RaceTrac–a nice little place to stop in the South.
Hello, again, Dear Readers:
It’s Good Friday, and I’m in Starbucks today! Why? The library’s closed. It’s open on Saturday, but not Good Friday. I haven’t seen anyplace close down for Good Friday since I worked at Baylor College of Medicine–how long has that been? But that’s OK–it’s a “star dash” weekend, giving extra points for the Bacon Gouda Breakfast Sandwich. I had two, although not at once, and it bumped up my points. I now have two free things coming, which I’ll save for my next trip to New Orleans.
As you’ll see in today’s post, Starbucks isn’t the only place to get coffee when you’re out and about in the South. If you see a RaceTrac on your travels, I’ll tell you why you need to stop there.
Progress in La Casa de Rurale
BF put up my EZ-Gym, finally, seven months after I got here and four months after taking it out of my big suitcase. I’ve actually used it this week, too, while watching one of my Britcom DVDs. Since the episodes are exactly 30 minutes long, it’s a great way to time your exercise, especially on a machine like the Nordic Track. But the EZ-Gym is a neat thing to have, easy to use once you get the hang of it, and portable if you need it to be.
We don’t have a Home Depot or Lowe’s, but we do have a small Ace Hardware (where I went to visit the baby chickens a while back) and another “hometown” hardware store that BF has taken me to a few times. (There is a Lowe’s in Hammond, 30 minutes away.) I went in for the wood screws to mount it to the wall, and came out with a canvas painter’s drop cloth, too. What the heck?
In the latest issue of Mary Janes’ Farm magazine, there’s an article on making “budget” linen tablecloths out of them. I’ve considered using drop cloth before (for projects from the old Martha Stewart Living magazines), but the stuff in Home Depot was too heavy and stiff. Our local place had the exact same brand and type that Mary Jane Butters used, so I grabbed one. You use the 6 ounce weight, because the 10 ounce is too heavy.
As MaryJane instructed, I washed it three times, let it dry outside the third time, then washed it a fourth to make sure it didn’t smell like a manufacturing plant. It feels pretty nice now that it’s all washed out. It’s a 9-foot by 12-foot piece, which comes out to 36 yards of fabric, for $17.99. That sounds like stuff I bought at Hancock Fabrics. I’ve got the big dining room table measured, I just haven’t made the tablecloth yet. But I can’t wait to tell people it’s “an expensive Belgian linen tablecloth.” Pictures when I finish it.
BF says he needs to get back into exercising and back into shape. For some time, my “exercise routine” has consisted of moving and unpacking boxes, doing laundry and washing up, chasing a frisky 60-pound pit bull around, investigating and cleaning up cluttered corners and moving stuff either out to the rubbish pile, the burn pile or to the trash can for pickup on Thursday. Since I’ve been busy freelancing (still no million-dollar paychecks yet) I haven’t been doing that, hence, the EZ-Gym being installed on the only free wall stud in the studio. (BF had to make his silly joke about “looking for a stud? Here I am!”) If I ever start traveling again, I’ll buy another one to keep in my suitcase. It’s not going to work setting it up on a door in BF’s place. I can see the TV from that spot, too.
He has rather muscular arms (particularly the biceps), and wants to start lifting those 15-pound hand-held weights again, as well as use his regulation punching bag and boxing gloves out in the garage. I’m using my kettle bells again, in addition to the EZ-Gym and the old Exercise TV No Sweat Yoga DVD last Saturday morning. (This morning was an hour of walking, partly with the Hounds.) I explained kettle bells to him, but he said, “yeah, we did that in the Navy.” Okay, bud. But I guess it’s time we started working out, either separately or together, or both, because he watches a lot of TV after work. And we aren’t getting any younger.
If I could just get him dancing properly. . .he grabs my left hand and doesn’t understand that it should be my right. Maybe I should find a “couples yoga” or “dance with me” DVD for us. . . .
I told him that if he really, REALLY wants to lose a few pounds, his Cokes would be a good thing to eliminate. In addition to all the awful things that soft drinks are, Cokes are 140 calories a can, primarily sugar. He drinks 4 a day when he’s at work, and occasionally one or two, more buying them by the case twice a week. So that’s at least 560 calories per day he could drop, and replace it with something healthier (like water, darnit.) Additionally, he could drop the L’il Debbie “fairy cakes” he likes to pack with his lunch (just my sarcastic nickname for them.) Now, calories aren’t the be-all and end-all of weight loss, otherwise we could all subsist on chocolate bars and be thin. There has to be real nutrition to keep the “machine” running. Or you can see this in your future:
Anyway. . .between the EZ-Gym, the Thighmaster set (yes, I use it regularly), yoga, and kettle bell moves, I hope to get back into a better shape this summer, and beyond. Biking, well, not so much yet, since I’d be by myself, unless I decide to get myself one of those bike trainers you put your cycle on and pedal while watching TV. (Gotta rustle up more clients and money soon!)
The gardening still isn’t going on much, although I do have some new little tomato seedlings. The Hatch chile seeds, however, did not germinate, and there are no seedlings, darnit. I know where to order some seeds, but will keep trying with the ones I have been saving, first. GRRRR. . .I’ve only met one person here who knows what Hatch chiles are, everyone else, I have had to “school.”
The Key Lime and Meyer Lemon trees are doing well, and I see lots more buds than I did in Houston, and we’ll have a bumper crop of key limes, too. I haven’t planted the darn trees yet; maybe this weekend. I’ve got green onions going on, and I hope I haven’t killed my little Rosemary plant. If I did, I can go back to the local Ace hardware store and get another one, while visiting the little baby chickens. (Haven’t done that in a while.)
I know, I know. . .pictures, Amy.
Miss Shirley, you will be happy to know that sitting here in Starbucks, I just discovered a place I need to go investigate.
It’s probably not like the Genoa Friendship Garden (that was a fun place!) but it’s local, and it’s all about gardening. When I get there, I’ll give a full report.
Now, if they have Hatch chiles, I’ll be tap dancing on the bar!
Longtime readers know of my affinity for coffee, and for Starbucks. But in addition to the local PJ’s, I’ve also discovered a new place to get pretty good coffee. It’s a convenience store that sells more than just Twinkies and Cokes.
When I visited BF last year, I needed petrol for my rental car to return home. Because it was right there off the freeway (or as they call it here, “th’ Innerstate”) and coffee for my soul (and the trip back to Texas) it was my first stop on the way out. I have to say it was pretty darn good coffee, and a nice clean place. But I was on my way back to Houston, and never gave it a second thought. Because. . .I was never coming back, right?
Nine months later, I’m lamenting the loss of my fabulous HEB, IKEA, and multiple Starbucks within a five mile radius, one walking distance from the front door. The Racetrac in my new ‘hood is being renovated. When they finally re-opened, it was much nicer than before, with lots of new menu options, including frozen yogurt and packaged salads.
This is a petrol station?
It sure is, and a lot more. Really, REALLY nice people work there, too.
I’ve gone in many times with my black 16-ounce stovepipe Starbucks travel mug and gone for the hot, fresh decaf on the way to the library, and shot some Hazelnut or Caramel sugar-free flavoring in before adding in half & half.
Recently RaceTrac installed a new center-island fixture that has, among other things, three kiosk screens to order yourself some food or fancy coffee drinks. On one trip, I was filling up my Starbucks mug for a 98-cent “grande” when I was asked, “Would you like to try one of our new espresso drinks for free?”
Someone is offering me free coffee? Yes, please! I just say “thank you.”
Well, I did ask if they could make it decaf–yes, we can! So we were off. After handing me a coupon to take to the register later, we walked over to the kiosk screen and I tapped it in. Cappuccino, French Vanilla flavoring, whipped cream, extra shot of espresso. . .POOF! Off it went to their ordering system behind the coffee counter, where the nice lady made it fresh on this machine:
They can flavor it any way you like:
They can also make the iced coffee drinks for you, too:
Those machines, of course, are designed for heavy industrial use–every day.
I paid for the regular coffee and the cashier rang up a $3.75 coffee drink for free. Of course, I said “thank you” many times–I’m no slouch! I took that and my *regular* coffee with me to the library, sipping the cappuccino first on a clear, cold Louisiana day. Suddenly, the day was a little bit better.
There have been other times
Occasionally, randomly, I have poured some hot decaf, fixed the way *I* want it, got to the counter and was asked, “is that all you have?” Yes. The cashier’s response has been, “have a nice day,” or “OK, you’re good.” In other words, your coffee is free today! It’s a random thing, or maybe I should download the RaceTrac app and know when they have “free coffee” days. While I have spent a fair amount of money on 98-cent coffee over the last few months, especially when it’s cold, I’m heading over to pay the water bill for BF, or I have a few minutes before BF gets out of work, I have also been randomly offered free coffee, too.
