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Buc-ee’s: The Texas Road Trip

Buc-ee’s: The Texas Road Trip

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I’ve got a few things to tell you about, and this time, it involves the GER. He doesn’t always read every blog post, but he does like it when I write about him. Neighbor K gets a kick out of reading about herself too, sometimes–I warn her when she gets a mention.

I recently went into my local Fresh Market for something, and passing through the produce section, nestled in with the mangoes and pineapples, was this monster:

No, it wasn't moving.

No, it wasn’t moving.

Jack Fruit. WHAT? I wasn’t about to spend $1.79 a pound for something I didn’t know anything about. Nobody in the store could tell me anything. Frankly, if I bring home something that size, it better purr, bark or vacuum the floor on a timer. If you can tell me more about this “Jack Fruit,” you win the Internet today. (Comments below, if you’re interested.)

Ok, enough of that.

I’m not the only one who looks for healthy eating and all that, but you probably know that already; FoodBabe is one of the best-known bloggers on the subject.. Chicago-based food blogger BreAnna over at Crafty Coin recently visited her local Aldi store, and like me, wasn’t exactly impressed. I wrote a little about it last year, and have not been inspired to go back in it. When I see the weekly fliers in the mail, I look, but I haven’t seen any reason to make a special trip or stop in on my way home from somewhere. (Disclosure: I commented on that blog post myself.)

Now on to the GER.

As I’ve mentioned before, the GER is an ex-boyfriend, and a few years ago, became a very good friend. His Dad, the late Big Joel, was an avid friend of the blog, and read every posting before he passed away 2 years ago. Since the GER has been back in Texas, he’s been back to his old habits (some good, some bad.) One of those is gardening, and he’s been very kind to share some of the yield from time to time:

Results typical from the GER's garden

Results typical from the GER’s garden

They were, of course, delicious, and they didn’t stick around long–we both love salads. I wish I had something to give him, but I didn’t.

So I’m driving home on a Wednesday night from a chanting session at LK’s, streaming some music on iHeart in the car, when the music stops. The phone rings; it’s him, the GER.

Now, since the GER is a bit of a Luddite, I don’t actually have a picture of him on my phone, so I decided to use this one in his contacts entry:

The Sausage Piggy, a cute thing I found in the meat case at Fresh Market one day.

The Sausage Piggy, a cute thing I found in the meat case at Fresh Market one day.

I showed it to him and he didn’t quite know what to make of it. But then he got a good look at it, and he got a kick out of it.

He doesn’t do Facebook or any other social networking, despite my suggestion he get on Pinterest (to find all kinds of great, useful information) and LinkedIn (to network.)  And don’t *even* make the suggestion of a smartphone. . . .

So I’m driving along and it’s him–and it’s about 9:15 pm. Much like Neighbor K, The GER doesn’t call often, so I answer when he calls. (K and I text a lot, even from next door.)  He asks what I’m doing, and I tell him where I am. He has some extra vegetables from his garden, and wants me to stop by and get them. Not at his house, but at a halfway point. “Why don’t you meet me at Buc-ee’s in Texas City?” he says. It was about a 15 minute drive, and I arrived before he did.

Now, I think I’ve been in a Buc-ee’s, but not in many, many years. If you’ve never been in a Buc-ee’s, well, you’re in for a treat. Seriously. A longtime Texas highlight, they have more than the usual Stuckey’s and other side-of-the-road places and sometimes truck stops. Voted the cleanest bathrooms in the US, Buc-ee’s is the destination on your way to your destination.

In the case of the Texas City location, it’s on your way to Galveston.

There are 24 Buc-ee’s in Texas, and the Texas City location opened up last year. Honest, since I don’t go to that area much anymore, I didn’t really care that much. With 90 gas pumps outside, and a large store inside, it’s pretty much everything you need on your way. . .somewhere. (Click here for a list of all Buc-ee’s locations.)

So what’s so great about it? Well, I walked into someplace at least twice the size of Trader Joe’s, with bait and fishing gear, typical Texas souvenirs, and. . .fresh coffee. Would I lie to you?

Mmmmm. . .coffee. . .

Mmmmm. . .coffee. . .

In fact, a whole wall of coffees:

A lot more coffee than Starbucks, with no rewards program.

A lot more coffee than Starbucks, with no rewards program.

To the right of the picture is a condiment bar with the usual sugar and creamer, which included those tiny plastic containers of half-and-half, as well as the flavored coffee creamers. Yes, hazelnut and several other flavors! The ones you put IN your coffee come in the price of coffee; however, if you want to take more with you, they are 10 cents each. Fair price for on-the-go convenience.

