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Kitchen Rack
Short post: Amy’s Kitchen Rack

The Kitchen Rack returns to the HeatCageKitchen!

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Hello, again, Dear Readers!

Welcome to another edition of “What’s she up to this time?” I’ve been busy! Boy, have I ever. . . .

Another article published!

Today another one of my articles is published on OffTheGridNews, on a food, or supplement, called Maca. It’s a plant that grows high in the Andes Mountains, similar to a potato or turnip. I’ve heard about Maca for many years, but never got around to trying it. It’s great for hot-flashin’ women, so I read, but there’s more to it than that. Like potatoes to the Irish, Maca root has been a food staple for the folks in that part of the world for thousands of years. Someone (probably a Gringo) figured out that it was a pretty powerful thing, and now you can buy it raw or gelatinized and take it as a supplement.

I bought some, too

Admittedly, after I wrote this article, I bought some from Vitacost. Buddhist friend NM told me about Vitacost recently, and I have not been near a Vitamin Shoppe since. I started buying OTC thyroid from Vitacost after discovering they sold it for $10 less than Vitamin Shoppe—and they ship it right to your door! No more long drives to NOLA or Baton Rouge to get one bottle at nearly twice the price. I also use Vitacost’s website for basic research for these articles. I started taking Maca last Friday, when the latest bottle of Raw Thyroid arrived. Vitacost’s house brand is gelatinized, but I’ll try the raw version one day too and see which one works better. (I’m applying the principle of “try the least expensive option first.”) So far, so good.

There was a time when I would spend about $200 a pop at Vitamin Shoppe when I stocked up on stuff. No more—I have been building a list of things I’ll be taking again one day, and I order one or two products at a time, as I can. I’m still writing, but no “big paydays” yet.

No Coffee for Aussies?

This article on The Kitchn this morning says that Aussie kitchens don’t have. . .what? Like me, they do have a kettle to boil water in their kitchens, but not a coffee maker. (The pictured SMEG kettle is gorgeous—I want one of those in red, please!) The kettle makes hot water for tea, instant soups and—instant coffee. I actually have some instant coffee, but it’s primarily for recipes like Yeast Free Brownies. Drinking instant coffee? No, that’s OK. Not unless I absolutely have to. Even in decaf.

Hot mess: Slow Cooker Edition

Last week saw me make two more recipes from slow cooking expert Stephanie O’Dea’s emails: Hearty Lima Bean Soup and Maple Barbecue Beef. BF keeps packets of lima beans around, so I figured he’d like that. NOPE—too much tomato, and he didn’t even finish his. He ate a bowl of cereal, no kidding. Maple Barbecue Beef went over. . .OK. . .we can have it again sometime, but not anytime soon, he says. Yesterday I threw a few things in the slow cooker, including some black beans for a change, and I’ll post that recipe soon. Working Title: Amy’s Slow Cooker Southwestern Black Beans. Along with a bit of roast beef, BF was pretty happy with Sunday dinner after working all day.

Now, this week’s update

You remember the microwave saga? That saga has finally come to an end—I no longer own one! We have one at the Casa de Rurale, of course, but it’s BF’s. More than six months after I bought it at the League City Walmart, I brought the perfectly working but dusty microwave to the local Walmart and traded it in for. . .a new kitchen rack!

Kitchen Rack

The one I’ve always wanted!

No kidding, I finally did it. A new kitchen rack And BF begrudgingly admits the kitchen rack was a pretty good idea. Because, after all, I did unpack a fair amount of boxes:

We had a roaring fire outside after dark with these going up in flames!

Kitchen rack

Burn, baby, burn!

Mind, you, that’s not everything on the kitchen rack–but it’s most of it. There’s some more organization that has to happen in the Casa before all my stuff is unpacked. Working on making more money so I can get the rest of the things I need, like bookshelves, a covered clothing rack, and a couple of DVD racks for us. Oh, and a digital converter box for my non-digital TV. . .one thing at a time, right? In between laundry, dish washing, cooking and Buddhist meetings. . . .

Enter the Breakfast Area

Next to the kitchen rack is my IKEA Fusion table and chairs, which they don’t make anymore, creating a nice little breakfast area by the front window:

Cozy little spot for us, right by the kitchen.

The placemats are from the old Martha Stewart collection at K-Mart. I mentioned this to BF this morning, and he said, “I’m sensing a pattern here.” Because a fair number of things I own are “from the Martha Stewart Collection,” somewhere.

After I did all that, I also stopped at Walmart for a few things one night and decided to get something else “for the house.”

Kitchen Rac

Aren’t they gorgeous?

 

Although I no longer have cable TV, I do still follow my favorite celebrity chefs on Facebook and get their emails. I bought a set of salt and pepper shakers from the new spring line of The Pioneer Woman collection. At Walmart.

These are called “Vintage Bloom,” and there’s a whole collection of dishes that go with it. It’s just a nice little bit of color, and I particularly like that color of blue. I almost bought one of the coffee cups, but if you’ve seen my coffee cup collection—I’m talking about you, Captain Ron—you’ll know that I really, REALLY don’t need another coffee cup, no matter how cute and original.

Kitchen rack is just the beginning

I’m trying to get BF to build me a rustic pallet rack for my coffee cup collection, but so far, he’s not interested. Pegboard, maybe? But he’s working on a couple of other things right now, so I give him a pass, and I wonder if I can do it myself without seriously injuring myself. (I have O- blood, if you’re donating.)

No toaster oven yet, but I have used the little oven on the stove many times. Just need an oven thermometer to check the temperature.

Improvements continue

I continue to improve things in this former man cave (with emphasis on “cave”) as time permits We’ve burned many boxes, piles of old receipts and bills, and other things that make me ask BF, “why do you still have this?” Eventually, some of my stuff will also burn as I unpack more and figure out what I don’t need anymore. Winter is gone now, so I’ll be organizing magazines as well as cycle out and move around clothes. Plant the garden stuff I haven’t even planted yet,too. I want my Hatch chiles!

I’m writing another article for OffTheGridNews, and it’s due Friday. I won’t reveal the subject yet, but there will be an accompanying article here, soon as I do some taste-testing with BF and one or two of his friends. BF is chomping at the bit. . .to get it over with. Because, he says, “I’m just humoring you.” (And he doesn’t understand why I go to Whole Foods whenever I can, but that’s another blog post.) But there’s work to be done before then, and I’ll bring it to you with pictures soon.

Enjoy!

Tox-Sick Followup

Here’s a followup to my last post on the incredible book Tox-Sick.

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Hi, again, Dear Readers:

OK, so. . .I apologize for being away so long. I’ve been writing, all right–but on Upwork, the freelance platform that lets you connect with people just about anywhere for paid freelance work. (Shameless self-promotion: If you need something written, I can do that for you. Get in touch either on Upwork, if you hire there, or via heatcagekitchen-at-gmail.com) I’ve written a few things, but mostly web copy a couple of regular clients, one of which is an IT company on the east coast. (I can raise my rates once I gain some traction.)

The Knitting Bowl

I’ve also bid on other types of jobs, and was hired for one, a product review for a knitting bowl. Who the heck knew there was such a thing?

Isn’t it cute? Yes, I actually have one. It’s pretty nice.

The bowl was given to me for free and I was paid a little for the review. I figured it would be fun, and I’m now using it to hold little things on the dresser with some of that blue sticky rubber stuff on the bottom holding it in place.  BF must keep his paws off it–being a woodworking/building kind of guy, he wants to fill in the spiral with wood putty and stain it! But if you’re someone who knits or is looking for a knitter’s gift, click here and you can go see it and maybe get one if you want.

I’ve also written an article on magnesium and high blood pressure. Reminded me that I need to get back on that stuff. If I can get a back link, I’ll post it for you to read.

And because I’m earning a little money–not a fortune, yet–I’ve finally been able to order a replacement drip tray for my Cuisinart Griddler/waffle maker. Woo Hoo! Now we can waffle bacon and eggs, soon as the part arrives.

I did offer to make some waffled mac & cheese for BF the other night, but after the waffled brownie hot mess, he smiled, hugged me and said, “step away from the waffle maker, please.”

Valentine’s Day

Our V-D didn’t work too good, because it fell in-between paydays and we were both a bit under the weather. So, we postponed our “Valentine’s Day”  until last week, when we headed to a popular local seafood eatery. It’s one of those kinds of places with laminated menus. . .no candlelight here. It was pretty good, but BF tends to be a bit nervous when we go somewhere and it’s time to order. In Cracker Barrel, I can order a nice chicken or shrimp salad with no croutons; when they bring crackers, I decline them. But I ask a lot of questions, and still don’t get what I want in some places.

This particular evening, I ordered grilled shrimp with sweet potato fries and a trip to their small but pretty good salad bar. (It’s more of an accessory, and not like Sweet Tomatoes.) I figured that would be good, and about as “junk free” as I could get. Then after asking questions and thinking I was ordering something pretty safe, the waitress says, “and it comes with hush puppies and. . .”

Whoa! Back up the truck!

It doesn’t say that on the menu, not that I saw. I don’t want all that rubbish–I want SALAD and un-coated, cooked food, please.