I just say “thank you.”
It’s a Southern thing
RaceTrack is headquartered in Atlanta, and operates facilities in 12 southern states. While the stores here aren’t as big as Buc-ee’s, the folks are every bit as friendly, and darnit, the coffee’s good, too. They have a full breakfast menu–even croissants!–and breakfast wraps that look pretty good (although I haven’t tried them yet.) I’ve seen those packaged salads, but not bought any yet. With three kiosk screens, they make up some of the food on demand, as well as the espresso drinks.
An Epic Discovery
And what do they have mixed in with the candy bars, small bottles of liquor and little packets of cake? Epic Bars! No kidding–in semi-rural Louisiana, they have my beloved Epic bars, but only one kind–the Bison with Cranberry. Nobody else here has them, except RaceTrac. Sometimes they’re on sale, 2 for $5, and I’ve bought a pair and taken them to my “work place” at the Tangi Library many times. (Can’t do that too often, though.) I can get a full line of them on Epic’s website, of course. I can also find them locally at Whole Foods in Mandeville, Baton Rouge and New Orleans (not sure about Hammond, but I haven’t looked, either.) But here? Even the cashiers don’t know what they are! I think I’m the only one who buys them, but of course, I’m happy to have them available.
BF has less than polite things to say about Epic Bars, but, well, maybe that’s one too many MRE’s in his past, too. Guess I shouldn’t have given him the turkey one to try first.
Your Southern Summer Stop
If you’re traveling this year to see friends, family, or just going somewhere in the South, RaceTrac is a good place to stop. Starbucks has forced everyone to up their game, so better coffee is more available, even in decaf.
Like I said, Racetrac isn’t Buc-ee’s (which is a Texas thing), but it’s a pretty nice place. You can find RaceTrac locations on their website, and you can also go to their Facebook page and read more about them. RaceTrac also has an app you can download to find out about new stuff and get points or something. If ever I do download it (whenever I upgrade my rather aged iPhone, of course) I’ll let you know how it works.
It’s not Buckingham Palace, OK? Not even Buc-ee’s. But RaceTrac is a good place to stop if you’re driving through the South this summer.
Made a new friend this week
Speaking of Atlanta, I met a lady in the library the other day who moved here with her adult daughter and husband temporarily. It was great to talk with someone. . .who knows what it’s like to have that culture shock! She said there is a company in Atlanta that’s similar to RaceTrac, where she moved from, called QuickWay. Apparently, RaceTrac goes head-to-head in the Georgia Market.
Know what else my new friend misses? The awesome east-coast grocery chain Publix. Just like I miss my HEB! However, she has married an African man. No, I mean, African from Africa; she’s a black American woman, she’s from here, too. Her husband is from West Africa, and they are getting ready to relocate overseas. No kidding. The wars are over, and they are going to Liberia to help re-build the country (he’s in construction.) She’s been there before, of course. I can’t blame her for being excited–it’s a big adventure, and of course, her relatives in Louisiana are not happy about her going all the way to West Africa. I can certainly empathize–my parents didn’t want me moving six hours away to Houston at the age of 34, and they don’t even like me!
Anyway. . . .
Winn-Dixie’s new Plenti
Winn-Dixie is changing their rewards program, and the new one is called “Plenti.” Whatever. The cashiers all have new shirts, and the bags are now a bright robins-egg blue. They nag you until you agree to changing it all over. The black cards are going away. I have so many cards from all over the US, I just didn’t need another. My new friend and I were discussing that too. Big, fat hairy deal. Still no place to put your coffee in their baskets.
Here’s a tip: put them all on a separate key ring. Just don’t punch a hole in any magnetic strips. Keeps your key ring from getting too heavy and damaging your ignition.
Until next time
Here’s hoping everyone has an enjoyable Easter Sunday with a great holiday dinner. As I’ve long said, there’s nothing wrong with spending holidays alone, if that’s what your only option is. You make and have a good dinner, wine if you want it, and a tasty dessert. Enjoy a day off to do something enjoyable, whatever that is (unless you’re lucky enough to have a job and are working.)
I don’t yet know what we’re doing, but it won’t be the big thing I did at Thanksgiving. No, BF wants “simpler,” so, if we’re having The Kids, it’ll be a lot of what *he* can cook up quickly. I think my days of big gourmet adventures are about over, long as I live here. (Unless the GER asks.) Heck, I might end up at RaceTrac, I dunno.
Easter is another Sunday to me, with chocolate. I want a steak salad, and the DVDs I got from the library, with the sewing machine on full tilt. I hope the cat can handle it.
Starbucks–I spent the weekend in Hammond, sort of.
Happy Monday, Dear Readers!
A local festival locked up the library last week, so I told BF, “heck with it–I’m headed to Starbucks.” So I did. Transferred some money from PayPal into my Starbucks account–yes, you can do that–and while BF worked at his place of business, I worked at Starbucks. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and a quick stop on Sunday at the Mandeville Starbucks on the way home from Whole Foods for an iced coffee. Let me tell you all about it.
But first, some news.
We’ll be seeing some new “functional” foods in the US soon, called Freedom Foods. If you’re thinking it’s for patriotic Americans, well. . .think again. It’s an Australian company, and will be distributed in the US by AFT Holdings. They’re a “major player” in the “functional health cereal,” snack and beverage market Down Under, but my guess is that you won’t be getting the same thing you get in Australia–the formulations will be “Americanized.” Just a guess.
Ardent Mills is promoting North American-grown quinoa, including products made with quinoa flour: nutrition bars, cereals, chips, gluten-free pastas and other snacks. Can they keep the quinoa from becoming GMO or contaminated with GMO? Part of the appeal is that it’s not grown in the US, so it usually isn’t. Fingers crossed.
Less sugar, more starch. . .right.
A British ingredient company has a new sweetener called avante that claims to allow bakers to use less sugar in their products. This tapioca-based product, which is being called a “clean, non-GMO starch,” is still going to be a sugar, especially if they continue to reduce the fat content in these sweets. (Diabetics already know this.) But sweets aren’t something we consume every day, right? Right?
Anyway. . .
The local festival used to be at what they call the “fair grounds,” up the street, but now it’s in the street in front of the library. Rides, vendors, etc., like every church fair you’ve ever been to, except in the street. Whatever–all I know is the library was blocked off Thursday, closing early on Friday and closed all day Saturday. I’m back in the library today, getting back into the swing of things.
BF has been “having a craving” for crawfish lately, and Friday night he gave in. Took us to one of those places up the street from the library that doesn’t have a website, they just have seafood and laminated menus. Me, I could take it or leave it. . .but a nice plate of steak or chicken fajitas, some good guacamole, pico de gallo, and maybe some crispy corn chips? Oh, out of my way!
He bought six pounds of them, a couple of chunks of corn on the cob and a few potatoes, which are traditionally boiled in with the crawfish. We took them home and carefully kept them away from the pit bull on the way in the front door. Admittedly, as indifferent as I was to having crawfish again, they were pretty darn good. We sat at the big dining table with some of those big round trays he keeps for such a purpose and dove in. The cat was very interested in what she was smelling, but when offered a bit, turned her nose up. And the leftover shells and corn cobs? BF put those outside near a huge drainpipe for the night creatures. Next morning it was clean. We have visions of possums and raccoons cheering for such a special meal. But they don’t say much, they just enjoy it.
Working. . .in Starbucks
No kidding, I just set up my laptop and stuff, take my black stovepipe coffee mug and walk up to the counter. Since I’ve been in there a lot, and Hammond’s store doesn’t seem to have much turnover, the folks who work there seem to know me when I hit the front door. With earned money on my app, I asked for coffee and one of their breakfast sandwiches. I was hungry, so. . .I had one. (Three, actually, one a day.) That’s not a regular thing, but these were unusual circumstances. I dropped my honey off at his place of employment and hit the road.
Hammond is about a 30-minute drive from Casa de Rurale, and I’ll either listen to the radio, stream music or chant for a while. (In Houston, we called that “windshield diamoku.”) Starbucks is kind of my “Hammond Central,” just because I know where it is. I also know where Winn-Dixie, Tuesday Morning, Rouse’s, Harbor Freight Tools, Lowe’s, RaceTrac (subject of an upcoming blog post) and. . .drum roll. . .Walmart is. They’re all up the street from Starbucks!
I really was working
Today my newest client just gave me two more jobs, and I have another article due next week for the natural health folks. That article is going to spawn a blog post here, BF will be treated to some new food, and possibly another taste-tester or two. I’ll have a backlink for you to read the client article in the blog post, too–but I haven’t finished the article nor the work for the blog post yet. That baking may be this week or at the weekend, so keep your fingers crossed for that one.
