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Smoothie Thing

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Ah, fall is here in Houston. Not just less hot, but actually cool. Thank heavens. We did have a recurrent winter this past spring, which many of us so enjoyed, but summer inevitably came to remind us of Mother Nature’s intents and our light bills went up. Fall is wonderful, and it couldn’t come fast enough for those of us tired of sweating all the time.

Pomegranates are now in grocery stores. Never had one growing up. I LIVE for pomegranate season, and I just bought one this weekend. It’s sitting on my Butsudan, ripening a bit; I’ll have it this weekend.

And, my birthday is coming up. That means chocolate. And maybe a gluten-free pizza. I’m thinking about it, along with a birthday Grand Slam at Denny’s. It’s free on your birthday, but you do have to prove it, no matter how many Denny’s you visit.

Well, this weekend my tea kettle went out. Just like that, POOF! I bought it back in May, and a few days after I got it home, I started reading the reviews on Amazon.com for it. Kept my receipt, and at some point I will call Oster and see what they tell me. I did head to Target and buy a new one, and I hope I have better luck with this Aroma kettle. Sheeesh.

So, if you’re a gluten-free reader and headed to Paris anytime soon, I’ve got great news. Cafes and restaurants in Paris are aware of the need for gluten free, and increasing numbers of these establishments are offering “sans gluten” dishes and meals. (Hat tip: The Wall Street Journal.) I suppose all you have to do is ask, but since it’s not me who’s going, well, if you do go, let me know how you make out ordering gluten-free in Paris. The Wall Street Journal would know, right?

I don’t know if I’m ever gonna get to eat my way through Paris. Let’s just say it’s on the “bucket list.” For now I focus on eating locally. Like, my local H-E-B and Super Targets.

My subscription to The Wall Street Journal expires in December. Unless I can score another free subscription, I’m not going to renew.

Oh, and my newest favorite thing that I can’t get enough of is frozen cherries. Just take some out of the bag, add them into a small bowl, and let them thaw a few minutes. Cherries don’t freeze hard, like, say, a honeydew melon ball, so they’re ready almost in an instant. During the hot summer we had here in Houston, this was a great discovery. Ahhh. . .just be careful, because they do stain your skin and clothes.

I’m still dieting, and have indeed lost a few pounds, but it’s hard to when I don’t get to bed early enough. Sleep is essential to losing weight; I’ve learned that the hard way But when you get up before the chickens, you’ve got to make sure everything is ready for the next day, and sometimes that means you’re not in bed when you need to be. I’ve had to stop walking in the Tunnel every day because I seem to have injured myself. I’m laying off for a while, hoping the injury heals, and using a fair amount of IcyHot. Meantime, I’ve got to find time somewhere else for yoga or something. Still working on that, too.

A few months ago, I wrote about about the McCafe Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie at McDonalds, and how terrific it is. I don’t have them every day, just once in a while, but they sure are delicious. However, after reading the McCafe ingredient list and buying one of those little blenders, I’ve been enjoying smoothies regularly—just not that one.

The basics of the McCafe are pomegranate juice, and a berry mash consisting of blueberries and raspberries. Also added is some fat-free yogurt, some ice, and yes, there is the matter of sugar from the fruit. This is what it says on McDonald’s website:

  • Ingredients: Blueberry Puree, Water, Clarified Demineralized Pineapple Juice Concentrate, Raspberry Puree, Apple Juice Concentrate, Pomegranate Juice Concentrate, Contains 1% or Less: Natural (Plant Source) and Artificial Flavors, Cellulose Powder, Peach Juice Concentrate, Pear Juice Concentrate, Citric Acid, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Xanthan Gum, Pectin, Fruit and Vegetable Juice For Color.

Plus there’s the yogurt involved. Xanathan gum is a thickener; you can get it in a health food store, and doesn’t have any sugar or salt in it.

I decided to try my hand at smoothies and see what I could come up with. I get hungry about mid-morning, and the smoothie sure does hit the spot.

As you may know, I’m not a big yogurt fan—but Greek yogurt is a good thing. It doesn’t have that strong, tart taste that regular yogurt has, is quite thick, and lends itself to all kinds of dishes where a soupy consistency is unwanted. Greek is strained longer, so it has body that stands up to a lot of things. Just a couple of years ago, it was hard to find, but now it’s everywhere. Been using the Fage brand, that seems to work the best.

So thinking about the McCafe model, I bought some frozen fruit, skim milk and the fat-free Greek Yogurt. Not sure what the percentages were, I just started adding stuff: 4 ounces or so of skim milk, a scoop (about a half cup) of the yogurt, two packets of Sweet & Low—yes, harmless, non-toxic PINK STUFF—and maybe a drop of store-bought vanilla extract. (At this point, any combination of spices and extracts would add unique flavor to your smoothie.) Whiz that together, then add in the semi-thawed fruit. Blend again, and either drink it or tote it.

Target has bags of single-type frozen cut fruit and mixed frozen fruit as well as bags of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.(Hence, my new frozen cherry habit.) However, in a minute you’ll find out why strawberries are the best for smoothies. Peaches are great, but I like the variety, so I get the mixed bag, too. Honeydew melon balls aren’t my favorite, and not that great in a smoothie, but I put up with it because the frozen grapes are delicious too. I partially thaw these in the microwave on “low” for a minute—not to heat them up, just to soften them a bit. Then dump them in the small smoothie mixer and push the button until it’s all blended. Then I toss in a few of the hard-frozen strawberries, blend that until it’s nice and pink, and add it to the container that goes into my lunch bag.