BF was a bit horrified, but managed not to show it. I explained to him, and later to the waitress, that I’m not used to ordering something and discovering it “comes with” all kinds of things I don’t want and wouldn’t order. I didn’t have that experience in Houston, and I don’t understand asking for something and getting something completely different. Fortunately, I was able to get away with just those hush puppy things and BF took them in his styrofoam “doggie bag.”

I dove into the salad bar, piling up lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced black olives, broccoli, and a tablespoon or two of the dried golden raisin and cranberry mix. No croutons or dressings, since most have trans-fatty acids and kill the taste of the food (not to mention do a number on you.)  Just a bit of salt. BF had a “salad,” too–consisting of two tablespoons of lettuce, a cup of some kind of salad dressing and croutons. No matter how I explain it, in his furry little head, he “ate some salad, too.” Later, he claimed the lettuce made him gassy.

No flowers-and-chocolate routine, because I specifically asked BF not to do that. I guess a card would have been OK, but I didn’t think that much about it. I just don’t want him going broke thinking he’s going to be in the doghouse if he comes home without roses, fancy jewelry and a heart-shaped box of candy like you see on TV. He can get into the doghouse all on his own. But there was a little sugar-free chocolate involved.

Detoxing myself

I also want to tell you how I’ve been trying to find ways–cheaply–to detox since reading Tox-Sick. I’ve finished the e-book twice and returned it to the nice library that I borrowed it from. Soon, I’ll get a hard copy so I can refer to it whenever I want to (and maybe get my cave man BF to read it himself one day.)

The first one is toothpaste, as I mentioned last time. Here in the local Walmart, I have only found one non-fluoride toothpaste, and that’s Tom’s of Maine. I’ve bought it before, but of course, BF refuses to use it, since it “tastes weird.” (Dude–you’re weird!) I’ll keep looking, but you know that Amazon has a selection of, well, absolutely everything.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Trader Joe’s has a small selection of health & wellness products. I’ve used them occasionally and known about them for a while. Britta and Carli Garsow of Twinspiration recently reviewed a few. But I knew what I wanted when I went in there last week–the Tea Tree Tingle Body Wash.

I’ve used it before, along with bars of their tea tree oil soap. But after reading in Tox-Sick about an ingredient called sodium laureth sulfate–avoid it any way you can–I knew that I could find something to replace the accumulated Avon stuff I’ve been using up for a while.

The ingredient list. Look at what’s there, and what’s NOT there.

That bottle is $3.99 for 16 ounces, and as you can see, has NO sodium laureth sulfate.

None! Not a drop.

I have to go look again, but I didn’t see any SLS in Dove body products, which are available locally at <cough> Walmart. I’ll also check out Dove’s shampoo and conditioners. I used to use Dove, but one day, somehow, switched to Tresomme. I didn’t see any SLS in Tresomme conditioner, either, but again, more research as I run out of things that I would like to stop using.

Trader Joe’s carries Tom’s of Maine as well as their own brand of fluoride-free toothpaste. Next trip, I think I’ll stock up on their body wash and toothpaste.

They’re not all the same

I have tried the natural, aluminium-free deodorant from Trader Joe’s. Much as I was hoping for a less-toxic odor prevention, the TJ’s natural deodorant left me smelling like a locker room after this year’s OT SuperBowl. At work, no less, after a walk through the Houston Tunnel–not good. Tom’s of Maine has one, and I’ll try it soon.

I considered getting BF a tube of TJ’s shave cream, but I couldn’t get him on the phone because he was disassembling a leaking toilet at the time. (It wasn’t the AC, and we were thankful for that.) Maybe next trip. (Toilet’s fine now.)

What about BF?

BF, of course, thinks this is all a bit bonkers, especially we have two types of toothpaste in our bathroom now, while he chews on his Tums and drinks milk while taking an OTC proton-pump inhibitor. When he took a whiff of the TJ’s body wash, he turned up his nose and said, “it smells weird.” That’s what I get for living with a cave man.

I had a water filter on my shower in Houston, and maybe I can talk him into that at the Casa. I haven’t mentioned the whole-house reverse osmosis filter again, either.

There is only one small square of carpet in the house, and that’s in the bedroom closet. Hopefully that’s old enough that it’s not out-gassing anything now, and we’ll be safe from that. But no more carpet, please.

In the matter of cans. . . .

Remember the slow cooker pizza sauce? I showed you the non-GMO product in cans that did not contain BPA. I’m looking for that all the time now. It’s pretty easy in Whole Foods, because most everything they sell is like that. But in Walmart. . .keep your eyes peeled! I’ve long told BF that any food product thing sold under their “Great Value” brand is suspect, and I avoid buying them. But sometimes, that’s all they have, for things like olive oil that isn’t extra-virgin. They even have some “organic” products, but I don’t know how “organic” they actually are; I never checked.

In fact, I noticed that the last can of GV cannellini beans I bought and used not only didn’t taste that great, they were hard, like they weren’t completely cooked. So no more of those. I’ll stick with Winn-Dixie’s or Bush’s.

BPA hurts men

Friend of the bog JKH, LK’s sister, is a big proponent of NO cans at all, ever. This makes sense, because the BPA can affect her teenage son’s development. BPA, (or by it’s full name, Bisphenol A) the chemical that’s in a lot of cans and plastic stuff. (Here are more tips for avoiding it.) Of course, completely avoiding canned foods is difficult in the real world, but. . . I do try. (Keeping BF from rampaging through Walmart on payday wielding his debit card like a sword helps.)  While I use up the cans of things I brought from my kitchen in Houston, I am now seeking out cans that don’t contain BPA.

I explained to BF that BPA is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor, and that it could “turn you into a woman.” As usual, he dismissed my comment as, er, “nonsense.” (Never mind what he really said.) No, he won’t be able to get pregnant, but the xenoestrogens (synthetic estrogen compounds) can cause some issues with “feminization” in males. (Think “man boobs.”) Even the National Institutes of Health knows about this.

BF doesn’t get why I don’t want to use his aluminum pots and pans with half the Teflon scraped out, preferring to use my own uncoated stainless ones, or one of the seasoned cast iron pots we have. But there are gender-bending  endocrine disruptors are in those nonstick pots, too. And yet. . .I’m “fussy.”

Teflon, the great kitchen innovation.

Remember what I said last time about low-fat being nonsense? The flawed “logic” behind Teflon and other nonstick coatings is that you can cook without using fat. Problem: real fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil) is what keeps you alive, sugar can and will kill you. So can Teflon, or at least cause a few problems. These chemicals leach into your food. Reducing chemical exposure best you can is what you’re after.

Well, anyway. . . .

We were out of popcorn

The other night we used the last of the HEB popcorn I brought from Houston. Yes, the 4-pound bags I bought or $2.64, and I had two unopened bags from our last trip in October. We emptied out the last one the other night. BF has become very fond of my version of microwave popcorn, as I described in The Popcorn Post last year. What I have been doing since moving here is to put a little coconut oil in the bowl with the kernels, popping it, pouring a little melted butter, then olive oil, on it, then seasoning it with some of Paula Deen’s House Seasoning and tossing. It’s just kosher salt, ground black pepper and garlic powder. I’ve been making and using that for years, but only grabbed it one night for popcorn and discovered that it’s pretty darn good.

Then one night, HE tasted it. Now that’s the only popcorn BF will eat. I suppose that’s good, because it’s so much healthier than the chemical-laden microwave popcorn he was buying. But now I make more, because BF has fallen in love with it.

The Orville Redenbacher Affair

Out on a milk run, I asked BF to get more popcorn, since we were now out. This is what he brought home:

Yes, he did.

The first thing I looked for was the “no BPA” on the label. Nope. But it is gluten free!

Thank heavens!

Hint: this is raw popcorn, and it was gluten-free a long time ago. Like, when it was discovered. Like the first time someone made salsa, OK? That too is gluten-free. But I digress, I guess you have to look these days, because you never know.

No GMO!

That’s nice, but. . .as I mentioned in The Popcorn Post, raw popcorn has not been genetically modified. However, Conagra is apparently part of a non-GMO project–which I haven’t yet read about, maybe next week–so they put it right on the label, just like the Hunt’s tomato products.

So what did I do? I decided to call Con Agra and ask them a few questions:

Someday they’ll regret putting a phone number there. . . .

I was told by the nice lady who answered that not only does this jar not have BPA in it, NONE of their products do, anywhere. That made me feel better, but I still made BF buy me a nice glass jar with a clamped stopper at Hobby Lobby the other day so I could fill it with popcorn and make it look nice in the pantry.

Do you give your babies popcorn?

The warning, however, was a surprise to  me. Are people giving babies and toddlers popcorn, requiring that warning on the label? Seriously? Doesn’t anyone teach new parents how to feed babies anymore? That really reminds me of the warning labels on hair dryers and curling irons telling you not to use it in the shower. Someone has actually done this, somewhere.  I hear comedian Bill Engvall say, “heeeere’s your sign . . . .”

Jambalya, crawfish pie, filet gumbo. . . .