I got some coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and got to it. I finished up the last article for my natural health client first, and sent it off to them. They’ve accepted it, and I’ve been paid for it. After a message exchange, I asked about the next one. Checking my milestones, I realized that the next the next article was due on the 29th, and another April 4th, I think. But my newest client’s work work was due sooner. She was supposed to send it, but I hadn’t heard from her, so I checked in. Whoops! Someone slipped up, it was late, and she sent it shortly thereafter. With a free refill on the decaf I put down the next article that I’ve already started, got right on her web copy re-write.
Starbucks Rewards–it pays!
I don’t know if it was just the Hammond store or what, but they’ve been running a special with the breakfast sandwiches–a couple of them are $5 with a coffee. That’s going on until something like April 5th. Well, the sandwiches run about $4.50, and coffee is anywhere from $2 on up, so yes, it’s a good thing. With my own coffee tumbler, there’s a ten-cent discount as well (not just for Rewards members, either.)
I learned to work the system
Then there is what they call a “Star Dash”–a period of time where you buy or do certain things or make a certain number of purchases–and you receive a sum of “bonus stars” (points) in return. Sometimes it’s using their mobile ordering app, which I’ve done. Sometimes it’s getting a breakfast sandwich, a certain type of coffee (i.e., a Flat White) and a dessert item, either separately or together, for those stars. But this particular time, it was from March 14 through March 20. If you make 5 separate purchases, no matter the dollar amount, you would receive 75 bonus stars, in addition to the stars you already receive by the actual purchase (say, 10 stars.) If you make 7 purchases, you would receive 200 bonus stars. These stars also count towards the continuation of your “gold” status for another year.
If you went into Starbucks every day for a coffee, as many Americans do, you would probably reach 125 stars, after spending $62.50. That’s how much you spend normally to reach 125 stars and get a free thing. But if you hit one of the star dashes, well, that goes up quick. I already had a free thing from a previous promotion, and I used it last week. But I still managed to rack up the 200 bonus points.
I got hungry
There was the coffee and breakfast sandwich first thing, and then free refills as long as I was there. But woman does not live on free coffee alone. And dinner was hours away, after BF got off work. We did have one day of CrockPot dinner. There was also a leftover night and Pizza Waffles on the Griddler. But in between, I did some investigation on what was available. In addition to the breakfast sandwiches, which are *not* gluten free, they have panini, but no sandwiches or salads. Pass. And of course, they have the cake pops, cookies, muffins and other baked goods available in the case, but I decided to go out of the case and try something new.
Something sweet was just the ticket, and I found these while waiting in line:
There are three chocolate cookies in this package, and I have to say they were not only tasty, but filling, too. Never seen them before? Me either–but they were good. They’re organic, gluten free and vegan–what could be wrong with that? Nothing, from what I saw:
Healthy nibbles that were definitely worth it:
So what’s in the package? These cute little rounds:
No frosting, no fancy design, just a cute little round. What do they taste like?
These really are good–sweet but not *too* sweet. They’re about $3 a packet, so I wouldn’t be doing these daily. (Remember this was kind of unusual.) But they’re a pretty good thing to have with afternoon coffee.
The blonde version
I also found the Vanilla Bean version right next to it, and had them the next day:
The ingredients are similar:
They’re good, but I prefer the chocolate version.
Emmy’s Organics makes a variety of flavors, available on their website, of these coconut cookies. You can read more about Ian and Samantha’s little company here, how they got started and how they’ve grown.
So what else did you find?
If you are missing Girl Scout Cookies, or wish they came gluten free, here’s a fake-me-out version that you might be interested in:
They’re non-GMO and gluten free, but what’s in them?
Tread carefully, since these are high in carbs. I didn’t try these because I found the coconut cookies, but I might have. I was thinking about it, anyway.
There is also meat:
I didn’t try these either, because I didn’t notice them early enough. Maybe next time. My choice would have been beef, of course:
I didn’t ask the price for these, either, but I should have. Next time.
All around me, things were coming up spring:
And a lot of telling information here:
They don’t sell soft drinks, but some of these specialty beverages are every bit as sugary.
They also have new cups for Easter:
This is what one of them says:
So after all that, I found myself with 304 points, which meant two free things. Yesterday I headed to Mandeville for my district meeting, and after a quick forage in Whole Foods, I hit the Starbucks across the street. I was really, really hoping they had salads, but no. It’s warmed up again here, so I decided on a large, fancy iced coffee. The Iced Cinnamon Almond Milk Macchiato looked good to me, and it was–mostly.
I asked for decaf *and* sugar free syrup, so I guess it was not exactly to spec. I added a packet of pink and it was still a bit strong, so I added some half & half. Now it was perfect! I put it in the cup holder and headed back to the Casa. It was a pretty good day.
Stop Hating on Starbucks!
OK, so, I know the GER is reading this and gritting his teeth, wondering why I keep going in there. And there’s probably one or two other readers who don’t agree with me on going in. First, well, it’s the best place to go in these parts and get as much free coffee as they’ve given me. And they do a lot of good.
There’s a rumor that has been around for many years that says “Starbucks doesn’t support our troops.” True, they do have their political leanings, but they also do a lot of good. Not everyone can get hired on, but there are good benefits for people who do. But for our military folk, Starbucks does step up to the plate.
It started with an email
The story is here on their website, how how it all went down with a U.S. Marine. Starbucks has facilities all over the world, including military bases. They’ve made the goal to hire more vets and vet spouses. And they deliver coffee to service members overseas.
Yes, I remember #RaceMatters, and the blowback they got for it. Nobody’s perfect. And I know about their preferences in states with concealed carry. But it’s still a nice little place to go sometimes.
The people who actually work in the Hammond store are pretty darn nice, and are happy to make my decaf. So are the customers. I had mostly the same experience in Houston, except for that one down in the Tunnel. You meet some nice folks in Starbucks. My friend BS, who left Boeing to move back to New Mexico about ten years ago, met his wife in there not long after he moved there. They’ve been married for, what–eight years now? Maybe not that long. I’m not looking for another boyfriend, of course, but I’ve talked to some really nice folks in there. There’s one man I see frequently who’s polite, and in between projects, we talk about stuff sometimes.
Still missing Texas
I still miss my HEB, and the Starbucks on my Street, and of course, my friends. I know some people here, and just accepted a friend request from a lady who is leaving the library for a better job on Friday. I finally got a rack for my kitchen stuff, and unpacked a bunch more boxes yesterday. BF gave me some help moving things around after I got all that taken care of, and we are both sore today. I’ll take a couple of pictures when I get it all finished.
I’m getting used to things, I guess. We realized the other day that it’s been six months since BF drove to Houston for a “rescue mission.” It’s not always smooth sailing, but we’re getting there. And the garden will be happening soon–the citrus trees have lots and lots of buds on them.
Meantime, I’m back writing for clients, and hanging out at the local library. It’s kind of nice to get out of the local vibe and hit Starbucks sometimes, or go work on a Sunday because I can get ahead on things.
I’ve got more stuff coming, so stay tuned.
Happy New Year, Dear Readers! Have you seen the No Cow Bar?
We’re getting started on a new year with good and bad, and thawing out after a weekend of hard freezing.
Have you started your New Year’s diet and exercise plan yet? Good. I’ve got some things to tell you about before you do. But first. . . .
More 2016 celebrity sudden deaths.
By now you’ve heard the sad news that one of my favorite songwriting musicians, George Michael, passed away Christmas Day from heart failure at 53. The E-Man called me from his family’s place in Florida to tell me. George was working on new music and a documentary, and by some reports, also battling a heroin addiction.
Additionally, his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice is being re-released soon. I’m glad, because I no longer have a copy. Cowboys and Angels is one of my favorite songs from that album, as well as from his entire body of work. Not many people have heard it, and I don’t know if it was released as a single. This link is to a symphonic version on YouTube; the original video has a scantily-clad female walking around surrounded by photographers. Here’s the original album version with only a picture of his face and without the potential for “not safe for work.” Wikipedia has this entry on the song.
Yes, it’s the same George Michael whose previous release contained some raunchier tunes, didn’t appear in videos for the videos from this album, and got this butt chewed by the one and only Frank Sinatra for complaining about his solo success. But he was also doing duets with Jody Watley, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, and others for a while, too.
The Force passes
Two days later, Carrie Fischer, best known as Star Wars’ Princess Leia, also passed away from a heart-related ailment. The next day, her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, passed away from what was reported to be a stroke. Some say it was a broken heart, and who could blame her? Ms. Reynold’s son Todd, Carrie’s sister, was tasked with burying both of them and handling their affairs, along with Carrie’s daughter. Very sad.
2016 was a culling for the entertainment world–David Bowie had cancer, Glenn Frey (The Eagles) had pneumonia, Prince had his issues with pain and prescriptions. . .what’s going on? I’m reading the possible answer, many celebrities are associated with prior drug use, or have continuing issues with them. Weak hearts, weakened immune systems, depressed hormone production–your system pays a price even after you quit. But it’s related to an upcoming blog topic.
