit. The skin is very crispy, tasty, and beats any potato chip for full snacking satisfaction. Of course, you have to take it off when the thighs come out of the oven, and drain the grease off on said paper towels. Let it cool for a few minutes and have at it. That’s your chef’s treat. You’re welcome.

Thinking ahead, yes, you could do this same thing with a whole turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You would just need more butter and more fresh sage. Start growing it now if you’re even thinking about it, so you’ll be ready for the holidays. You should definitely try this, with sage or any other herbs you like, BEFORE the holidays. Last thing you want is to find out that you can’t stand the taste of sage (or other herb) right before you serve that big 22-pound beast. Or worse, that your favorite herbs that are great on fish makes an otherwise wonderful turkey taste awful.

In Houston, HEB has all the parts, not just turkey breast like some groceries do. Like chicken, turkey thighs are generally less expensive and more flavorful than breast pieces, and are worth seeking out. Ask around, and maybe ask your butcher, too.

So–what are you waiting for? Make some compound butter with herbs and enjoy a new dinner tonight!

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.

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photo

photo(2)

 

photo(1)

You’re welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

Then I saw it–dessert.

IMG_2102[1]

Isn’t it beautiful?

Say it with me: Flaaaaaan. . . .

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

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

For use while working on your Virtual Private Network.

Intended only for use with Virtual Private Coffee Pot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

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The Woodlands Wellness Lunch

The Woodlands Wellness Lunch

Hello, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fabulous menu from Chef Michael's Gourmet Kitchen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway. . . .

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

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

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

Is that not an amazing cake?

Isn’t that an amazing cake?

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

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

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

The cake, with a cake peacock on top.

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

Really, really well made and beautiful

Really, really well made and beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!!

 

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Part 2: The HeatCageKitchen Christmas!

Part 2: The HeatCageKitchen Christmas!

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry I dropped the ball again. . .but there’s more to tell about Christmas dinner. And dessert, of course!

If you’re in the US, you’re likely freezing your butt off. I know I have been, but heck, I love it. I’ve got firelogs, and the little laptop in the living room with the fireplace burning all day long (including early this morning.) It’s been raining in addition to being cold, so there’s been coffee, tea, yeast-free hot chocolate and more tea.

And if you’re Down Under, you’ve got shrimp on the barbie. Enjoy them for me, OK?

On the sewing side, I finally finished the hot/cold grocery bag LAST NIGHT. (On the pattern, it’s bag E.) What I’ll show you is the prototype for the planned gifts for Neighbor K and Neighbor R that didn’t happen. First, I used up some denim that R had given me a few years ago, because I thought it would be great. Nope. Too thick. Then I couldn’t sew on the Velcro, even with the help of a friend who sews.The bag has actually been stitched up for quite a long time. So a few months ago in Joann Fabrics I came across contact cement. Hey–my Dad used it all the time on stuff! So I bought a bottle (with a coupon, of course) and finally, yesterday, I finished the darn thing:

The Hot/Cold grcocery bag, Butterick #5338

The Hot/Cold grcocery bag, Butterick #5338

I had to wait until I could work outside, and the rain has stopped for a few days. Contact cement has some mind-bending fumes, and I can’t afford to get bended, you know. This is the side of it:

That little flap holds it onto the rack that the bags sit on. Neat, huh?

That little flap holds it onto the rack that the bags sit on. Neat, huh?

This is the inside, though this is one time it doesn’t look like the pattern envelope picture. Hey–at least it’s not a cocktail dress:

The hot/cold quilted batting that will, hopefully, keep milk cold and a rotisserie chicken hot on the way home.

The hot/cold quilted batting that will, hopefully, keep milk cold or a rotisserie chicken hot on the way home.

Next time I go to Trader Joe’s, or even HEB, I’ll give it a field test and let you know how it works. That inside fabric is $10 a yard–it better work great!

Now to continue with the holidays. . . .