OK, so, despite my best efforts, I have not been able to avoid “real Louisiana food.” I had quite enough of it as a kid, and I just don’t care if I never have it again. I don’t lay awake at night wishing for jambalaya like I would for something from HEB with Hatch chiles. BF likes to make a quick version of what he calls “jambalaya.” From a rice package, and he adds in more rice.

We were out of the stuff he usually uses the other day, so he pulls from the pantry a box of this stuff, local brand Tony Chachere’s. You can get this in Houston, and I’ve bought the TC seasoning. But then, I read the ingredients. . .oh, HELL NO.

He really didn’t look.

After explaining to the BF, again,  that I’m allergic to soy, he paid attention and put it back in the cabinet. I really won’t eat it, I’m allergic to soy. A quick search for “gluten free jambalaya mix” the next day showed me that Zatarain’s was indeed gluten free, by virtue of no gluten in it.

That’s a little better

Granted it’s not a perfect solution, and it’s one of the rare occasions that I’ll eat rice. But it’s not loaded with wheat, soy, and the industrial sludge known as “vegetable oil.”

But I did, at his request, make him some brownies from a box Friday night. It called for a half-cup of industrial, I mean, vegetable oil, which, of course, is nearly always hydrogenated soybean oil.

Talk barbecue to a Texan?

Then there was the trip to BF’s favorite BBQ place in Hammond, which happens to be up the street from the only Starbucks around. Everything is a sandwich, or you can get some BBQ in. . .styrofoam. UGH. I passed on a cup of water because it was styrofoam, only to discover that the food was served in it. He couldn’t understand “the big deal.” I told him I’d like to stop being poisoned. Styrofoam leaches chemicals into whatever you put in it, especially something like coffee, and the compounds stay in your system forever. Next time he will be dropping me off at Taco Bell, which is a little further up the street, but on the way to Starbucks and that place. They use paper.

Besides–that was the most tasteless BBQ I’ve ever had. I’m a Texan, for heaven’s sake! It just didn’t taste like anything but shaved meat in a bland sauce. Sorry, Honey, it’s true. I can do infinitely better than that. But if that’s what he likes, I’m not going to argue, I’ll just get that lovely Power Bowl at Taco Bell.

The Safe Haven With Food

This is not to say that I’m a paragon of virtue–far from it, Dear Readers:

What happens when you’re working in Starbucks on Sunday when the library is closed and you get hungry.

Now and again, I’ll try something new:

What happens when you’re working in Starbucks and you’re still hungry.

Yes, she did, and it’s pretty good:

 

But ‘s not every day, honest. And they don’t have the salad bowls here, nor in Baton Rouge, even near LSU. In fact, I was told yesterday that there’s only one store around that has salads and sandwiches–and that’s down in New Orleans.

Sometimes, it’s either eat what you can forage, or don’t eat anything. We sometimes have to forage.

Since Starbucks’ primary stock and trade is brewed coffee, they lose money when I come back and say, “Bartender!” Because they have to make me another decaf. (They’re really nice to me in the Hammond store, though, and a few of them know me.) The cup gives me a ten-cent discount, and I’m a Starbucks Rewards member, so refills are free as long as I’m there. And I don’t do that every day.

La Casa

Cleaning up is another area that I have tried to improve as well, but we’re limited by availability. I still use original blue Dawn for dish washing (we don’t have a dishwasher like I had in Houston), and there are steel wool soap pads under the sink for the occasional need.

Combining two households means that we have a lot of stuff under the sink, even though I left a whole bunch of it behind when I moved. (That wasn’t my choice.) I still have some of those Martha Stewart Clean products, even though you can only get it online now. (Amazon doesn’t even carry them anymore.)

Catmandu and Kismet

I used to have cats, and my two were kind of old when they passed to the Rainbow Bridge. (Jezebel the step-kitty was actually the GER’s cat, and about 8 years old when she went.) Kismet, the tabby, well, I don’t know why, but he just stopped using the litter box one day. Bribing with treats only meant he’d walk in and walk out of the litterbox, waiting in the bathroom doorway for it. He didn’t get it that he’d have to, um, “produce” to get a treat, and would sit there for hours, just waiting.

I went looking for something to get the cat smell out of the carpet, and somewhere, I found Biokleeen’s Bac-out for pet odors.

Fast forward a few years. . . .

Now I live with two dogs and a cat, and the dogs. . .well, BF’s solution to dealing with the dog accidents has been Lysol’s multi-surface cleaner, and I think it’s this fruity Tangerine Mango scent stuff he likes. He pours it over the area and leaves it for a while, then mops it later. It leaves behind a strong chemical perfume smell that covers the odor but doesn’t get rid of it. Dogs know this and can smell past the Lysol. And it’s not healthy for man or beast.

Then we ran out of Lysol

I went under the sink and found the Bac-Out and sprayed it all over the offending area. We use less because it’s a spray, and it removes the odor from the spot. (Of course, there’s the matter of the dog’s learned behavior, but that’s another matter.)  A quick mop, and it’s gone until the next time. I don’t know where I found the first bottle, but in addition to buying it on Amazon, you can get it at Whole Foods and a few other places. (I picked up another bottle last trip to Baton Rouge, we needed it.) The spray bottle at Whole Foods in Baton Rouge is $8.99, and the non-spray bottle, which I used to refill the spray bottle, is $8.49.

Over time, I plan to change the things we bring into the house so that we aren’t using as many toxic chemicals inside for us as well as the fur babies. Eliminating nasty toxins is the goal. But it’s also a matter of what we can get at Walmart or Winn-Dixie, or have to drive to the Hammond Target to find.

You can’t do it all at once

If you’re interested in detoxing, of course, read that book! Tox-Sick explains the science and reasoning, and gives a good understanding of why getting rid of toxins in your body, your home and your life is so important. But you know most of us won’t be able to do everything all at once. Cycle things out and change what you bring in. Make educated choices about what you eat, drink and use, and go from there.

I asked BF to please not buy the Lysol again. . .we have the Bac-Out, and it removes the odor instead of just overwhelming it with perfume for a while. Just gotta keep an eye on him in Walmart.

Coming soon. . . .

Something delicious from the Crock Pot, and it was easy! Mostly. I did manage to cut my finger when the knife slipped dicing the onion. And. . . .

Something deliciously chocolate from. . . Texas? Oh, yes! Stay tuned.

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras. *yawn.* I’ll be at Starbucks, the library is closed.

I’ll try *not* to be so late again.

Until next time. . .Enjoy!

 

 

Tox-Sick
Tox-Sick: Suzanne Somers’ illness book

Are you Tox-Sick?

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

The holidays are all over now, thank heavens. Have you considered getting “healthy” for the new year? We all do that, don’t we? Before you get too involved in your new diet/gym membership/exercise plan/other expensive resolution, I have a book for you to read, if you haven’t yet. It’s an eye-opener, and will make you think twice before you have a cheat again. I’m not kidding.

Enter The Resolutionists!

When I was at Boeing, there was a small fitness room for employees. Not a whole lot, just some treadmills, spinner bikes, free weights and a few other weird torture machines I wouldn’t go near. There was one TV, and whomever got there first got to watch what they wanted. We had basic cable available, and boy, did people get upset with me when I was watching The Food Network!

This time of year, people are all about “eating healthy” after the rich, heavy foods of the holidays. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand what constitutes “healthy.” Bread, pasta, pizza, potatoes, rice, and all the rest of the starchy stuff, along with sugar you didn’t know you were eating are going to derail any “diet” you start. Ever seen Advo-Care? Last time I saw those direct-marketing things, they were all loaded with sugar. Reading labels, as I’ve long mentioned, is key to whatever is in that stuff you’re eating.

Sugar is still sugar

Look at it this way: if you’re going to a party, or something bigger like a wedding, and you eat cake, candy, etc., you KNOW you’re getting sugar, right? If you’re diabetic, you know to avoid it, or if you’re otherwise watching your intake, then you have that cake/ice cream/candy/dessert knowing exactly what it is. But finding out it’s in tomato paste, or some other non-confection you’ve bought is more than annoying, especially if it’s labeled “healthy,” “natural,” or “organic.” Yes, there is “organic sugar,” even if it’s coconut or monk fruit sugar, so it has to be taken into consideration when you’re talking grams of sugar.

But what if you’re doing all the “healthy” things, exercising, drinking more water, getting enough sleep and still not losing weight? You wouldn’t be the only one. Or you start feeling ill and don’t get better despite antibiotics or other prescriptions your doctor gave you? Is it “all in your head?” What’s going on?

We’re all Tox-Sick, that’s what.

Seriously.

Tox-Sick

Photo credit: SelfHelpDaily.com

Before I go on, I want to issue my standard disclaimer on all things I write about that are health-related:

I am not a doctor, nurse, scientist or other medical professional. I am a patient who reads and pays attention.

Ms. Somers has a number of best-selling books on health and wellness under her belt. Like Ms. Somers, I’m primarily interested in keeping myself healthy and well, and not spending the rest of my life on the pharmaceutical drug train. While drugs have their place, there is too much emphasis on “better living through chemistry,” that is, a pill for literally everything. It’s one thing when I get sick with a throat bug. But I want no part of toxic, dangerous and expensive prescriptions that I would be told to take the rest of my life when there are actual treatments for debilitating illnesses. Many chronic conditions have organic causes, but are simply managed with drugs that are not a “cure.” I’ve seen way too many people go down that road, and it’s not for me. That’s why I’m a pain in the backside about these things, and I avoid the SAD, or “standard American diet.”