Speaking of the blender, I bought one of these little ones just for AM smoothie making. I considered the more expensive ones you see on TV, but Neighbor K told me about hers. Then I remembered seeing it in her kitchen on the many days I went to walk her pug, and got one at Target that night.

After removing the blender’s contents, I add hot water and soap, run it one more time for a minute or so, dump the soapy water out, rinse it good, and drop it in the dish drain. No worries about it being clean for tomorrow. That’s Kitchen Tip #1 for today—and it works on any blender, too.

Much as I like blueberries and raspberries, there is an issue with using them for smoothies. See, I don’t drink the smoothie immediately, I store it on ice for a few hours. If I put strawberries in, it’s great, stays cold, and is nice and thick by the time I get to it. However. . .blueberries and raspberries cause this smoothie to become a solid, gelatinous mess after a couple of hours in an iced lunch bag, requiring a spoon to consume. It tastes OK, but you can’t drink this rubbery concoction, because it won’t pour—you have to use a spoon to get it out of the container. I’ve tested this, honest, it doesn’t happen with strawberries. Not being a scientist, I can’t give you an explanation for it, only a forewarning. So, that’s Kitchen Tip #2 for the day: only use blueberries and raspberries in smoothies that you will be consuming immediately, strawberries if you’ll have it later.

If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. My smoothie sits on an ice pack for about 3 or 4 hours. I do not like a gelantinous blob in my lunch bag.

I decided to do a bit more research on smoothies, and came across this book on Amazon. I have tried a couple of recipes in it, but not all of them. Some of these are pretty out there, so it just depends on testing your tolerance for new and different things. I have to say, as good as it was, the smoothie with a tomato, carrots and strawberries was not something I thought I would ever like. But once you get over the idea of this slightly weird combination, it’s not bad. (Note: I did have to pull out the big blender and chop up the carrots really small to get it to blend.)  The book is divided up into chapters for things like diabetes, weight loss and antioxidants, and there are the spinach/kale/other veg combinations that I will likely not mess with. Since the book was not expensive, I’ll keep it.

The Strawberry Tomato Smoothie on page 99 consists of 6 strawberries, capped, 1 tomato, 3 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, and a half cup of water. Blend it well, (I needed the big blender because of the carrots) and the book says that the citric acid makes it OK to store for lunch. Well, I’d put it on ice, anyway. A bit weird, but pretty good.

Another one I’ve tried is the Lanky Limojito on Page114, consisting of 1 lime, peeled, 5 mint leaves and 1 cucumber, quartered. I put a note that this one needs the big blender, too. Makes 2 cups, and is supposed to be an alcohol-free, low-cal substitute for a Mojito. (If you decide to throw in some rum, you’re on your own.)  Hey, I just like limes and cukes–I think, but I don’t remember, that I tossed in some sweetener. This too was pretty good, but I don’t know that I’d be doing it every day.

There are a number of recipes in this book I have bookmarked but I haven’t tried yet. Most of the ingredients can be purchased at any regular grocery store. I can’t keep a full produce department in my fridge, so I’ll try them on a rotating basis.

Now listen. . . .

Twenty years ago I had a boyfriend who went bonkers because I made a salad with fresh sliced strawberries and fresh spinach. Never seen that before, myself, being from New Orleans. I made it for us one night for dinner, and he called it a “food crime against nature.” With the blended dressing on it, I coaxed him to try one bite, and he loved it. (However, I don’t think I’ve made that in about 20 years; the next boyfriend was a fussy eater.)  Again, it’s testing the limits of your tolerance for new things. You never know what you will discover next that you are missing–like frozen cherries.

Williams-Sonoma also had a book in their Baybrook Mall store recently called Superfood Smoothies, which goes into the goji berries and acai kind of thing. I almost bought it, but the weird ingredients were a big turnoff. Then I saw where it said milk and dairy were “bad foods,” so I put it down and left it. Yes, if you’re allergic to dairy, it’s a bad food. I don’t have a problem with these things, and the idea of buying goji berries. . .well, I’d rather have strawberries or raspberries anyway. Heck with it. It was beautifully photographed and all that, but after I read some of the reviews, I was glad I didn’t buy it. And the incredibly nasty comments told me I was right. I like shopping at my local H-E-B, and now and again, heading to Central Market or Trader Joe’s.

Now, down in the Tunnel, there is a fast-food place you’re probably familiar with: Smoothie King. They occasionally have folks handing out samples of their wares with the idea of enticing them in for a full size version. The samples were a strawberry-banana flavor and a chocolate version. I almost bit on the chocolate, but I realized that there was likely soy powder in one or both of them and I kept walking.  Soy is used as a protein supplement, but if you’re allergic like me, it’s not a good thing. I have glanced at their menu, but nothing seemed appealing at all. With the prospect of soy in one of them, I just don’t bother.

As with any allergy, you should ask what’s in it before you pay for it. (Ask me, I know.) Better safe than sorry. If they give you any lip about it, do what I do—turn around and walk out. If you’re allergic to something, you’ll be living with the side effects if you “don’t want to bother.”

Smoothies are, of course, a great way to have fruit, veg, dairy and other healthy ingredients in a convenient, drinkable form. It takes finding a good combination before you hit on the ones you like. If you’ve got a working blender, you can make a smoothie, no special equipment needed. I know about that Nutri-Bullet with 137 attachments and containers. I prefer mine–easy to use with 3 pieces and a wall cord.  It fits behind the new tea kettle, between the microwave and the utensil crocks.

While not a brand new thing, you may find you enjoy smoothies and the convenience of a portable health food. If you find a good combination, post it in the comments and I’ll try it as soon as I can. (Note: anything with “mud” in the ingredient list is off the table for me.)

Happy Dining!

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