Yes, they had decaf. It was fresh and hot. And yes, it was GOOD!!

The decaf, like the rest of the coffees, is refreshed regularly.

The decaf, like the rest of the coffees, is refreshed regularly.

Since I have become a Starbucks Gold Card holder, I know the difference between a tall, grande and venti. (I think there’s also one more beyond venti that’s an XXL, too, but I’m not 100% sure.) However, at Buc-ee’s, there is a 16-ounce and a larger one (20-ounce, I think) and both are under $2 a cup. I didn’t ask about refills, but then I’m not hanging around there like I would in Starbucks. (Didn’t ask about WiFi, either.) So I poured myself a cup and paid for it, then did some prowling while waiting for the GER to show up. Take a look at some of the neat stuff the Texas City Buc-ee’s has available for travelers and others interested in fine Texas-made goods.

Cutting boards--perfect gift for the chef.

Cutting boards–perfect gift for the chef.

Fresh-looking decor for any southern kitchen.

Fresh-looking decor for any southern home.

More nice decor

Beauty products for gifts, or because you forgot something.

I thought I had more pictures, but I can’t find them now.

Right across the aisle from these nice things is an entire section dedicated to. . .BAIT. Fishing stuff, and bait for your fishing trip. No kidding. In the middle of the store, (left of the coffee area) is a deli counter where you can order sandwiches and other food, a bakery, and at the far end, candy, beef jerky, chips, salsa, and other nibbles that you can’t get anywhere else.

That’s the GER’s favorite place–the wall of junk food.

I saw candies of all kinds, from the everyday stuff you find in Wal-Mart to the self-branded things exclusive to Buc-ee’s, and then the jerky, pretzels and other in-house snacks. I sipped my coffee and observed some more.

You can read some additional articles on their press page. The Houston Chronicle covered the opening day, where people were lined up long before dawn to go in when it opened. (More pictures there, too.)  Even the esteemed Wall Street Journal weighed in on the Buc-ee’s experience.

Admittedly, I never thought to go check out the ultra-clean bathrooms. Maybe next time.

Remember that it was night, and eventually, the GER called and asked, “how long before you get here?” I explained that I was ALREADY there, enjoying the Buc-ee’s experience and having some pretty good coffee. He was on one side of the building, driving around looking for me, and I was walking around those lovely house things, wondering if I needed something that I didn’t have room for.

Dallas has it’s first Buc-ee’s, opened last month. Much like Trader Joe’s, many folks knew what it was because they’d been to one on their travels down this way, or heard about Buc-ee’s because someone told them about it after their trip down this way. I’ve never been to Dallas myself, but one day would like to visit. I’ve been told that people in Dallas are quite. . .well, they all believe that they are related to the Ewings, and everyone dresses in fine clothes and big diamonds, like The Real Housewives of Dallas or something. Not here in Houston (although there is that element in the mix.) Before Katrina, Houston was a happy-go-lucky town, even among the society set. Now, with most of New Orleans and the additional increased migration from California, New York, Washington, and many places in between, we’ve got ALL kinds, good and bad. I won’t be living anywhere else but Texas. Austin is fabulous, and San Antonio is also quite nice. But I don’t think I’ll be moving to Dallas, just visiting one day.

If you’re planning a road trip into Texas this summer–or anytime–make sure to include a Buc-ee’s in your travel plans. Fill up with fuel, get some coffee, pick up something you forgot, get some souvenirs and t-shirts, and don’t forget the snacks you just can’t get anywhere else.  Bring back some neat Texas souvenirs to your friends, family or colleagues who weren’t lucky enough to go with you, and make sure you take home a little of the Lone Star State for yourself too.

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Trader Joe’s affair

The Trader Joe’s affair

Hi, again, Dear Readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bison and the new Lamb Epic bars. Delicious!

Bison and the new Lamb Epic bars. Delicious!

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

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

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

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

.See? It was fancier than the standard stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canned beans at their best, with cheap wine!

Canned beans at their best, with cheap wine!

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

Take a closer look at the tomatoes:

They taste as good as they look, honest.

They taste as good as they look, honest.

More comfort food, Trader Joe’s style:

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

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

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

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

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

Natural toiletries, too.

Natural toiletries, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

 

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Yin and The Yang

Hello, Dear Readers:

Faithful reader Aunt Kathy sent me this comic a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot to add it to last weekend’s blog post. She knows that I’m always looking for gluten-free stuff (Twinkies notwithstanding) and passes these things along. In this case, of course, she was right:

crrub130626

The comic strip is called Rubes, and it offers a slice of the absurdities of everyday life. And now we have gluten free cartoons. Cool!