That includes the boxed stuffing mix or macaroni cheese mess I’ve made for BF–at his request. He doesn’t see that, or the sodas he drinks all day long, as a reason he suffers with chronic heartburn. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We all need to know this

I don’t know what made me think about reading Tox-Sick, but I’m SO glad I finally did. I got it as an e-book from the library and downloaded it onto my tablet. (Sshhh. . .nevermind *which* library; the free Kindle app makes it easy.)  Transfixed from pretty much the first page. Environmental toxins are causing all manner of health issues, destroying the intestinal system (“gut”) and modern medicine hasn’t kept up.

Aisles are filled with of over-the-counter medications in drugstores, grocery stores and places like Walgreen’s, Walmart and Target. Other stomach problems? Other kinds of meds can help. But the standard allopathic methods only mask the symptoms–they don’t deal with what’s causing the ailment in the first place.

What’s in this book

Tox-Sick doesn’t discuss medical conditions that have established protocols and treatments. It’s more about the kinds of illnesses that we suddenly see a lot more of, such as peanut allergies in children. I never met anyone who had a peanut allergy when I was a kid–but that was sometime ago. I was talking to a lady on Facebook yesterday about something else, and she mentioned that she was born with a heart defect. That’s not the kind of conditions Ms. Somers discusses in this book.

The Doctor Joke

There’s an old joke that used to go around:

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this!

Doctor: Well, don’t do that.

It’s sort of like that. But it’s really not funny.

Do you know someone who takes a lot of sick time? Someone who never really feels “right” but teams of doctors can’t find anything “wrong?” Or is it you? Have you been given the nebulous term “chronic fatigue?” Have you been called a “hypochondriac?”

You may be Tox-sick.

No, you’re not crazy.

I know, Charlie Sheen claimed the same thing.

You’ve heard the comment about people who drink a lot as “pickling their liver.” Actor Larry Hagman was a serious alcoholic who received a liver transplant later in life. Your liver is quite important, as any doctor will tell you. In fact, on his daily radio show, Dr. Hotze frequently mentions that when you take a pharmaceutical drug, even OTC (over the counter), your liver has to detoxify it. That’s true of something as simple as aspirin or as heavy-duty as a cancer drug. It’s also true of any other substances you may ingest, such as fluoride from tap water or from your dentist. Even if you’re not a drinker, don’t smoke the occasional you-know-what or ingest dreadful things you shouldn’t, your liver, GI tract and brain is under assault from everything from various environmental toxins, chlorine and fluoride in the tap water to inhaled allergens like mold.

Your liver can only do so much. Until it can’t.

And then you’re sick and nobody can tell you why. Your blood tests “are all normal.” Your PCP sends you to any number of specialists, who run various tests and you start hearing that “there’s nothing wrong with you.” Some may even imply you should see a psychiatrist, because it’s “all in your head.” It is if it’s a headache, of course, but if one of them gives you a psych referral, just toss it. Talking about why you don’t feel well is NOT going to solve the problem. Neither is an antidepressant.

You’re Tox-sick. You just don’t know it yet.

Suzanne Somers delves into the topic of illnesses caused by environmental toxin overload and the problems it caused her husband, stepdaughter and two of her granddaughters. They are not “mysteries,” they are illnesses with a specific cause and treatment. She knows where to find these doctors who do the kind of cutting-edge medicine who successfully treat these conditions.  Her investigation into environmental illnesses led her to find an entire arena of issues that can be cured, but usually aren’t.

How many times has this happened to you?

You go to the doctor and spend five minutes with him or her and leave with a prescription. Headaches? Here’s a pill. Rash that won’t go away? Here’s a cream. Weight gain? A (dangerous) diet pill. Mood swings? Go to a psychiatrist, get prescribed a dangerous antidepressant, stay on it forever.

Your symptoms have become the diagnosis. “We can’t find anything wrong with you, so maybe you need a psychiatrist.” Because they don’t know where to look. And then it’s just a straight path to the drug train station, starting with the first antidepressant or statin drug.

It happens every day in America.

That’s no way to live

I’ll repeat what Ms. Somers says in a few of her books: pharmaceutical drugs have their place, for things like infections and curable diseases. But a drug you stay on forever, “managing” your condition? Not so much. But medicine hasn’t kept up, and it’s highly likely your doctor hasn’t, either.

Toxins not only make you sick, they can weaken your system.

Make Friends With Your Gut

BF chews Tums a lot, especially at night. He also takes an OTC generic form of Zantac, called Ranitidine, every night with a glass of milk. No kidding. He does not see the irony, nor does he understand that he’s feeding the yeast buggies in his gut while tamping down the acid they bring up through his alimentary tract into his esophageal area. But he’s not the only one. I’m told his brother, sister and father all have “acid reflux.” And they drink soft drinks all day long. His father drinks diet sodas because he’s diabetic. (EEEWWW!!!) It’s a shame, because there’s an easy fix, and the benefits go beyond ending the acid assault on your throat. But BF refuses to give up his Cokes, and drinks whole milk because it’s “healthy.”

BTW, any kind of sugar, including lactose, or milk sugar, feeds the yeast overgrowth in your gut. Same with wheat and other grains, that’s why I gave up wheat all those years ago. And the junk food BF eats sometimes throws gasoline on them. He does not believe me.

What nobody tells you is that taking acid-killing drugs also causes malabsorption of nutrients from food—they block stomach acid. The yeast cells come up through the stomach and up to the throat, bringing the acid with it and burning your throat. Dr. Davis is the only doctor I’ve ever been to as a patient that didn’t look at me like I’d lost my bloody mind when I mentioned yeast overgrowth.

It doesn’t work that way.

Now, think about this: if, while “aging,” our bodies produce less of our regular hormones and other things, why would acid production go UP? Parts wear out as you age; they don’t go bonkers except in unusual cases. You go to nearly any doctor in America and tell them you have heartburn, and they will insist that you have “excess acid,” then give you a pill to take. Seriously? At no time, unless you insist, will they take a blood test for yeast overgrowth, (or go to a doctor who will) but it’s a frequent cause. You just know you’re taking a little pill and it goes away for a while.

Yeast Isn’t Just In Bread

I’ve written many times about the Yeast Free Diet, and why you should consider it. (The Green Willow Tree has two articles one yeast overgrowth here , and sells OTC detoxing yeast killers as well.) An important part of starting your detox is getting your alimentary system in good working order. Much of what’s called “leaky gut” and “acid reflux” is an overgrowth of Candida albicans in the intestines and the damage it causes.

If you’ve ever taken antibiotics—and let’s face it, who hasn’t?—you may very well be suffering from yeast overgrowth. Probiotics, along with yeast-free eating and either a prescription for anti-fungals or an OTC preparation, can correct the balance and make everything work like it should. Probiotics are also important to re-build the good intestinal flora to keep everything in balance, and get you on your way to no longer being Tox-sick.

It starts in your stomach

Ms. Somers also discusses HCL, which I’ve taken before. Didn’t do much for me, but at some point in the future, I may try it again. I did offer it to a neighbor before, who was suffering with heartburn, and it seemed to help, but she stopped it. But as Ms. Somers points out, since she took radiation therapy for breast cancer, she will have to take HCL for the rest of her life. Oh, you didn’t know about that? Yes–radiation knocks out your stomach acid production, so you’ll have to supplement with HCL so you can properly digest food. They don’t tell you that when you’re doing radiation, and she found out the hard way.

Low-fat is NOT where it’s at

Are you still doing low-fat diets? Stop. Immediately. Low-fat diets are like filling your tank a quarter of the way and expecting your car to take you from New York to Los Angeles on it. Fats, REAL fats, are what humans need to continue to run the system. Whether it’s olive oil, butter, coconut oil, whole milk cheeses, nuts, meats or things like avocados, you need fat to STAY ALIVE.

Fake fats, along with sugar, hydrogenated anything and other fillers, just do nothing. You might “lose weight,” but without nutrients to rebuild your cells that your body is made of, you’ll also lose bone, hair, and even energy. Eventually the body starts “holding on” to whatever nutrition it gets–that’s why crash diets help you lose weight for a while, but then the trend reverses and the weight comes back. (That’s from Suzanne’s first diet/health/cookbook.)

Years of low-fat and fake foods have made us fatter than before, and decimated the gut.

Fat is what keeps you alive. Sugar can kill you.

NOTE: this is not a license to eat everything in sight, but fat also provides satiety. You can’t over-eat fat.

I say this as someone who might have accidentally eaten a few of BF’s cookies the other night. But I wasn’t feeling great either, and of course, after some “comfort food,” I felt worse later. DUH. And then there are the rare occasions where the Bell rings a little too loud and I find myself crunching on delicious tacos with a couple of packets of Diablo sauce. (This week.) I got through 5 years of Tulane at night while working a 40-hour week with the help of Taco Bell and PJ’s Coffee. Since then, these are rarities, including my favorite Starbucks, even when I had a full-time job. But to their credit, Taco Bell now has the Power Bowl Combo that are devoid of taco shells.