So I wondered what to have for Christmas dinner, and despite my love for roasting turkey, I went with chicken. Specifically, two small organic chickens, and a recipe from Suzanne Somers’ Sexy Forever Recipe Bible, called Zannie’s Perfect Roast Chicken. It really was, and simple, too. After rinsing them off, you rub some garlic on it, there’s lemon, onion, and a bunch of herbs. Oh, heck, let me show you–this is the actual recipe from the book:

This is actually one of the pictures--I don't know her personally!

This is actually one of the pictures–I don’t know her personally!

Two organic chickens piled high with herbs and stuff.

Two organic chickens piled high with herbs and stuff.

I took out my really big roasting pan and went after it. I topped it with slices of butter before putting it into the oven. I left it completely alone in the oven. And after two hours, I had some delicious chicken that I enjoyed for quite a while:

Some of the best chicken ever.

Some of the best chicken ever.

While that was in the oven I was making some of my favorite sweet potatoes, and also made a complicated but interesting dessert involving gelatin. I showed you the finished product in the last post, but this is the long process to make it.

You can find the recipe for Cafe Gelatin here, and my comment at the bottom from the first time I made it.

The first layer is a espresso panna cotta layer, which involves ground espresso and filtering it through cheesecloth.

Filtering the espresso panna cotta layer

Cheesecloth filtering

Because you use real ground espresso in this, not instant, and you don’t want to crunch down on a coffee ground. Next up is the absolutely vexing espresso gelatin layer:

This is what will be diced and added to the top later

This is what will be diced and added to the top later

 

I say “vexing” because if you scroll past the recipe, you’ll see my comment from 2008, the first time I made this recipe. Unfortunately, the same thing happened this time–needs a little more gelatin than the recipe specifies. I could do it for the stuff in the baking dish, but it was a bit too late for the stuff I poured into the glasses:

You can't see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

You can’t see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

The espresso gelatin layer doesn’t set like it should because there isn’t enough gelatin in it. Like the last time, I re-boiled the remainder, added a bit more, and set it back in the fridge for later.

Now to make sure each glass came out exactly right, I used a good ol’ Pyrex measuring cup:

Never underestimate the power of the right measuring cups.

Never underestimate the power of the right measuring cups.

I know, people might eyeball it, but even though it was for me, I wanted to make absolutely sure it came out as good as I could get it.

Now, in between each layer, it had to go into the fridge to set, so I covered them with plastic wrap just in case:

The espresso panna cotta layer, going into the fridge

The espresso panna cotta layer, going into the fridge

Of course once that’s set up well, you add 2 tablespoons of the espresso gelatin layer on top, and let that set. Then you get on with the vanilla panna cotta layer, and when the time is right, strain that with cheesecloth like the first layer, and pour a quarter cup into each glass, over the espresso gelatin layer, like this:

This one came out perfect.

This one came out perfect. Sort of.

Since the espresso gelatin layer didn’t set up well, I had to be VERY careful pouring in the top layer, or the espresso gelatin would bubble up, just like the first time, and not make it as pretty. Are you seeing the problem?

You can't see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

You can’t see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here. Darnit.

So I poured each quarter cup in by tablespoons until it was done.

I know, you’d think I was serving Christmas Lunch to HRH Queen Elizabeth. No, just me. But I want to get it right, because it’s SO good.

So back into the fridge they went for longer, and the rest of the espresso gelatin was firming up too. Meantime, I made my favorite Spicy Sweet Potatotes with regular paprika and no cayenne. When those were done, so was the chicken:

Some of the best chicken ever.

Some of the best chicken ever.

So while Queen Elizabeth might not have been impressed, I thought it was pretty tasty and was pretty darn happy with it. And of course, at the end, I ran a knife through the espresso gelatin in the baking dish to make tiny dices, and fixed up the final part of the delicious sugar-free dessert:

Ahhh. . .finally!

Ahhh. . .finally! Definitely NOT Jell-O.

Yes, eventually, it was worth it. Had I gotten up earlier I could have been done earlier, but you know how that goes.