Remember about a month ago I became infatuated with McDonald’s Pomegranate Blueberry Smoothie?  Since it’s been so hot–well, it is Houston–I got really tired of eggs and decided to make a smoothie at home. Granted, it hasn’t been the same as the McCafe, but they’re passable. I bought a book on smoothies, and I’ll tell you more as I get through it.

Now onto a more important subject that affects us all: grocery shopping.

Last week’s Wall Street Journal featured an article on the Elf Electric Pedal Car. Now, alternative forms of transport are great. Many, like this one, are just so darn cute. But it begs the question: is there room to bring home your groceries in it? Well, if you want one, that’s for you to consider. At $5K, it’s an investment, and about as much as a good used car with a petrol engine on Craigslist.

Speaking of grocery shopping. . . .

One of the best parts of being a foodie is that you can find an adventure in places most people wouldn’t think about. Sure–white water rafting, rock climbing, hiking, motorcycle road trips and other endeavors are adventurous, but I’m less likely to get badly hurt in a grocery store. Not to say I wouldn’t consider doing them, but I don’t have health insurance right now, so I’m not inclined to climb anything more than a stepladder.

Some years ago, when I lived in town (known locally as “Houston proper”), I had an Avon lady who lived on the west side, and she introduced me to this funky little store in the inner corner of a strip center called Phoenicia Foods. It was an import grocery store that you might just miss if you weren’t either looking for it or paying attention. She said they had great prices on olive oil, and that’s true, but that was just one reason to go in there. They carried coffees, teas, spices, and my favorite—cookies—from all over the world, and things like Turkish coffee sets that were just gorgeous. I loved going in there, even though I had no idea what a third of it was or what it was for.  I bought olive oil there as well as occasional other things, too, like nuts from Jordan, chocolate from Italy, or big jars of capers from Italy. You never know what you’ll find in there. Those cookies from Poland are simple but incredibly delicious.  They were $1.29 a packet (likely a little more now) and they had orange, raspberry, apple and other filings with a thin layer of chocolate on the inside. No American cookie comes close to this one. I brought them to the office sometimes after a trip, and everyone loved them.

A few years ago Phoenicia expanded to a 55,000 square foot store across the street, with a newly designed logo, an on-site bakery, and a deli with cheeses literally from all over the world. (They have several different kinds of feta, both foreign and domestic.) They also have the best price in town that I’ve seen for delicious Manchego cheese, my favorite. In addition to meat, produce and frozen foods, they also bottle their own spices and package their own nuts (raw and roasted.)  It’s a fantastic place if you’re looking for an unusual ingredient, and for any foodie who wants more.

In addition to their flagship store on the west side, Phoenicia has also opened up a downtown market store for the folks who live and work downtown. Near the George R. Brown Convention Center on Austin Street, there is parking on the street and in a garage across the street. It’s also accessible by downtown’s new Greenlink bus, the LNG powered shuttles that take you around for free.  One of my former coworkers gave me a gift card from Phoenicia, and I just never got around to going back to the flagship store. But a few weeks ago, I embarked on what I called a “Friday adventure,” and went over to the downtown Phoenicia.

Smaller than the original, they carry much of the same thing as the large store, just less of it. There is a deli with takeout, such as sandwiches and spaghetti and meatballs, and even stuffed grape leaves.  There is a wine selection upstairs, as well as a selection of olive oils and vinegars from all over the world. This gorgeous creation a real temptation in the bakery:

Oh, that is a temptation beyond belief. . . .

Oh, that is a temptation beyond belief. . . .

No, I didn’t touch it. I even sent that picture that to my neighbor. But I thought about it a lot. I mean, how could you not? That’s not a huge cake, BTW.

This is how far I go for my friends—I texted said neighbor that I would be going, and be home an hour later than usual—do you need anything? She texted back, “Lacy would like you to pick up a can of Greek olive oil; I’ve got cash, and I’ll pay you when you get home.” This is the neighbor who jumped my battery recently when I left my lights on one morning at the park & ride, so I’m definitely saying yes. And she graciously fed the step-kitty when she got home, so I didn’t need to worry about that part. I just needed to know what brand of olive oil she wanted. Lacy sent directions to find it, but I wasn’t 100% sure I was looking at the correct one, so I sent a picture of what I was looking at to my neighbor, and about 15 minutes later, Lacy sent back the picture of what she wanted. It was to the right, not the left—either they moved it Lacy’s been there last, or she’s dyslexic, but I’d bet on they moved it. With the picture, I was able to quickly identify the correct brand; I grabbed that can and walked out the door. (Yes, I paid for it all first.)