We all have times when it’s fast food or starve. There is an entire population of this country that doesn’t know how to eat anything but fast food. And there are healthier options at many places now. But fast food not something that should be in your regular diet.

A real-life example

The other night, BF was heading into town for a few things, and I asked him to bring back unsalted butter. When he returned, he brought me Country Crock instead. (I have a less polite name for it.) I asked, “why did you buy this instead of butter?” BF: “it’s the same thing.” Amy: “Do you need a chemistry lesson?”

This is what’s in a pound of Land O’Lakes Unsalted Butter:

This is what’s in butter. That’s it. Real butter was *always* gluten free.

And this is what’s in the Shedd’s Spread Country Crock Original he brought home:

It’s NOT the same thing!

To be honest, Land O’Lakes also makes “spreads and margarines.”

There’s a lot more ingredients in the margarine than in the butter. Still, to their credit, Country Crock is made with fewer ingredients and nothing hydrogenated. Margarine has improved since the last time I bought it, back in the 1990’s, I think. But I still want butter.

I really did buy Diet Parkay Margarine back in the day, because I didn’t know any better. They call it “Light Parkay” now, and it’s made with milk now, so it says. But. . .it’s still not real butter.

Another real-life example

After reading about fluoride in water and toothpaste, I immediately returned two tubes of Crest toothpaste and replaced it with Tom’s of Maine Fluoride-Free toothpaste. BF wanted to know why, so I explained it to him–fluoride is TOXIC. If you don’t believe me, check the side of nearly any toothpaste sold in the US. There is a black-box warning telling you to call your local poison control center if you or a member of your family swallows it. Did you know that?

Fluoride is a neurotoxin. Exposure should be minimal. (Thanks, Dr. Hotze.)

BF doesn’t like the taste of Tom’s, so he’s back using the Crest, under protest from me. But I make sure I point out that he’s putting extra toxins in his system that he doesn’t need. Again, he doesn’t believe me.

This is why you’re Tox-Sick.

Becoming Tox-sick is not just one specific thing–it’s a lot of compounded factors that over time suddenly manifest in things like cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions. Just eating the wrong foods damages the gut, weakens the liver, damages the heart, so the rest of the system takes a hit. Chemical out-gassing in your home’s carpet and new furniture can sicken you and your children. Eventually, the brain is affected as well, and you’re sick, but nobody can tell you why. Your symptoms become the diagnosis, and you’re told you have the nebulous “chronic fatigue syndrome.”

You’re Tox-Sick.

In the case of Alan Hamel, aka,”Mr. Suzanne Somers,” it was a matter of standing water in the unfinished basement of a rented house that caused mold contamination that severely sickened him. Nobody knew it was there, and once discovered, they moved out of it very quickly. Months of detoxification treatments helped Mr. Hamel feel well again, and he’s still healing from the damage. Her granddaughters were both in a school building that made them ill; one was bitten by a tick and developed Lyme Disease. Their journey back to health was hard on everyone.

Ms. Somers explains that she’s since heard from quite a number of people who were forced to move out of their dream home because of various environmental toxins, including black mold. Like the others, they didn’t see the black mold, so they didn’t know it was there. You may have mold living in the HVAC air vents, and the first time you turn on the heater when it gets cold, you’ve been hit with mold spores. Cleaning those vents is important!

Please read this book now and defend yourself

I say that because I know that this time of year, people are cleaning up their diets for a while and exercising and drinking more water and doing whatever is the new “healthy” this year. What happens if you don’t lose that weight? You could be Tox-sick, overlooking a health problem you don’t even know you have, and maybe your regular doctor won’t test you for. It’s like that with thyroid patients–they do the standard TSH and say, “your thyroid is just fine!” Been there, done that.

The Herxheimer Reaction

A few times in the last few years that I’ve lost weight, I’ve noticed that I get “hot.” The first time it happened, I called Dr. Davis and asked about it. The nurse at the time called back and said that because I was losing weight, excess estrogen that was stored in the fat cells was suddenly being released, and causing sort of a “synthetic hot flash.” I’ve lost about 20 pounds since I’ve been here in Louisiana, and yes, I tend to take my jacket off or change shirts because it’s a “hot shirt.” Sometimes I get hot at night. But I’m losing weight now, although not as fast as I was on the HCG Diet, so I’m getting the “hot” feelings.

Why do I mention this, and why should you care if you’re male?

Toxins are also stored in fat cells, and if you start detoxing and/or losing weight, the same thing can happen. Lose the fat cells, lose the toxins (and the excess estrogen, male or female.)  It might not be a “synthetic hot flash,” though–you might find yourself with nausea, headaches, or some other symptom that makes you wonder what kind of bug you’ve picked up. If you’re doing the yeast-free diet or some other kind of detox or cleansing, it’s likely your body clearing toxins and stuff out of your system. This is known as the Herxheimer Reaction, or die-off. Oh, yes, I’ve had it–one day thought I wasn’t going to make it back to my desk at work before I could choke down the Alka-Seltzer!

Read. This. Book. NOW.

Reading Tox-sick will not turn you into a hypochondriac. Rather, it will arm you with the knowledge that you need to find out why you’re not getting better, why your doctor can’t figure out what’s wrong with you, or why your child or grandchild isn’t “right.” You will learn how to clean toxins from your system, and defend yourself from the toxins we can no longer avoid. Conversations with top doctors like Dr. Sherry Rogers, Dr. Stephen Sinatra and the late Dr. Nicholas Gonzales will help you on your path to true health, and do more than just “lose weight.” Get rid of the toxins and the weight may go away on its own. But don’t go back to eating junk food, either.

Don’t you want to be healthier this year?

I hate to see anyone suffer needlessly, especially when help is available. Detoxing is not just about drinking water for three days, eating lots of kale and fasting. Tox-sick is about clearing out the bugs, toxins and other stuff that’s keeping you ill and in Part 2, defending yourself daily against environmental onslaughts that are everywhere.

What am I doing now to keep from getting Tox-Sick?

Whatever I can, really–I already avoid processed food, with rare forays into the “bad stuff,” like the cookies the other night. Butter, not margarine. Switching toothpastes, too. Sticking with what I’ve been doing for years, best I can. I’m also going to re-read this book before the e-loan ends again and taking notes to go forward.

We’re not at the point where we can put in a reverse osmosis filter (“you want a WHAT?”) eat completely organic or even get grass fed beef here. But I plan to do more gardening than I did in Houston, and hopefully grow some of our own produce organically. I hope to eventually get back on all vitamins and supplements I was taking before I moved out of Houston so that I can continuously defend my system from toxins and the occasional bugs that go around.

Of course, I’m also butting heads a little with BF who thinks it’s all “hocus pocus.” We’ll get there in the end.

I’ve only scratched the surface

Honestly, there is so much more than I discussed here. Please read this book for yourself, your family, your friends, and, yes, even your pets. Cats and dogs can get Tox-sick from mold and toxins too, although that’s not covered in this book. And if someone you know is suffering from a “mystery illness,” give them a copy of Tox-sick, or at least, tell them about it.

To your health and wellness in 2017!

 

 

 

Slow Cooking: Christmas Edition

Slow Cooking–great all year long!

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Hello again, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m back again with more slow cooking. Recently, I was introduced (online) to a lady who is a pro at the slow cooking thing. She’s written books and has blogged about it for many years. And I just found her. She’s going to help us with our holiday dinners!

But first, a lesson in irony.

Recently, I had an errand in Hammond, and of course, made a quick stop in the closest  Starbucks there. Take a look and tell me if you see the irony here:

Seriously?

Seriously. . .

This was, of course, in the ladies room after a tanker full of coffee (free refills with your Starbucks card!) If you’re not seeing it, allow me to explain: the sign is an instruction on how to wash your hands. In it, you are told to dry off your hands with a paper towel, then use said paper towel to turn off the water when you’re done.

In the sticker on the hot-air hand dryer, you are told about the energy efficiency of using the hand dryer. It eliminates the paper towel, but gives you nothing to turn off the faucet (or open the door to leave) with to protect your freshly-washed hands from someone else’s hand germs.

Does no one think about this?

Louisiana is the only state I’ve ever been in that posts hand-washing instructions in the bathrooms, nearly everywhere. I never saw those in 18 years in Texas. Draw your own conclusions.

Sewing!

I took out one of my sewing machines this week, mostly to test it out. With a few fat quarters from Walmart, I made this item:

The State flag of Texas

That’s right. A Texas flag.

Funny how you don’t notice them until you don’t see them anymore. (The sign underneath is a WWIIposter that says “Sew for Victory.”)  There will be more of them, if for no other reason, to use up the stars. But BF has been told that when the day comes that he puts up an American Flag on the property, as many neighbors have, there *will* be a Texas flag flying next to it. And if the Texit business happens, I do hope they take Louisiana with it so we can have more great barbecue!

Cleaning up

For the record, Whole Foods isn’t kidding about encouraging you to “shop local” and all that. Not a bad idea, of course. This big guy’s grin greeted me as I checked out of the Mandeville store this past weekend:

Who's that?