Neighbor R wasn’t home, but K was, and I offered her one. (I had six. She got a perfect looking one.) She didn’t have it right away, but I did point out that it was made with Somersweet, so no guilt. A day or two later when she finally got to it, I got a text message: “Excellente, chica!” She loved it. And rightly so–it’s a nice, refreshing dessert that even works on Christmas.
Now that the holdiays are over, we’re all on diets again, right? I am, actually, the yeast-free diet that I’ve written about before. Why? Heartburn. . .but I was sick in October, so the antibiotics started that process. Then all the dairy, sweet stuff. . .well, you know. Sugar feeds yeast, that’s all I’m saying. . .so I’m back on it with some Yeast Control and missing the milk in my coffee already.

I’ve got more updates coming soon. Happy New Year!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year!!

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Did you have a great holiday period? Even good? Did you eat some good food? Great food? Of course I did! But I hope everyone enjoyed everything, even if you’re groaning about it now. It was delicious, but we move on to better eating and exercise, at least for a while.

The big holiday is over, and now everyone is trying to figure out how the heck to get back into their clothes that are suddenly tight. Well, you’ve got options: yoga, walking/running, weight training, Pilates, take your pick.

I am in pain. My feet hurt, my elbows hurt, my shoulder hurts, my back hurts, and yes, my butt hurts. For the last two weeks I have been doing what most people call “spring cleaning.” I figured that nobody was doing anything in the corporate world (including marketing departments) so I took the two week holiday period and cleaned the closets, my desk, all of it. The process of cleaning started because Neighbor K was worried about all the fabric and the possibility of another mouse in ‘da house. Well, all the fabric scraps are now sealed into huge Ziploc bags, patterns all went into huge plastic containers with click-to-seal tops, and then. . .the closets needed cleaning. The bathroom needed a cleaning and re-arranging. The kitchen, with the exception of the pantry, also got a once-over. Then the desk area, including the filing cabinet. The living room, the bedroom, and then finally, carpet cleaning. I also had to clean dog and cat hair from the carpet cleaner, since Neighbor K uses it occasionally and buys the soap for us to use. (That’s nice of her!)

I made five trips to the Salvation Army on NASA Road 1, the last one being today. After the third trip, just for fun, I did a bit of shopping and found a fabulous pair of knee-high boots with heels on them that actually FIT. My calves are large from years of walking and driving a 5-speed manual transmission, so most knee-high boots don’t fit me, much less with jeans on. They were not expensive, either, and look like they were never worn. The no-slip rubber soles make them safe. A dose of shoe polish made them look fantastic. I’m going to town tomorrow, and I think I’ll wear them with that new Guy Larouche jacket I finally finished New Year’s Eve.

Finally--3 years later!!

Finally–3 years later!!

Yes, it’s supposed to look like that. Check out the pattern if you don’t believe me.

It’ll be cold enough.

I also went to Half Price Books twice, returned an old cell phone to Verizon for recycling, and put out several extra bags of trash, including two huge bags of shredding. I can’t believe I still had old stuff that should have been discarded and/or shredded a long time ago, but I keep finding stuff to get rid of. Friend of the blog ND has also been going through boxes that she hasn’t looked through in years. She said it was the track of her life, then realized that if she didn’t make it home one day, her family would find all that stuff. I reminded her that if there’s anything she doesn’t want anyone to find, now is the time to get rid of it–while she still can!

So now the whole HeatCageKitchen headquarters is neat and organized for 2015. Soon I’ll be working in the garden, which, surprisingly, is now free of weeds since my August experiment with non-toxic weed killer. I just noticed it the other day–a little grass, but NO WEEDS. Hot DAWG!!

I have a confession: I did indeed make the biscotti I blogged about right before Christmas. I got up Christmas morning and made them first, carefully dipping them into the chocolate and carefully sprinkling on some French grey sea salt just like in the picture.

I told you I made some.

The exalted biscotti

Guess what? They were AWFUL! No joke–they were OK before the chocolate dip, but once I finished them off, yuck. They just did NOT entertain my palette. So, my apologies. I had planned to give some to Neighbor K, but that idea tanked quick. I ate them, but mostly to get rid of them. K says they are awful because they are gluten free. Oh, well.