And if you’re considering the January re-boot of your health, my next blog post will give you something to seriously consider. No, not just the latest diet fad, either.
Anyway. . .how was your Christmas?
Did you slow-cook anything? Break out the waffle maker for a quick dessert? Were you able to accomplish everything you wanted to for the big holiday dinner? Or were you happily alone without the nerve-wracking distractions a big-deal activity can hold?
Saturday brought me three visitors–one of which was Santa! Yes, the local fire department took out a truck and a guy with a beard and a heavy red suit for a ride around our area. He hopped out of the truck and brought me and a visiting friend of BF a paper sack with an orange, and apple, and two of those lovely powdery mints you sometimes find in restaurants when you pay your tab. We were outside chatting and up roars this fire engine from up the road. I asked Santa what kind of cookies he liked. He said, “Oh, I like all kinds of cookies.” I said, “remember, Rachael Ray doesn’t bake, but I do!”
What did we do?
Well. . .not much. BF had his son on Saturday, and Sunday was a trip down the road for dinner with his Dad and family. We did put a pork roast in the CrockPot, but other than that, nothing special. I didn’t do all the things I said I was going, to, though.
For the record, for the first time, I did not see the new Doctor Who Christmas Special. I’ll get to see it eventually. After getting BF to watch and enjoy last year’s Sherlock holiday special, The Abominable Bride, I’ll call that a success. He also watched part of the new installment of Sherlock this weekend. I won’t mention the spoilers, in case you have not seen it. But I’ll say that I didn’t see *that* coming in the first episode.
New Year’s Day Slow Cooking
I planned to head to New Orleans on New Year’s Day, but I wasn’t feeling well on Saturday night, and didn’t get up on time Sunday morning. You see, we had some seriously apocalyptic rain that weekend, and somehow I developed a headache, I believe, because of it. (We were again at BF’s father’s house, and his sister was in town bearing gifts for the little kids.) Or maybe it was this book I was reading–bought for a 2 year old child, but I decided to start reading it and couldn’t put it down. No kidding. (They were watching a football game.) I got 100 pages into it when BF said, “I’m ready to go home, are you?” Celtic Tales is now on my Amazon wish list. It’s *that* good.
To accommodate my absence and the need to eat, I decided to employ two of our slow-cooking machines and check with Stephanie O’Dea at A Year of Slow Cooking for advice. Well, Stephanie’s email last week had three recipes with black eyed peas, one of which was a chili with ground beef. BF liked that one, but called it a “Taco Soup.” Call it whatever you like, it was a pretty good idea. I also looked for cabbage, since BF asked, and found this nice one with cabbage and little potatoes. Both are pretty good, and highly recommended–but you’ll need a six-quart slow cooker for each of the recipes. I used a 4-quart for the cabbage, and ended up with more cabbage to shred for coleslaw. Thankfully, I’m the only one who likes coleslaw, so more for me.
But I still didn’t go to New Orleans, darnit.
The weather was pretty bad, too.
BF’s teenage son was again with us for the day, and his daughter came with her baby and fellah later in the day. BF was of the idea that they would come to eat–but they went to Cracker Barrel first. Oh, well–there’s chili in the freezer for another day. We finished off the frozen half of the 15-bean soup last week, with BF agreeing it was pretty darn good again.
OK, so what else is going on?
Well, because I didn’t make it to New Orleans on Sunday, I didn’t cover a couple of errands I needed, so I headed to Baton Rouge on Monday. In the rain. But it was OK.
The first place was Vitamin Shoppe, and after having some leftover homemade pecan pie and a few Chips Ahoy!–the most indulgent things I had this holiday season–I asked if there was something nice and chocolate that wouldn’t kill me. A number of things were available, but no chocolate-cherry Kind bars. But what do I find, but this:
The No Cow Bar in Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffle!
Longtime readers know my affinity for chocolate and raspberry in the same place. Although there were a number of flavors, including four chocolate, this is the one I got. What does it do for you? Well, it’s:
- Dairy Free
- Soy Free
- Gluten Free
- Extremely Low in Sugar
Made by a company called D’s Naturals, they offer “plant based perfection.” Now, y’all all know I’m not a vegan, but I do partake of the vegan stuff from time to time as a healthy alternative to junk food. I tried giving up meat–I thought I was going to starve to death, so no thanks. But this was kind of interesting.
The guy in Vitamin Shoppe said that the chocolate No Cow Bars were really good, but he hadn’t tried the Dark Raspberry Truffle himself. Well. . .I had to try it, I was getting hungry.
What’s in a No Cow Bar?
INGREDIENTS: PROTEIN BLEND (BROWN RICE PROTEIN, PEA PROTEIN), ISOMALTO-OLIGOSACCHARIDES* (PREBIOTIC FIBER), ROASTED COCOA NIBS, VEGETABLE GLYCERINE, ALMONDS, COCOA BUTTER, COCOA POWDER, NATURAL FLAVORS, WATER, SEA SALT, ERYTHRITOL, MONK FRUIT EXTRACT, STEVIA.
No, it’s not “all the same thing.”
Taste? No Cow Bar tastes pretty good–but don’t expect it to taste like a Hershey’s Dark Chocolate bar, OK? Sweet, with a chocolate raspberry flavor, but a softer texture than you’d expect. At $2.49 a bar, it’s more expensive than a candy bar. But there’s a lot more protein and less grams of sugar, too. (Vitamin Shoppe’s website has the nutritional breakdown here.) In the store, you can buy No Cow Bars individually or by the box, but online you’re stuck buying an entire box. So if No Cow Bars are something that you might be interested in trying in the New Year, find them at Vitamin Shoppe and try them one at a time first.
The next shopping holiday awaits
After Vitamin Shoppe, I had to head to the Mall of Louisiana, where I ended up doing half an hour of walking. I didn’t intend to, but that’s what happened. I didn’t mind–I met some nice people, and got a new battery for my 27-year-old watch. Found the Williams-Sonoma store, and couldn’t resist going in. Twice the size of the one we had at Baybrook Mall (now a “boutique” with ugly clothes), and lots more stuff. The holiday candies are on sale, but they’re still quite pricey, so I passed. (BF was glad for that, since I would have bought it for him.)
But hey–for a healthy treat, there’s always No Cow Bars!
You need this.
But now the Valentine’s Day promotions are starting, as well as Mardi Gras here in Louisiana. (Honestly, I couldn’t care less about Mardi Gras, ever.) While prowling, I found this gorgeous item:
It was the only one in the store, and nobody could figure out how much it was. That took a while, this cute little pot is. . .$150. No joke. This is a 1-quart Dutch oven in a heart shape. BUT–Le Cruset is made in France, so yes, it’s pricey. (Heavy enough to bake in *and* knock out your ex who shows up unexpectedly!) Just what you need for Valentine’s Day, right? We’ll pass.
What are we doing for V-D?
Probably not much. I think I still have the heart-shaped silicone cake pan packed in a box. I’ll make us a chocolate-raspberry something-or-other this year. V-D is on a Tuesday this year, so BF will probably be working anyway.
Have you made your 2017 resolutions yet?
If “losing weight” is one of your New Year’s Resolutions, I have a book for you to read. I know, you’ve heard the axiom “it’s calorie in, calorie out,” but nothing could be further from the truth. By that logic, you can eat candy bars all day long and “get healthy.” Having been on that seesaw since 1995, I can tell you that a) low-fat and fat-free diets are anything but healthy, b), in most cases, losing weight is not all about food, but food plays a big part of it, and c) there is a lot more to it than what you’ll hear at Weight Watchers. In my next post, I’ll introduce you to a book that will open your eyes if you haven’t read it yet. I’m reading it for the second time, and will soon post about it. Don’t miss it.
Meantime, have some healthy food, whatever you like to eat, and enjoy some calm now that the busy-ness of the holidays are over.
Hi, again, Dear Readers:
Yes, I know. . .we’re all sick of it. Tomorrow, it’s over. Got to be the worst ever. Yes, I early-voted. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
Many of you have probably noticed the inclusion of adverts on HeatCageKitchen in recent weeks. This is no accident. I read an article about how to simply do this, and, while I’ve got the widget set up and the desired ads in place. . .I’m not really good with the placement. So I’ve been fiddling with it and hoping it all comes out somewhat more aesthetically pleasing.
I can’t say that it’s necessarily worked. But the ads are there. I signed up for a number of additional affiliate programs, including Suzanne Somers’ website, but I don’t have the ads placed yet. I’ll get on that soon. And for some reason, I can’t see all the ads when I look at the site on the Mozilla browser, but they all show up on Google Chrome and Safari. Go figure.