Who’s that?

William Terry, the founder of Bayou Soap, is on board with natural soaps and creates them right in New Orleans.  (You can read more about them here, and their Facebook page is here.) I couldn’t resist looking at the many bars—lovely soaps, and they all smell wonderful:

Lavender--good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Lavender–good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Don't these look yummy?

Don’t these look yummy?

I have no idea what

I have no idea what “African Black Soap” is, but maybe one day I’ll give it a try. Long as it doesn’t paint me.

Mango soap? Mango!!

Mango soap? Mango!!

Yes, these are pricey, but handcrafted artisan items usually are. (You can also order them online.) Mr. Terry doesn’t have the manufacturing muscle of Proctor & Gamble, and he uses natural ingredients without harsh chemicals. (I used to buy some very nice soaps from a lady at the farmer’s market in Nassau Bay on occasion, too.) Plus, they’re very big bars. My thinking is to cut them into one or two smaller bars to make them easier to handle and last a while. I’ll get some one day soon. I do like to shop local when I can, and patronize local businesses.

While others have seen Jesus’ face in a grilled cheese sandwich, and the Virgin Mary in a mobile home door screen, I see BF’s cute face in this bar of soap:

Can you see his face in this bar of soap?

It’s BF!!

I can’t possibly use that to wash my hands now. . . .

Christmas is SUNDAY.

How did this happen? I mean, wasn’t it Turkey Day just a week or two ago? Carols have been playing nearly everywhere I go. . .that stuff has been out in Walmart for weeks. . .yesterday I told BF I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas, ha, ha. Being the smart aleck he is, he might just get me one–but where do you get the refill packages for it? I’ve never seen them, but I guess because I don’t have to.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through the house

The A/C was running, for we live in the South.

Yep. We’re waiting to see how Mother Nature treats us this year. It was quite warm last year, and I was in shorts Christmas Day. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like icy cold watermelon chunks. That could be the case this year, even though we’ve been shivering cold for quite some time–and so have my friends in Houston, too.

Let’s get serious with our slow cookers, shall we?

Longtime readers know about my affinity for slow cooking, and my more recent affinity for the waffle maker. Last weekend I used my Cuisinart Griddler not for waffling, but for making BF some pancakes. I used the flat griddle plate to make them right on the counter top. (I still haven’t replaced the drip tray, but we weren’t making bacon or anything that required it.) He got the biggest kick out of it–“you and your gadgets!” he said. Look at it this way: I didn’t have to turn on the stove for a little bit of cooking.

Yesterday was a 2 pound pork loin roast slow cooked with some olive oil and Italian seasoning. BF ate that right up with some baked sweet potato fries.

That’s the thing about the slow cooker–you really do just set it and forget it. It takes some advance planning, but so does cooking a standard meal. The other day I put two turkey thighs in BF’s 4 quart slow-cooker, and dinner was done when we got home. Added some Waffled Hash Browns, which took about 15 minutes to create, and we had. . .meat and potatoes, ready to have in less than 30 minutes.

Then I got ahead of the game by slow cooking.

I also started cooking the next day’s meal that night, before we sat down to the turkey and hash browns. There is a back-story to this.

Recently I was introduced, on Facebook, to a lady named Stephanie O’Dea, who is the author of a number of books and a blog called A Year of Slow Cooking.  I write a food blog, and would cook every day in the slow cooker if I could. . .how did I miss this?

Apparently Mrs. O’Dea decided she would be slow cooking every day for a year, and blogged about it. She’s since written several books on the subject, and has more slow cookers than we do at Casa de Rurale. So I eagerly signed up for her emails, and read them. This lady goes all out, OK? The other day, she sent one about making tamales in the slow cooker. I’ll try that one day, too, when we’re in the mood for Mexican food. But the one that caught my eye was the Crock Pot 16-Bean Soup Recipe.

Say what?

Mrs. O’Dea admits to being somewhat lackadaisical towards many things. . .OK, she’s lazy.

I have walked by the bags of soup mix in the grocery store a hundred million times. I’ve even picked one up, read the print on the bag, and taken it for a ride in the shopping cart. 

But then I chicken out and put it back on the shelf with it’s friends.

It just seemed like a lot of work.

I, um, actually don’t really enjoy work. 

I’d really like a house full of forest creatures like in Snow White or in Enchanted to come do it all for me so I can spin around in circles singing. 

So far the closest I’ve gotten to that dream is a six-year-old wearing a two-sizes-too-small rooster Halloween costume running around with a feather duster…

But it’s a nice dream, nonetheless.

We all think like this from time to time, right? Well, after reading this email, I had some time before I had to pick up BF, so I stopped at HEB. . .I mean, Walmart. . .on the way home and picked up a few ingredients I needed.

Unfortunately, this is Louisiana, so we only get 15 beans, not 16 beans in our soup packages. (I miss my HEB.) I take what I can get, check out, and head home to the Casa.

And I started cooking tomorrow’s dinner!

When I picked up BF later that evening, I told him, “I am on it.” He gave me that cute look of quizzical confusion that he often does, and I explained myself.  I saw this email, and I acted on it! The turkey thighs were ready when we got home, but the soup would cook all night, and he could have some to take to work the next day. Thumbs up on this one. . .but no pictures this time.

slow cooking

Really–just let it go.

I did as she instructs, tossed out that chemical “flavoring packet,” (no need to tell me twice) and altered it slightly. No tomatoes, BF has a problem with them sometimes. Beef stock and water from the pantry, and an inexpensive one-pound packet of cubed ham from the meat case. Boiled the beans and let them sit for an hour, and then started loading up the 6-quart slow cooker.

This soup smells wonderful while it cooks. The soup was slow-cooking all night, and we really enjoyed it the next day. BF became “all beaned out,” so I froze the rest for another day.

This soup is highly recommended. Slow cooking it makes it really easy. Check out the recipe and the “customizations” for making it yours. Yum.

Slow cooking a full holiday meal?

Absolutely–Mrs. O’Dea has you covered! Check out this Christmas Ham in the Slow Cooker with honey and ginger. Ham not your style? Heck, she’s got a myriad of slow cooker recipes for the holidays parked right here on this page.

Slow cooking apples

Slow cooking apples

Need an extra slow cooker? Borrow one a day or two before if you’re afraid of going out to the mall this holiday season like I was in Houston. If you haven’t planned anything yet, well, better get a move on! Both links have recipes suitable for holiday gatherings, but you have to plan ahead.

Please note that despite the fancy fixtures that come attached to modern slow cookers, they are not essential. Last time, I told you about the web-enabled model with the smartphone app from CrockPot. I don’t have one of those, nor the one where you can brown and bake before the slow cooking. Mine are 13-year-old Crock Pots bought in 2003 or 2004 at Big Lots in Texas before I moved out of the GER’s house. I also have a “little dipper” I bought to get the cooking smells out of the kitchen. BF’s is a Hamilton Beach 4 quart, just like my Crock Pot. I refer to them as “dumb terminal models,” because you control them from the little knob on the front after you plug them in. (Eight years in IT, I know stuff like this.)  I know, I know, there are slow cooking marvels with all kinds of bells & whistles and apps and all that. You do not NEED it. If you spend that much on a slow cooker, that’s less you can spend on food. Your choice.

Wrangling the whole thing together.

The best advice I’ve ever heard for planning any kind of special occasion was from The Barefoot Contessa in Foolproof. Write it all down, figure out how long everything will take to make, create a schedule and work backwards. In other words, if your turkey will take 4 hours, and dinner is at 5:00 pm, you put it in the oven about 1:00 pm, making sure your oven is at the temperature you need (usually 350F.) Potatoes will take an hour, so those go into the oven about 4:00 pm–and at 350F, you can easily bake them at the same time on a different rack. I mean, why not?

And you can always drop the potatoes in your CrockPot, right? Slow cooking can indeed help with Christmas dinner as well as parties and other celebrations.

What’s on the HeatCageKitchen menu for Christmas?

Well, nothing yet, but there likely is going to be some slow cooking going on. Especially if I don’t make much.

BF mentioned the other night that he wanted to have ham for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind if it was *this* ham, but he says he wants it “baked.” How is this not baked if it’s slow cooking at 300F or 350F for several hours?

If he wants something with Coke and sugar all over it, or requires the use of any kind of “enclosed packet,”  I’m roasting a Lemon Chicken for myself. And I’m not doing *everything* I did for Turkey Day, although I wouldn’t mind making those Perfect Mashed Potatoes again. But we haven’t heard from the kids, nor anyone else, so it might just be the two of us with the critters.

But whatever we do, there’s a good chance a slow cooker’s going to be involved. And there’s a good chance that something will be waffled.

Remember too that there are recipes posted on this page. Most are favorites that I’ve tried many times, and that may be just what you’re looking for, including some slow cooking, too.

And if you’re not hosting. . . .

Are you going to someone’s house for Christmas lunch/dinner? Bring something tasty and delicious, whether you’re slow cooking or not. A Year of Slow Cooking is a great place to start, as is Pinterest.