I’m usually carrying a purse and my commuter bag, and on this day, I’ve added a grocery bag with the can of olive oil and some stuff I bought for myself. First on the Greenlink, then on the regular bus home, then in my vehicle and finally to home. On the way, I texted my neighbor, “Tell Lacy her olive oil is on its way!” Kitty was fine, since she’d been fed, a good time was had by all, and Lacy didn’t need to make a trip into town. I was already there, so I didn’t mind—and the bags weren’t grossly heavy, either.

ADVENTURE! Foodie Style. I’m sure the Barefoot Contessa would agree.

Now if you want a REAL food adventure, there’s another kind of grocery store–the Yang–you can check out, but you definitely need a strong sense of adventure for it. And maybe a friend with the same sense.

What you see in your regular grocery store, whether it’s a local mom-and-pop place, a regional one like HEB, Winn-Dixie or Publix, or a nationwide one like Wal-Mart or SuperTarget, is what makes it there through the shipping process. Sometimes. . .they don’t. Cans are dented from an impact. Delays happen, and sometimes things don’t arrive when they should.

Enter the salvage grocery store.

Salvage grocery stores are places that buy up these imperfect items and sell them at a deep discount. However, there isn’t a consistent flow of goods, it’s just whatever they get that’s available. Some may have day old bread; most will have canned and frozen goods; you may find out-of-date coffee, tea, or other packaged goods whose sell-by date doesn’t mean it’s bad; some stores may have meat from auction. It’s similar to a bakery outlet store, but with more.

That’s why it’s a real foodie adventure, folks. You never know what you’ll find. You may get lucky, and it may be a bust. But that’s the fun in finding out!

Admittedly, I haven’t been in one in some time; there aren’t any salvage grocery stores in my neighborhood, but when I lived in town, there was one across the street where my ex-husband and I shopped occasionally. However, there’s a famous one in New Orleans that, unfortunately, closed 3 years ago from what I found online—and everyone knew about Suda Salvage.

Suda was just this funky old warehouse tucked away in and industrial area back in the 1970’s. They carried railroad salvage of all kinds, including building materials, which is what attracted my father to it. Although we didn’t go in it too often, I do remember it being quite interesting. Then again, I was about nine, so it didn’t take much for me to be fascinated. (It was a simpler time before things like voice mail, texting and YouTube.) Many years later, they moved to another funky, run down building on Jefferson Highway, so you could stop right in, no need to go out of your way. You could even take the bus if you were so inclined, since the Jeff Highway bus passed right in front of it.

Suda indeed carried day old bread and pastries, canned/packaged goods of all different kinds, some dairy, and they even had a section of drugstore kinds of things, like bandages and medicine. They were not always the brands you know and love, but they were the same thing, and they were CHEAP.

I went in a few years ago on one of my last ventures to the Crescent City (about 2008) and found bottles of Central Market Organics brand Herbes de Provence for about 69 or 79 cents a bottle. Now, to someone in NOLA, that likely means nothing; it’s some kind of cheap herb blend. Bt since I shop at Central Market, I know it’s a good price. You see, that same bottle of dried herbs sells for about $7 or $8 in Central Market—and yes, they’re unopened bottles. Now do you see why it can be a good thing?

Of course, as in any grocery shopping, you must pay attention to what you’re picking up to make sure it’s not bad. But everything I’ve ever bought from Suda was in sealed packages. I even have a container of holiday print paper muffin cups I bought in Suda, with the tag still on it. Oh, maybe in 1995? (It’s not like they go bad or anything.)

PIctures of Suda are on Flickr where some devoted soul has immortalized this magical foodie heaven for all to see. I don’t know why those ships are there, they’re not parked nearby. Hilarious reviews have been posted at Yelp, and one serious review at CitySearch for all to enjoy.

This evening I called a friend of mine, a faithful Suda customer, to get the full scoop. Turns out that the owners retired a few years ago and sold the business to a distribution company called Marque’s Foods. Marque’s in the same location, but a completely different business, although it is open to the public. Here is also a story with more information, if you’re so inclined to know more.  (Haven’t been in Smilie’s since the late 80’s.) If ever I go back for a visit, maybe I’ll stop in.

If you’re interested in checking out new, cheap places, you can find out about these salvage stores at Frugal Village, and a number of other sites. Do a search to see if there’s one in your area. There are some in Houston, but none close to me that I’ve found. Yet. And even if I do find one, again, it’s an adventure to find out what’s available (and the limit of your tolerance, if it’s the right place.)

Grocery shopping can, indeed, be an adventure.

Enjoy!

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Considered opinions, Ingredients, New Trends

 

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