There is a disclaimer on my About page that I do participate in affiliate programs. For the Amazon ads, I specified kitchen-y things for my site; if you click on the link and end up buying something, i think I’m supposed to get something out of it. I haven’t received any checks in the mail yet, but that’s OK. I probably need to get back into Google AdWords and mess with it a little more. I hope none of the ads are anything bad. . .this is a polite food blog, after all. I am primarily focused on kitchen stuff, foodie things and an affiliate link from my site host. But if you see something truly offensive, do take a screenshot and let me know about it.
Okay, let’s talk food.
Do you like potatoes? Do you hate the fact that if you don’t dunk them in water or use them fast enough after you cut them, they turn brown? Well, now you can rejoice. . .the FDA is approving potatoes that don’t turn brown. That’s right, two companies have received permission to create, market and sell genetically modified (GMO) non-browning potatoes. The idea is to keep more potatoes in the food supply, and reduce the number that are rejected for foodstuffs like potato chips. Or, more accurately, as one of the commenters stated, “So the chance of eating old or rotten potatoes is much better than it used to be for consumers.” Hit the nail on the head, she did. If you’ve read Wheat Belly, you know that your first clue is the term “genetically modified.” (Second would be “GMO.”) Nothing good comes out of this GMO business, despite what they say about it–allergies, mysterious illnesses, etc. Of course, you may not be told you’re buying anything GMO, but it’s there. BF recently bought a bag of potato chips that stated on the label that it was partially produced with GMO ingredients. Do you think he noticed it? Of course not–he can’t read print that tiny, nor would he pay attention to it. But I saw it and mentioned it. He only said that they taste good. One of these days he’s going to come home from the doctor and give me a list of things he’ll need meds for. Then, like Dr. Hotze says, he’ll be on a pot full of drugs. . .but of course, I’ll be intervening long before then.
Anyway. . . .
Last month, the local library hosted. . .a jazz concert. No kidding, the Reggie Sanders Trio came out and played for a couple of hours:
This is a small terrace upstairs, and on a normal day, it just has tables and chairs. But this particular day saw these folks play some nice music. The host, Mr. Sanders, gave us a bit of history about jazz and the area, too. We’d had a cool front, it was a beautiful day with dry weather and a nice breeze up there. BF had to work, which was a good thing, because he preferred to be at work than at a jazz concert.
But all I could think of was that as bad as everything was, and how life kind of crashed around me, I landed in a place with a small but fabulous library that hosts a jazz concert for me. (Well, other people came too.)
Now, it wasn’t just a concert–there were munchies as well, as well as some delicious iced coffee courtesy of the nice folks at Community Coffee, who also provide the free coffee available in the mornings:
I prefer the Mocha; the French Vanilla is a little too sweet for me. But I didn’t over-do it, and I stuck with the fruit, cheese and salami nibbles and left alone the mini-muffins.
Bad as it all is, I got to do this. So I give many thanks for that, as well as the opportunity to attend, and the BF who says, “sure, go ahead, just pick me up after work at. . . .”
After what I saw this past weekend with the area’s “community traffic congestion,” I’m definitely sticking to my low-carb/Paleo/gluten-free eating plan! I would rather just not eat than have something with wheat, soy or other stuff I know I need to avoid. The city had a “yard sale” that went for 15 miles on a two-lane highway, primarily residential. It’s apparently annual, but I only found out Wednesday night. I sold a few small things, BF made $100 for something he built, but we were required to get up before the chickens and be at his brother’s property for 6:00 am. (I still want to buy new dishes, darnit.) People were already lurking about when we were setting up and trying to thaw our feet from the early morning chill. BF had three handmade pallet items for sale, but only sold one, despite my best marketing. I called them “sustainable,” “recycled,” and “handmade by a local artisan,” but we only sold one. It didn’t help when I mentioned to the female shoppers that he was handsome, because, well, they’re all out looking for baby clothes. One lady said to me, “it must have been made by your husband or your brother.” I replied, “my boyfriend, and please don’t let him hear you say that.” Well, we’ll use them on the patio, and the pit bull has a place to hang out. Maybe I’ll find a nice belt sander and apply it so we can stain them later.
As the sun came out, we saw people with less and less clothes–shorts, t-shirts, etc., until finally I could take my jackets off and switch to a baseball cap. Of course, other folks did too–and many of them should *not* have been wearing shorts, if you get my drift. BF made a comment about it, and I said, “now do you understand why I eat the way I do?” I passed on the “honey bun” kindly offered to me at 5:45 am, and not because I wanted to be rude. I have extra weight I’m working on shifting, and I’ve lost about 10 pounds so far, but. . .good heavens, I look borderline anorexic here. Lots of women smoke, too. When I told The E-Man yesterday about one particularly impolite woman who smoked half a dozen while she was on the property, he said, “ask if she’s working on her smoking-hot body.” BOOM! That’s The E-Man.
Well, anyway. . . .
During this local community traffic jam, I had to go right through it to bring BF to work, and return to his brother’s place. We made it, and had a lovely early lunch at a local eatery. On the way back, I noticed vendors closer to town selling artisan jams–on the other side of the road. There was no way to get over to see what they had, darnit. Guess BF has to stick with the stuff from the grocery for a while.
Before stopped to eat, I’d decided I would stop at PJ’s Coffee for a yogurt parfait. Cool, sweet, and fruity, and just enough to hold me over until dinner. I didn’t know BF was going to do that, so I thought that I’d have it after the activity. I did, of course, after the traffic jam was over, all the stuff was picked up and everyone went home. I think we packed it in about 3:00 pm, and about 4:00 pm or so, I made it to PJ’s. There was my yogurt parfait, but on the counter was something I’d never seen before. Oh, can it be? Yes, it is:
Haydel’s Bakery, renowned for their king cakes, has picked up the banner where Hubig’s left off four years ago. A box containing a couple dozen of these, in four flavors, was prominently perched on the counter by the register. I asked if they were new; the barista said that they’d just arrived the day before (Friday.) They’re priced at $3 in PJ’s. I paid for my yogurt and sat down to consume the cool, sweet refreshment, and texted BF.
“If I told you I was going to buy a pie, would you prefer Chocolate, Lemon, Cherry or Apple?”
BF responded: “Chocolate.”
So I bought a chocolate hand pie, and had them put it in that fancy PJ’s bag and took it home, leaving it by his chair. When I picked him up, I told him I had a little present for him, but didn’t elaborate. He was very tired, more than I was, but he tore open the wrapper and bit in. Thumbs up from BF, so it’s got to be pretty good. He wasn’t aware of Haydel’s venture into the hand pie. And, he deserves a nice dessert in a fancy coffee shop bag sometimes, too.
Note that I didn’t touch it myself, other than to purchase it. Not after what I saw on Saturday at the community yard sale! No, they are *not* gluten free, and don’t hold your breath on that one. New Orleans doesn’t seem to care about gluten free anything, but maybe I haven’t looked far enough.
Apparently, Haydel’s Bakery started selling them back in September to customers happy to have them. The first day, they sold out. There are currently only 4 flavors, with seasonal Sweet Potato Pie being sold only at the bakery (source: Haydel’s Facebook page.) I had no idea, but, I’m a gluten-free Texan–I only pass along this info, and I’m not touching them.
The pies are slightly different than the original Hubig’s–Haydel’s bakes their pies instead of frying them. And Haydel’s has made them for many years. But according to news reports, baking the pies is not stopping anyone from enjoying them every day. And finally, north of the lake, folks can enjoy them too.
Oddly, these pies are *not* mentioned on Haydel’s website, and their blog consists primarily of wedding related topics (it hasn’t been updated in a while, either.). So if you’re of a mind to try them outside of the greater New Orleans area, you’ll probably have to call them directly. They’re not open today, so my “news gathering” came primarily from. . .news websites.
For the record, I have attempted to contact Hubig’s folks by the usual outlets, but have never heard from anyone. It’s been 4 years, and as much as fans want them, the market share may be lost forever as more bakeries step up to re-create the Hubig’s treat.
Sunday saw me drive back to New Orleans for a monthly activity at the SGI-USA Community Center. I felt better this time; I guess it was just too soon last time. I also took a freshly made flask of my favorite Pea & Pesto Soup with me for later, and had plans to stop at either Whole Foods or Fresh Market for dinner something. Knowing that BF was really tired, I did morning prayers at home, in case I ended up being late. When it was obvious I would be, I was covered. I called The E Man and told him that I was coming but not on time. (Next time, I leave at 8:00 am instead of 8:30.) He said, “I’ll take you to lunch. . .” and that’s all I heard. Lot of noise going on behind him, so I didn’t get everything he said.