And if it’s looking like you’re going to be home alone on Christmas, as I was for many years, enjoy it. Enjoy the peace and solitude, watch whatever TV shows you want, (I highly recommend British TV, especially a comedy if you can find some, turn on the CC,), enjoy the best meal you can cook up,  and don’t feel “alone.” Slow cooking something delicious will free you up to watch your favorite holiday DVDs, listen to your favorite music, and spend time with yourself. There are folks who will be working on Christmas and would be happy to be home. Many are first responders (fire, police, medical personnel, etc.) so please don’t make their job harder.

It’s OK to be alone on Christmas.

If you’re really not happy about the holidays (there are more than one) remember that Christmas comes but once a year. . .and in a week or so, it will all be over. No more carols blaring from the PA system everywhere you go. No more drunks wishing you a “Cherry Mistmas.” No more red and green everything. Come January 2nd, the trees will be heading to the recycling bin, the lights will come down, and people will start packing stuff up to put away for another year. Some might not finish until March, but you get the idea.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year!

I’m probably not going to publish a post again until after Christmas, so I will wish all of you Happy Holidays, whatever holiday you want to celebrate. (Hey–if there’s food involved, there’s a good chance I’ll be celebrating it, no matter what religion it’s from.)  Whatever it is you like to cook, make it tasty, healthy, and make enough for everybody, OK?

There’s a good chance I’ll be in the back doing some sewing while I’m doing some slow cooking.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

The Thanksgiving Post: Apples and Spaghetti Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I hope you’re feeling better by now. The election, and all the associated nastiness, is over for a while. Now it’s time for transition, and hopefully, getting back to whatever passes for “normal.” It was a nail-biter, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop eating BF’s ice cream. (I didn’t eat all of it, just a little.) We stayed up until 3:00 am or so watching the results, and back-checking CBS News on our phones against what was showing up on Facebook in our feeds. Bizarre–I’ve never done that before, but we finally hit the sack once it was all over. Good thing we didn’t have anything planned for the next day, and he was off work. No more sugar-laden ice cream, and the weight is going back down again, thank heavens.

Time for some comfort food, OK? Keep reading, there’s a recipe for you shortly.

We’ve been doing some renovation type of cleaning in the Casa, which includes having one of his, um, ex-girlfriends finally come get her stuff out of his house. She’s got some of it, but some still resides for a few more days. (What are we, Public Storage?) His daughter took the things she wanted and I helped her clear out stuff she didn’t want. All that’s left is his friend from the Navy. Well, with moving stuff around and out, painting the back room for my soon-to-be studio office, and clearing car parts out of the house, we’ve set up a little breakfast area by the kitchen:

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino for Amy!

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino!

This is my IKEA Tarno patio set that we just put there and put a tablecloth over, and BF decided to add my tiny lamp (Lampan, also from IKEA.) I repaired the miniblinds which had been damaged by a passed-on pooch, and cleaned the window really well. Know what? It’s kind of nice to have breakfast right there, or dinner. When we get things better situated, we’ll put my regular dinette there, and I’ll repair more of the miniblinds, now that I know how. (Looked it up on eHow and learned on the fly.) The blinds are closed so you don’t see that the Casa “beautification project” has not yet carried over to the patio out front.

After my trip to New Orleans on Sunday, where I bought some lovely pork chops, chicken sausage  and chicken thighs for us, BF decided Monday to get. . .one of those “kits” to make tacos for lunch on Tuesday. I kid you not. At least he had the sense to get the crunchy taco kit, which has corn tortillas. No word about “gluten free,” but there was no wheat or its derivatives in any of the ingredients that I saw, so I was glad about that and reluctantly took part. (It does say that it was partly produced with GMO ingredients; my guess is the corn, which I rarely eat.) He asked me to brown the ground beef to get started, and of course, twenty minutes later, we had tacos–because he went into the living room to watch more TV. GRRR. . .but I got the job done.

Dinner was Mustard Pork Chops in the Crock Pot, which I may post soon. It was pretty good, and worthy of doing again. Because he really wanted. . .tacos. . .the chicken shifted to lunch on Wednesday, where I made him, for the first time, Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, or “The Hunter’s Stew,” which, in Nigella’s case, is “lazy hunter’s stew.” (It only takes 30 minutes.) Although it’s long been a comfort food favorite for me, this was his first taste of it. Thumbs up–he likes it, and I can make it again for him. (Thanks.) The next day for dinner at work, he took some with a cup of rice, since he thought it “needed” some. No problem, I cooked up a small batch of white rice for him and added it to the container. Along with a slice of made-from-scratch pound cake from his friend’s birthday, he was all set for work.

Now, if you’re interested in making this “hunter’s stew,” I want to point something out that’s not immediately obvious: although the printed recipe calls for a half-cup of pancetta cubes–which is perfectly acceptable, albeit expensive and hard to find here–you can also slice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon in place of it. That’s the way I’ve always made it since I saw the original show.  The show may be on YouTube; you’d just have to look for it.

It really is a nice comfort food. Even if it does come from across the pond. You’re welcome.

I’ve been in the larger Winn-Dixie in Hammond, and indeed they do have more organic produce. Surprise–they even have fresh sushi. I still hate sushi, but–they have it! I did some recon in the morning, and then did some shopping later in the day, mostly meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. I almost–ALMOST–thought I was in Kroger. And I kept saying “I live down in La Marque. . .” which, of course, is in Texas. Well, it’s probably because I felt like I was in Kroger. I sure do miss my HEB, though–the pork loin roasts I used to get on sale for $3 in HEB are something like $12 here. What’s up with that? I did find a nine-pound pork loin that was about 3 feet long, but we don’t have any place to store that monster. Another time.

Rouse’s has purchased a rival grocery store chain, so there will soon be a Rouse’s in Hammond for me to visit, right near that Winn-Dixie. That’ll be good, too.

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s next week! I really have lost my sense of date and time. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I won’t be cooking turkey. That’s OK, I cook turkey all year long (I just wish I could get turkey thighs here; maybe Albertson’s has them.) I asked BF the other night what our plans were for Thanksgiving; he said his brother usually does a big spread, and we would attend. (Just have to figure out what I’m going to wear.) Well, if I’m allowed, I’ll bring some of that fantastic Cranberry-Ginger Relish and maybe one or two other small things, but I warned BF that I would likely eat before I went. Longtime readers know that things like sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with other abominable things added to it and all things bread, pie and gravy are not coming my way. I’ll be happy to have some turkey–maybe a little mashed potatoes, too–but no gravy, please! Gravy, to me, kills the taste of everything under it. So this will be interesting, and maybe I’ll pull the Nordic Track out in the morning before we go.

Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?

So, what do you do when you’re hosting such an occasion and have health concerns to consider? (Besides panic, that is.) Or, surprise, his new girlfriend is a vegetarian, and he’s going vegan soon too? Knowing this in advance helps, of course, but sometimes you don’t, so having some extra vegetable dishes helps (just don’t use chicken stock!) I’ve written about these kinds of things before, and you can also get some help on Martha Stewart’s website, under “All Things Thanksgiving.” Sur la Table has also published its annual Thanksgiving Guide, and it’s available online or as a free download to print. BF and I caught a bit of the Rachael Ray Show the other day, and someone named Clinton Kelly was making dishes you could make in advance: Turkey Meatballs, a Roasted Vegetable Soup (which looked pretty good, actually), which you could make in advance and freeze, then serve from the Crock Pot and some popover kinds of things with smoked salmon.  The Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is really good, too. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific, please check out the worlds’s biggest idea database, Pinterest.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is getting started on your Thanksgiving planning early. Get that turkey NOW, if you haven’t already. Get your brine mix, or make it, NOW, because the turkey has to thaw first, AND you have to make the brine ahead of time. Buy your ingredients early, especially the unusual stuff, like puff pastry or something else that everyone will be looking for like fresh or dried sage. Doing potluck? Ask and assign people a specific dish–dressing, veg, cornbread, whatever–so you avoid the problem of everyone stopping at the grocery and picking up a cake or cupcakes at the last minute. All dessert and little turkey does *not* make happy dinner guests, you know? A broad variety of different vegetable dishes, and maybe including maybe a pilaf or risotto (using vegetable stock) can keep everyone happy and well-fed while including the vegetarians and not calling them out for it.

Brining a turkey? Here’s one from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (warning: it has brown sugar) and one from Martha Stewart’s website. If you want to brine a turkey–and I highly recommend it–get going. Now. Juniper berries might be hard to find soon.

It’s also a great time to dust off the slow cookers and the waffle makers if you’re not using them regularly. Make sure all your appliances work before the big day, too. And isn’t there something you can slow-cook or waffle ahead of time? (Cranberry Ginger Relish can be made a few days in advance, thank heavens.)

Yes, it’s time to get your thinking cap on. Quick. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, it’s time to take inventory so your Thanksgiving will go well and everyone, including yourself, will enjoy themselves. (Here’s some advice I wrote about last year that may help.)