On a recent trip to a local go-to grocery, I saw this sign:

Seriously?

Seriously?

Please explain to me how bananas are “no gas.” Bananas are high in starch/sugar, which is the best way to get gas. A bit like “cancer cures smoking,” isn’t it? But I’m sure a number of folks believed that one, considering what store it was in.

So, let’s start with Christmas lunch, which I enjoyed by myself while the all-day Doctor Who marathon was on. The recipe was Gingery-Hot Duck Salad from Nigella Lawson’s book Nigella Bites. It was partly exotic and partly to use up this duck I bought months and months ago and has been bouncing around in my freezer until I figured out what to do with it. Quack:

IMG_1622[1]

Yes, from American raised duckies.

The instructions on the duck breast call for scoring the fat, so I did as I was told:

It's about the size of a chicken breast, really.

It’s about the size of a chicken breast, really.

And put that baby in a fry pan, skin side down:

IMG_1627[1]

Now it gets interesting, doesn’t it?

While that’s going on, you get on with the salad part. You can find the link to the recipe here, but I will tell you that the American version of the book calls for “one small red chili, finely chopped.” Well, I couldn’t seem to find me a red chile, so this is what I ended up with:

The infamous Scotch bonnet, which is one of the hottest peppers available.

The infamous Scotch bonnet, which is one of the hottest peppers available.

Chop that baby up good:

I even used a knife like Nigella uses! (But that's not one from her collection.)

I even used a knife like Nigella uses! (But that’s not one from her collection.)

Here’s a tip: after handling hot peppers, don’t touch your eyes for any reason. If you do. . .get an eyedropper with milk, and use it. No kidding. If you’re not alone, get help–an eyedropper full of any kind of dairy milk, and drop it in your affected eyes. How do I know this? I had to look it up on a mobile device while my eyes were burning. I did it once with contacts in my eyes, too–and saved the contacts, thank heavens.

Well, anyway. . .you get on with the dressing and the salad part:

Salad!! My favorite!!

Salad!! My favorite!!

The pepper is well chopped, so it’s distributed into the citrus-based dressing. I actually bought some Thai fish sauce just for this recipe; it’s not expensive, and I found it in HEB so I didn’t have to go to Hong Kong Market. Woo hoo!

Duck is not like chicken. Blander, with a slightly gamey taste. I’ve long wanted to cook duck for Christmas, and a whole one was a bit on the high side for me. No matter, I’ll do it one day–just not in a Suzy Homemaker oven.

No, I didn’t get any more Suzy Homemaker appliances, but I look at them every day. I bid on an absolutely pristine Super Grill last weekend but didn’t win it. RATS! Sold for $20 plus shipping. Next time. . . .

I asked Neighbor K if she’d like to have some Christmas lunch, but she declined. (The GER was also invited and declined, he wasn’t feeling terribly festive. Then again, he rarely is without beer.)

So what was for Christmas dinner?

That will be the next blog post, possibly tomorrow. But I’ll leave you with a preview, one of the finished Cafe Gelatins I made just because I wanted it again. Sugar-free and delicious, but a LOT of trouble. I’ll tell you about it next time, too. Take a look:

IMG_1639[1]

I don’t have the fancy $130 per stem wine glasses Martha Stewart used for the photo shoot. Mine are $9.50 a dozen from IKEA. But no matter, they worked just as well. I did offer Neighbor K one, and she accepted. She ate it a day or so later, and texted me that it was “excellente, chica!” Something like that. In other words, she loved it. Me too. Neighbor R was gone for a week, so I sorta finished them off before she got back. YUMMMmm. . . .

I did talk to my sainted aunt a day or so after Christmas, and tried to describe this to her over the phone. She has no computer, so emailing a picture is not an option. She said, “well, I have some sugar-free Jello I can make!” No. . . as I’ve said before, I don’t *DO* Jello. But Auntie doesn’t read this blog, either.

Oh, and dinner was also roast chicken, but not just any chicken. But you’ll have to wait for the next blog to hear all about the Cafe Gelatin and the roast chicken.

Happy New Year!

 

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