After the meeting, there was mingling and chatting and I was talking to people I haven’t seen in many years. At the first meeting I went to at PB and NM’s place last month, I met a lady who talked about someone else whose name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place the face. I mean, it’s been 18 years. . .but yesterday, there I was, talking with the lady, JL, like it was yesterday. Turns out JL and her partner have six cats, and live. . .within a 15 minute drive of BF’s house. Woo hoo! So I’m feeling just a little bit better about it. I always say BF makes it easier, and now I find out JL is also nearby, and she invited me to go chant with them, despite their flooded house that they are working on fixing. Awesome. Might not be a bad idea on a night when BF works late. Now I’m wondering what I can make to bring, and if I have enough scrap fabrics to create something nice for these two ladies. (I had to leave a couple of bags of scrap fabric behind when I left Houston, so I may not.)
There was also a big cake after the meeting, along with some cookies, and fruit. NM gave me fruit and told me to take it home for my altar, which I did, after eating a couple of them. Tomorrow, I plan on putting them into the slow cooker for some dessert. If it turns out good, I’ll tell you more. But I definitely passed on the cake and cookies, much to the amusement of NM, who couldn’t stop licking the icing off the cake board with her fingers when the cake was gone. (I sang to her, “DI-AH-BETES!”) Honest, it was not at all a temptation after seeing lots of very large women walking around on Saturday. (I told BF it should be called “Obesity, LA.,” but I’m sure that name would go to several more cities.)
I took The E Man into the back room and. . .told him to find a cup or something. He found two small cups, and I shared my Pea & Pesto Soup with him, just to see if he’d like it. Know what? He liked it! The E Man has a wider palate than BF, or maybe he’s just a little more open-minded, I dunno. I told BF’s brother about the magic green soup, and he responded with a huge grin and said, “Oh, well–Yeah, he’s a simple guy, just meat and potatoes.” More soup for me!
Eventually, the crowd thinned, and I hopped in E Man’s car and we went to a longtime New Orleans institution–Mother’s Restaurant on Poydras Street in the Central Business District. Honest, I think the last time I was there was the 80’s. No kidding. Back when I was *much* younger, and a newlywed (the first time) I worked at the Lykes Building across the street, and would occasionally get (no kidding) biscuits with their exclusive ham. Delicious, but didn’t know that the biscuits weren’t the best thing to be eating. I put on a little weight, but not a lot, and a year later, moved onto a job elsewhere that I was better qualified for. (That’s not saying much, though.)
I had no idea what to order, and when we finally found the menu, I saw lots of bread–oh, dear, I’m going to be eating later. Suddenly, I saw the saving words:
Breakfast (served all day)
Then I found the “Build Your Own Omelet” and I knew I could eat safely. So, I asked for tomatoes, mushrooms and bell pepper, and roast beef, which was served on top. (Mother’s is also known for fantastic roast beef, and serves something called “debris,” using up cuttings and served in au jus gravy.) Because of the rushed atmosphere, I am not aware that this breakfast plate is accompanied by a small bucket-load of cooked grits and a biscuit the size of a hubcap. Clueless, I asked why these were served to me when I didn’t order them. “Oh, it comes with the omelet plate.” This was in no way obvious. But later, our nice server came by with a couple of take-out containers, and E Man took home the hubcap-sized biscuit and grits for breakfast, along with half of his fried seafood po-boy sandwich for Monday lunch. (I wondered how he was going to down that whole sandwich.)
When we were ordering, we were also asked what we’d like to drink. E Man ordered root beer, I ordered water and asked for a couple of slices of lime from the bucket of lime slices behind the counter. I didn’t think it was an unusual request; I never had a problem in Houston getting limes. But in NOLA, limes are uncommon except maybe in Mexican-style places. Mother’s is a place where tourists abound–why would it be out of order to ask for limes, especially if they’re available? You would have thought I’d asked for crystal meth. The stare I received from the woman serving the water told me I shouldn’t have asked, and after five minutes of waiting, she begrudgingly put a single lime slice in a cup and banged it on the counter at me.
That, Dear Readers, is real New Orleans. I had a similar experience with the Dunkin’ Donuts on Florida Avenue in Baton Rouge week before last, looking for my birthday drink, receiving a curt response: “we don’t do decaf here.” (I’ve already contacted DD about it.) On both occasions, I told E Man and BF, “that’s your ‘Louisiana Strong.'”And it’s why Louisiana will never be as good as Texas. On a basic level, it never really changes. Texas people get it. Louisiana really doesn’t. What a shame.
Yes, I mentioned it to E Man when we sat down. Much as I appreciated going to Mother’s, it was the subtle reminder that New Orleans was never the place for me, and never will be.
But, yes, if you don’t mind that sort of thing, Mother’s does serve quite good food, and always has.
After we left, I mentioned that before I headed home, I wanted to stop at one of the New Orleans grocers to get a few things for dinner. (Walmart and Winn-Dixie aren’t HEB, trust me.) Well, we went into a Rouse’s Supermarket. . .downtown. No kidding, there are enough people now living downtown New Orleans that Rouse’s opened up a location there. And I thought Phonecia Foods was forward-thinking when they opened a location in downtown Houston.
I was not expecting it to be so. . .urban, I guess. Clean lines, smaller than a “supermarket,” but with plenty of nice things stocked. We ran into one of the SGI members we saw in the morning; she was planning a roast chicken. I thought about doing that for BF, but decided to make it easier. (Maybe she thought I was cooking dinner for E Man, too.) After losing my companion a couple of times, I picked up some chicken thighs, some center-cut pork chops (going into the Crock Pot tomorrow) and some Richards’ Chicken Sausage. I really like the chicken sausage I get in Trader Joe’s, so I figured this would be at least as good. (I mean, there was a $1 off coupon on them.) Just because it’s “Cajun” does not mean it’s hot. Same thing as anything “Texas.”
Now this is what they mean when they talk about “shopping local,” but. . .I couldn’t help but notice the Texas-made products, too. I didn’t buy those Texas beef and venison sausages, because I have bought them in HEB and know they’re delicious, but a little spicy. BF doesn’t like spicy, it upsets his stomach.
Another thing I found, but didn’t purchase, was something called Hugo Naturals. This looks like the kind of thing you find in Central Market. In fact, for a minute, I forgot I wasn’t *in* Central Market, and then E Man came back from the gents. Everything smelled so good, and I very nearly bought a bar of that lavender soap. Well, maybe next time. Their products are vegan, soy and gluten free, cruelty free (not tested on animals) and minus all the synthetic ingredients in regular toiletries. Rouse’s had soaps, bath salts and bath “bombs,” but we only have a shower stall. Lavender is great for sleeping, and I like to shower at night with lavender. (And I hope I soon find the lavender bags I had in Houston tucked under my pillows.) Whole Foods and Sprouts carries these products as well, but you can also order online.
Much as E Man reads this humble blog, he still suggested going to Cafe du Monde for beignets after lunch–yes, donuts! I thanked him, but declined–I don’t eat donuts. I did tell him I wanted to head to Dunkin Donuts on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, and he said “just follow me.” On the I-10. (They don’t like it when you call it “the freeway” here. And they only have one.) Once we got of I-10, we went this way and that through the back streets, and finally arrived.
This location of Dunkin Donuts is right next door to a Starbucks. I kid you not. We walked in between the cars in the Starbucks drive-thru to get to Dunkin Donuts. Only in New Orleans, folks. There is also a Baskin-Robbins in the building, so I had. . .a single scoop of dark chocolate in a cup–no cone, mix-ins or sprinkles (Ice cream has less sugar than yogurt with fruit on the bottom–if you don’t believe me, check the nutrition information on them.) THEN I ordered my birthday drink–large decaf Macchiato with sugar-free hazelnut flavoring. They didn’t even blink–no problem, and it was delicious all the way home.
The house is still a mess, but we’re working on it. Soon as we paint the back room, including the concrete floor (don’t ask) and then move all my stuff back there, I’ll have an office and will be able to hopefully write more and sew again. Darnit.
It’s a big week in the United States. Take it easy on the caffeine, calm your nerves, and have some comfort food. Not too much, just some, and make it your favorite, whether it’s popcorn, peanut butter, Pea & Pesto Soup, or a grilled cheese sandwich. (BF says I make the best grilled cheese. Because I do.) And, if you’re of a mind to, do as Dr. Sheridan says when he’s on the radio filling in for Dr. Hotze: pray for your country today. Yes, I do too.
Happy Monday, Dear Readers:
This weekend saw two trips to HEB–one was our fabulous new one, the other in Friendswood, where I haven’t been since the new one opened up. I was able to sample and enjoy a lot of things, and had the accompanying heartburn afterwards. Neighbor E and I used up the last of our Chipotle coupons for a free meal, (they expired Sunday) and we buzzed around for a while, before finally ending up at home. He wanted to walk around Baybrook Mall, and since it was his turn to drive, I wore my usual t-shirt and bike shorts along with a fanny pack. For some reason, I thought he meant “power walking,” but it turns out he just wanted to meander. No matter, I was slinging the kettlebells around later anyway. It was great, we saw everything, took pictures, and we had a blast.