Here’s another tip: READ your recipes and understand them before you shop and get started. Case in point: last night I decided to make something new for me and BF. Seems he’s never had eggs with tomatoes in his life, despite his claim of “I’ve been all around the world!” So, I found this recipe for Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce in one of the Everyday Food cookbooks last night, and asked him if he’d like to try it. He said he would try it, with a bit of reluctance in his voice. (Next question I asked: “Do we have any anchovies?” Oh, the look on his face was priceless.) In the book, this recipe makes two servings, not the four that’s on the website. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the book called for a HALF can, 28 ounces, of tomatoes. Skimming over the ingredients, I just figured I could use two cans of tomatoes, 14.5 ounces. That’s pretty much the same, all right? WRONG–it was, indeed, way too much tomato, and that was his first comment. (I ate them, though.) I noticed the difference when I put the book away–and then made a note of it. He said he’d like to have it again, with half as much tomatoes. Done. (And maybe an anchovy, too, but don’t tell BF–I hide that kind of stuff in a drawer of the fridge.)

The point: please READ carefully and understand before you do something dumb like I do sometimes. Especially for Thanksgiving. OK? Don’t forget the hot mess I made when I invited The GER over a few years ago. It can happen to you. READ. Please.

Now, would I leave you without help for Thanksgiving? Of course not.

Remember last time, when NM handed me a bunch of apples to take home? Well. . .I did put them in the Crock Pot, and darnit, they were pretty tasty! I made them at the same time as the pork chops, but not because I had pork chops. BF wasn’t wild about them cooked, he’d rather have fresh. But, it’s fall, and it feels like fall, so I wanted to try something different.

I actually made two batches, in two different slow cookers, to see what would happen with two different sweeteners–SomerSweet and Agave Syrup. I think this would make a great lower-carb/gluten-free alternative to the traditional apple pie. Either for everyone, or just for guests like me who would rather keep the calorie count down.

If you’re planning to have an apple dessert, or more than one, for Thanksgiving, this is an easy one to toss in and forget for a while. I actually made it a second time with bigger, fresh red apples so I could take pictures and show you how it’s made.

When I cruised through Pinterest to find apples in the Crock Pot, I didn’t find much in the way of healthy versions–mostly, they were loaded with sugar. GRRRR. . .but of course, we have alternatives in our world, don’t we?

The setup

The setup

Yes, that’s the same sherry vinegar I have around to make Cranberry Ginger Relish, but since I don’t use it often, and it only takes a small amount, I decided to try it in this apple dish. You could use red wine vinegar, or just leave it out if you wanted. But I found that the sherry vinegar added a nice depth of flavor that’s not often in apple dishes.

I started out by washing all the apples, of course:

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

The first time I made this, I used just cinnamon. I decided to use apple pie spice for this incarnation, because I’m glad I did. I made some using this recipe, but because not everything is unpacked, I couldn’t find any allspice. So, it was back to Winn-Dixie for more after I picked up BF from work Sunday afternoon. He wanted some hot chocolate because the weather had turned cold. While he was prowling around looking for that, I went to the spices. Hmmm. . .should I get the stuff called “natural,” which is a rather nebulous word on food products, or get the brand I frequently bought in Houston?

It's "natural," whatever that means." No, it's not organic, I checked.

It’s “natural,” whatever that means.” No, it’s not organic, I checked.

 

That's more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

That’s more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

I picked up that bottle that was $1.64 and put it in the little hand basket. Then BF returned to the spice aisle and was of the impression that I’m not getting what I wanted. He then said to me, “Look! Here’s all the ‘allspice’ you could ever want, right here!”

He called this "allspice."

He called this “allspice.”

Oh, he was so funny, gesticulating towards all those spice blends. Giggling, I took the little bottle out of the hand basket and showed it to him:

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

BF was in the Navy, you know. Fortunately, he was *not* on KP in the galley (kitchen), or he would have been keel-hauled for making that mistake. He only had to put up with me laughing at him all the way home.

This apple pie spice mix recipe from Life Made Sweeter is quick and easy, and I made a double batch to make sure I had enough:

The setup

The setup

 

Just blend them up!

Just blend them up!

 

Bottled, but I couldn't find my label maker in time.

Bottled, but I couldn’t find my label maker in time.

And use it like you would the store-bought stuff. No sugar or other additives to worry about. (Of course, yesterday, I found another carefully packed box marked “Amy Pantry,” which had not one, but two bottles of allspice. GRRR.)

Back to it–I started by putting a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the crocks:

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Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering if there’s a deliberate reason for a black and white crock. Well, yes, and I used it–the black one was mine, a replacement during a Karma of Spare Parts incident, last year, I think, when I sent the 4-quart crashing to the floor on a Sunday. They no longer had white, so black it was. The white crock belongs to BF. The difference came in handy: the black one had apples cooked with Agave Syrup, and the white one had apples cooking in SomerSweet.

Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)

Then started cutting the apples and adding them to the crock, and rolling them around in the oil:

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Yes, I was drinking coffee whilst I made this. It was early, and cold that morning.

Then I added in the apple pie spice mix to both crocks:

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Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

Then added in a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar to each one:

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

And then I added the respective sweeteners:

Agave in the black one

Agave in the black one on the left

 

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the right one

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the white one on the right.

Mix it all up again to coat the apples with the rest of it:

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Agave pot

 

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SomerSweet pot

And cooked it on low for about 4 hours.  What happened? Well. . .it was interesting, and BF gave me his honest opinion (I only had to needle him a little bit.)

Hmmm. . .looks like Miss Food Blogger forgot to take a picture of the results. Oh, well. I had three things going on at once. . .and we just ate them!

While BF would prefer eating apples raw, he said that the apples cooked with SomerSweet were a little less sweet, and still somewhat crisp, although they weren’t hard like a fresh apple. The agave syrup crock apples were softer and sweeter than the others, and that’s the one he preferred.

If I had cooked them longer they would have probably been a lot softer, and maybe even soft enough for applesauce. But peeling all them apples? No thanks. It was just something to use them up the first time.

Agave syrup works for a lot of different things, including a replacement for honey, with less of an insulin spike than honey would give. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, I just read about these things.)  SomerSweet’s primary ingredient, erythrytol, is a sugar alcohol that’s also quite sweet and works like regular sugar, also without the insulin spike.

For you and your guests who don’t want pie or other heavily-sugared dessert, baking apples in your Crock Pot may be a good alternative to have around, and in the Crock Pot, couldn’t be easier. But why wait for Thanksgiving? Apples are in season now, and available all year around–make some this week or this weekend, and see how you like it. Tweak it to make it yours, and offer it with pride on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of those things you can set and forget.  You may be asked to make it again next year, or even before then–and what would be wrong with that?

Now for another side dish that’s also low-carb. Spaghetti Squash. Have you tried it? I have. They’re hard as a rock and can be somewhat dangerous to cut, especially the larger ones. Easiest method I knew of, until now, was to cut it in half, scrape out all the seeds and strings, coat the inside with a touch of olive oil, and roast at 350F cut side down for an hour.  I used to use the toaster oven to roast even the larger ones, but now I don’t have a toaster oven. What to do? Well. . . .

I also follow a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I found a recipe there a while back, and I may have posted it here, but I can’t find it now. HOWEVER–a few weeks ago, this recipe for Crockpot Spaghetti Squash with Lasagne Bolognese showed up and got my attention. I haven’t made the Bolognese sauce yet, but I might one day.

But cooking a spaghetti squash in the Crock Pot? Why haven’t I tried this before?

Tieghan makes up her sauce, adds it into the Crock Pot, then puts the whole, untouched spaghetti squash right on top the sauce. No kidding. So I pulled out the big one and put the (little) squash in it, because the ovals were needed for the apples.

I just pulled off the sticker, washed it off, dropped it in, turned it to low and left it alone for a good 8 or 9 hours.

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You put the food in, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and leave it alone:

Really--just let it go.

Really–just let it cook itself.

I did this early on Monday, and about suppertime, this is what came out:

It's cooked, it really is.

It’s cooked, it really is.

And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:

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Either use a good potholder or wait til it cools, then cut it in half to remove the seeds. Once you’ve got the “guts” out of it, scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork into your serving bowl:

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Photo credit: BF, because I can’t do this and snap the picture.

Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:

I only had rosemary handy.

I only had rosemary handy.

Mix it up well, and if needed, re-heat in the microwave or on top the stove, or leave in the oven to keep it warm:

Yum.

Yum.

And you’ve got delicious and perfectly cooked spaghetti squash for your vegetarian guests. (You could also use olive oil if you don’t want to use butter.) But don’t be surprised if the non-veg folks dig into it–spaghetti squash is delicious when cooked well and seasoned right. (If only I could get BF to try a bite of it; he hates squash across the board.)

So, did I give you some new ideas for a great Thanksgiving meal? Alternatives for your guests, maybe? Or just something different and deliciousi for dinner this weekend? (November also has 29 *other* dinners to prepare besides Thanksgiving, you know.) I hope this helps, and I hope everyone has a tasty and happy Thanksgiving next week.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Amy, there you go again, banging on about SomerSweet again. You have the last three cans of it in existence!” Well, here you go. I hope to finish the post on a new replacement for SomerSweet for you, but I want to reach out to the company and find out more from them. I will tell you that I found it in Whole Foods in Mandeville, it’s called Swerve, and the company is located in New Orleans!

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More to come on this, hopefully soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!