Also in this post: an exclusive picture of Neighbor E!
I forgot to mention in my last post that this week’s breakfast quiche was also created with some of the 3-foot-high green onions and garlic scapes from the garden. I just went out and cut a bunch with the kitchen scissors, rinsed them, then chopped them on the cutting board. Very, very tasty, especially when I added a few shakes of green Jalapeno Tabasco sauce instead of my usual Chipotle Tabasco, my favorite. Both are very good, and not burning hot; I just found a bottle in the pantry that was never opened. Had no idea! With all the green stuff from the garden, it worked really well.
Breakfast quiche in the Crock Pot has a basic formula: 8 to 10 eggs, a cup of milk, a 8 ounces of grated cheese, and a pound of browned breakfast sausage, usually HEB’s sage flavor. Colby’s my favorite cheese for this, I’ve also used Colby Jack and mild cheddar–but if you like sharp cheddar, go for it. Brown and crumble the sausage (and onions or other veg, if using), and toss into the bottom of the Crock Pot (after you put the liner in it, of course.) In a large bowl, add 1 cup of whole milk (half and half and/or cream will also work), the eggs, any seasonings (including Tabasco, if you like) and mix. The immersion blender is good for this. Then mix in the cheese with a spatula or spoon, and pour into the Crock Pot, stirring to combine. Cover it, plug it in, turn it on, and cook for 3 hours. This breakfast quiche is why I love the slow cooker liners–it’s a bear to clean it off the stoneware, even when you grease it well. But it’s also 6 days worth of breakfast I only have to microwave and eat.
So, it was Saturday–Buddhist meeting at 11:00 am, and then a couple of stops on the way to HEB. Before the meeting, I returned two quarts of milk to Target. I’d purchased skim milk by mistake, since it was marked down (but with long freshness dates.) Well, I returned the unopened one and picked up whole milk–but darnit, they sure do look alike. Saturday morning, I returned both quarts. Why? They both taste like skim milk. If I’d wanted skim milk. . .well, anyway, for whatever reason, both milk types made my coffee taste like dirty water. Target, like most grocery stores, have a guarantee on their food. So I reluctantly returned the milk before the meeting.
On the way from the meeting, I stopped at JoAnn’s for some reconnaissance for a potential scrap fabric project (found what I needed, but I didn’t buy anything for it.) I also got a look at our now-closed The Fresh Market building. Sad, it is. I was so happy when they put one down here, but it’s not just ours, as I mentioned in my last post–it’s 3 states, and all of their Texas stores.
Neighbor E texted me on Friday and said they were closing at 5:00 pm for good, days ahead of the originally scheduled May 18th closure. They must have sold everything down to the walls, including the baskets. There’s something about the words “50% off” that makes people pay attention, although the store was always busy when I went in there. The security guard is still there, sitting in her vehicle, but the windows are all papered up.
I’m guessing the employees were still inside, packing up whatever was left, sweeping, mopping, and dismantling the fixtures for shipment back to their headquarters in North Carolina. Soon those folks will be looking for work, unless they move to a different store out of state.
After I left that sad little spot, headed to the big HEB, since I still needed milk. I had a few items on my list, not many, but you know what I say–I’m heading to HEB for lunch!
I was treated to all kinds of tasty samples–fish, chicken, barbecue–and some other new things HEB is starting to carry. I wondered if they carried my favorite cheese, Manchego. All I had to do is ask:
Of course they do! If you’re not familiar with this Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, well, it’s wonderful. If you’re in a grocery or gourmet store that has a “cheese department,” ask if they would let you try a sample. (HEB will–I already asked.) It’s a pricier cheese, so obviously, it’s not on my regular grocery list right now. But if you have the opportunity, try a little sample, you might like it too. Trader Joe’s is the cheapest I’ve seen, and the import grocer Phoenicia is also less expensive than the rest.
Why is it my favorite? Years ago I saw Rachael Ray make this really delicious Chili Sweet Potato Hash recipe, and I wanted to try it. So interesting and unusual. . .but didn’t know what Manchego was. I printed out the recipe, and bought everything I needed. I made it one time, with Manchego, and was immediately in love with the whole thing. I had that for breakfast every day for more than a year, making it on Sundays. I stopped eating Manchego when I had to go on the yeast-free diet for a while. I haven’t made it in a long time, although I do have a couple of chunks of Manchego in the freezer that I’m avoiding touching. It’s the “good stuff,” so you know I’m “saving it.” But when things get better for me and my bud Neighbor E, I think I’m going to have to make it for him one day, and the GER too. It really is that good, and is, to date, my all-time favorite Rachael Ray recipe.
And if you’re wondering why I never made it for you, GER, it’s because I’d already moved out of your house and into Clear Lake when I saw it. The recipe was first shown in late 2004 or 2005, and came out in the book shortly thereafter. But I’m happy to make it for you anytime, because it’s absolutely delicious with HEB’s sage breakfast sausage. Note: the recipe is available on The Food Network’s website here, but if you have her book Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats, it’s on page 255.
Nevermind how many of those hot, fresh tortilla samples I had by the bakery department. . .just, never mind.
This was the weekend that HEB featured their Healthy Living department, with interesting samples and a 20% discount on all “sports nutrition items” and energy bars. This included things like protein powders, energy drinks–all that stuff the gym rats gobble down. You know, those big jars with stylish graphic labels of some kind of “whey powder” and “pure protein.” I’m not knocking anyone for their choices, of course, but to the rest of us, it’s a bit mysterious, so we keep a respectable distance.
Also handed out was a pack of coupons for these “healthy items.” Included are coupons for. . .Lean Cuisine and Stouffer’s Fit Kitchen. (Yes, frozen dinners.) At least Lean Cuisine has gluten-free options, but. . .sorry, I’ll pass those coupons onto Neighbor E if he wants them or Neighbor R if he doesn’t.
Now look–if healthy food gives you heartburn, you’re not healthy! You need to get on the Yeast Free Diet, get the prescriptions from your doctor or something OTC (you might need more than one jar of Yeast Control) and get RID of that yeast overgrowth in your gut. If you’re not sure if it’s yeast, try treating yeast first and see what happens. It can’t hurt.
Remember what I tell you about anything–read them labels, because I’ve made that mistake before. Some of those “energy bars” are loaded with sugar, or other rubbish you wouldn’t normally eat if you know what it is. There’s frequently soy protein in stuff like that, so if you don’t want soy–even if it’s touted as “non-GMO”–don’t buy it until you at least do a cursory read. Just saying.
I have three 3-day passes to 24-Hour Fitness, and I will need to start using them soon, they expire on the 31st. Neighbor E doesn’t want one, and Neighbor R doesn’t even like to drive! (She’s elderly.) So I’ll be heading to the gym this week, and using them all up. Since it’s supposed to rain really good this week, I won’t be on the bike, so that will be a good thing. Hook up my phone and listen to music for a while, or a good podcast.
I was also introduced to a brand of sports nutrition called FitAid. I was given samples of FocusAid and TravelAid, soft-drink style canned drinks with a little bit of fizzy and sweet, lots of nutrition and good things. There are several varieties of these drinks, and all sweetened with agave syrup, not sugar. I just don’t drink soft drinks anymore, not since 1998, so I was a bit reluctant to try one. But I was quite pleasantly surprised, and they pass my “taste test.” It won’t taste like a cola, it’s more like a lightly sweet 7-Up or ginger ale. The folks who were sampling it were also very nice. I don’t know how much they cost, but were my situation different, I might put one in my lunch bag occasionally.
What I will be doing if I find myself on long drives for work is getting some of this interesting Chike High Protein Iced Coffee for the moment I get hungry later in the am:
What’s that? You’ve never heard of this stuff? Me either, so join the club. It was my favorite thing to sample, and I’m glad I tried it. The lady who was sampling this with the spicy tilapia and herbed salmon offered me a sip (or two) of the Chike original flavor. It’s quite tasty, but I thought it was the Mocha. No, original, and it was very delicious (which is how I talked her into a second sample.)
It too, was on sale, but even 20% off HEB’s price of $26.99, I passed. . .but I did get a single-serve packet for Sunday, of the Mocha flavor. (That was cheaper, and better, than buying two of my favorite chocolate/cherry/cashew Kind Bars, which are usually 4 for $5 or 2 for $3 at HEB.) I was also handed a coupon for $5 off the big bag, which is 17.56 ounces, and I think she said it was 14 servings. But that would be for a mid-morning thing when I’m hungry and it’s way too early for lunch.
So what’s in it? It says soy, and it says caffeine, but I have my doubts:
I couldn’t find any soy in it, but it says soy, and I had no reactions from it. So. . .I can’t say it’s bad for me. But it’s made right here in Texas, so you know it’s good, right?
Sunday morning, I got out my little whiz blender and made some with almond milk:
I can’t believe I was coherent enough on Sunday to do this, but I was. The label says to use “6 to 10 ounces of milk or water,” so I just went with the requisite 8 ounces.
Hit that button:
I could have put ice in the blender, but I didn’t think about it. I just poured it over ice, good enough for me.
Now let me say that although it claims to have the caffeine of 2 shots of espresso, I don’t believe it does (or the effects of caffeine have been neutralized.) Had I consumed 2 shots of real, regular espresso (not decaf like I normally would) I would have been picking my claws out of the ceiling and calling around for bail money. I would have been sweating like a sauna and begging Neighbor E to take me home for a cold shower. None of that happened to me. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but if you’re looking for a shot or two of full-leaded espresso, head to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dunn Brothers, or any coffee shop in your area that serves it. You will not get that from this iced coffee. That’s not a bad thing, though–Americans consume way too much caffeine, and it’s not a good thing. I know, because I did it.
Now onto Sunday.
As I mentioned, we had those coupons to use up on Sunday, and E wanted to buzz around Baybrook Mall first, and of course, I was happy to go with him. I was in Baybrook a couple of weeks ago when I had the brakes repaired (remember that RING??), but he hasn’t been there in quite a long time. He hasn’t seen the new additions, and our new Sur la Table store. (Being a guy, he just wasn’t interested in Charming Charlie.) We walked around, he took some pictures, particularly around the restaurants, where a 2011 Jaguar was parked, and later, a Corvette and a BMW. (He’s a car guy.)
There are a number of other places planned for that outside area, one of which is called Gloria’s Latin Cuisine. The planned entries are represented by very intricate murals in the intended spots. E found one he really liked, so here is the exclusive picture of one of my taste-testers:
Doesn’t it look like he’s going into a bakery? Honest, that’s a mural on a stone wall, and he thought it would be funny to take a picture in front of it. But it’s a good one, taken on his iPhone. (E also has a sweet tooth, so you understand why he wants that bakery to open.)
Finally, I introduced E to my favorite place, Sur la Table. We had a small bite of their Lemon Buttermilk Quick Bread, made in a sheet pan rather than a loaf pan and cut into dice-sized pieces. A very nice lady offered to make me a cappuccino, and I happily accepted.
E was accustomed to going into Williams-Sonoma when we had one, but that spot is now yet another dress shop. Sur la Table was a new experience for him, but I’ve been shopping at them for several years–well, he’s read about it here for a while. E went back into the huge chef’s kitchen, where they conduct cooking classes and whip up things like that cake for you to try. His eyes bugged out. I knew he’d enjoy it.
Another thing we sampled was this Iced Tea Lemonade. Now, I wouldn’t normally buy this kind of thing (and I didn’t), but I really, REALLY like it. It tastes like the iced tea my mother used to make when me and my first brother were little (it ended after the other two came along, I think.) She’d boil water and add three or four tea bags, then turn it off and cover the pot. While that was happening, a lemon or two were squeezed. A big glass pitcher was filled with ice, sugar and lemon added, and a great big metal spoon wedged down the side to absorb some of the heat. Then the bags were removed, and the resulting tea was poured in and mixed with the metal spoon.
THAT is what it tasted like. If you want some real good Southern-style tea quickly, Iced Tea Lemonade from Sur la Table is what you want. It’s expensive, or you could make your own like my mother used to. But it’s THAT GOOD.
After we left Sur la Table, we prowled around a little more, going through clothing stores, furniture stores, and buzzed through Macy’s too.
And the lady in Macy’s let me try on THAT RING again yesterday. The sale price seemed to be lower than the first time, but. . .it’s still in the case, I promise. I only dragged E into Sur la Table, not Victoria’s Secret or anyplace else we females go into.
After the mall, we made our sad journey across the street to visit the now-shuttered Fresh Market. E keeps an electronic journal, and he has a picture of himself outside of Fresh Market the day it opened. He wanted one last picture before it gets rebuilt, whenever that is. The security guard came out and told us that it was closed. . .she thought we were trying to go in it.
E calls it a journal. I call it “evidence that can, and will, be used against you in court.” But that’s what happens when you study law for five years.
Finally, he was ready for lunch, and we headed across the freeway to Chipotle. E had his favorite tacos, and I had the Steak Bowl I like. He also bought a bag of their delicious chips and kindly shared them–they’re delicious and addictive! The weather wasn’t bad, either, so we had our late lunch outside before any rain showed up (we’re getting rain all week, but not a monsoon.) No rush, and we enjoyed the leisurely pace for a while longer.
When it was time to head home, we passed by a place E is absolutely in love with: a place called Torchy’s Tacos. I’ve heard of them, and they do have locations in town, but I’ve never been there. Torchy’s has a cult following, apparently, because on our local NextDoor.com area, people are going bonkers for it.
They’re adding a location in our little neck of the woods, ironically, across the street from Vitamin Shoppe. That spot housed, until sometime last year, a place called Berryhill Baja Grill. I’ve never set foot in that one, either, because I just didn’t know what it was. But folks are getting VERY excited about Torchy’s Tacos coming here. You can see the location here, but they don’t list an opening date yet. That’s OK–it’s a big place with a big buildout, and you just can’t rush these things. The sign is up, and it looks to be about halfway built on the inside:
E can’t contain his excitement. He went with his sister D to Tyler, TX (up near Dallas) a couple of months ago to visit family, and they stopped at the Torchy’s there. E says that this Torchy’s is being built like the one in Tyler, so he’s doubly excited about it.
If you’re wondering how a grown man can get so excited over a chain taco restaurant. . .well, you’ve never been to Texas, have you? We take this kind of thing VERY seriously. And even thinking about dissing someone for this kind of enthusiasm will get you in a lot of trouble very fast. We don’t mess around in Texas!
Once the workers inside the place realized we weren’t going to walk in or storm the place (I mean, really) they were OK with us peering in through the plate glass windows. We were just curious, nothing more.
Will they send out free try-us coupons when they open? We certainly hope so!
With that, we headed home, and he dropped me off by my building. It was a fun time for two friends with coupons for free lunch and a little extra time on their hands.
But wait–there’s more!
I needed to head out again, and back over by Target for something else. (E was driving, I didn’t want to drag him all over the place on my account.) Once I got what I needed, I headed to the HEB in Friendswood for. . .a can of coffee. See, in all the fun on Saturday, I completely forgot to get more coffee to make my regular iced stuff on the weekends. Because I didn’t realize that HEB’s Healthy Living promotion was a weekend thing, I ran into two blokes handing out samples of. . .Chike High Protein Coffee! They made it with HEB’s refrigerated almond milk, and they were sampling the Mocha blend! So I sat through their spiel while I had another sample cup, and bought. . .one more envelope, on sale, which I had this morning. No, I’m not buying them anymore, honest, unless I have a job that requires long drives. THEN I’ll be buying the big bags, carrying some milk with me and shaking it up mid-morning.
Last time I bought coffee for iced, I decided to try HEB’s “Classic Decaf.” not the fancy stuff in a bag, like the stuff I sent my Aunt recently.
I sent her the good stuff. But I realized that I was buying higher grade coffee than I might have needed. So I tried this kind. First I bought the 13 ounce can, just to try it, since it was $2.68. Made it hot, tasted good, so the next batch was made for iced, and it was also really good. Yesterday, I bought the bigger can, which cost $7.98 for 2 pounds, 7 ounces. That will last me for a while.
It’s in a CAN. No kidding.
Why have I never noticed this before??? It’s good coffee!!
I got the idea because a neighbor I am no longer affiliated with buys Kroger’s French Roast in the can. That, too, is really good coffee–and it’s really obvious when you drink it next to stale-tasting Folger’s. It’s always been there, but since 1998, when I moved to Houston, I never noticed. So I’ll have iced coffee all summer, brewing it on Sunday in the French Press and refrigerating it all week.
BTW, if you decide to try any of HEB’s coffees, it looks like they sell it online, too, but they can’t ship it to California. You can buy the Breakfast Blend I sent to my Aunt last month here, if you’re interested. It’s not a strong coffee, either–but if you want regular, just do a search on HEB.com for “Breakfast Blend Coffee.” I think they even have K-cups now.
So, that was my exciting weekend! We really did have fun, and had some really tasty food. Since I managed to get all my laundry and cooking done last week, I just did some vacuuming, dusting, scrubbed the bathtub, took out trash (and Neighbor R’s too), watched some TV and sewed some more.
I’ve got a couple of posts in the can that I’m working on, and I hope to get them finished for you soon.
Meantime, have some good food and have a good week.