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The Virtues of Vinegar

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

Are you enjoying summer? Are you trying? Or is the lure of the watermelon margarita too hard to resist? (You can make them without alcohol, too.)

Here’s something to really whet your whistle if you happen to be in Philadelphia: the Donut Cheesesteak Burger.

As if 1400 calories were the only thing we needed to worry about.

Yes, I know, capitalism. I’m not knocking capitalism, of course. . .but it’s just. . .couldn’t you use that intellect for something else? I mean, we now have two Ebola patients in the US–could you help out with that a little, maybe?

Anyway. . . .

I’m well into the second week of the infamous Yeast-Free Diet, to try and get rid of the heartburn and other gastro ills I’ve developed. No alcohol, no vinegar (except apple cider vinegar), no fruit, no dairy. . .well, you know the drill if you’ve read about it or done it. It’s a 90-day cleanse diet, and once you get over no cheese on your scrambled eggs for a while, it’s all good, and you’ll get the bug out of your gut.

I’m using the Yeast Control powder from Green Willow Tree again this time, too. Funny, it really doesn’t taste all that bad to me this time. That’s OK, and ice in the water helps with that.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be grumpy for a while. But I’m getting back into walking and exercise, so maybe that will take the edge off. A little. If I don’t hurt myself.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that what’s called “common knowledge,” also known as “common sense,” seems to be disappearing in this country. What I mean by that is that things people just used to know and passed along were little things, like a dozen equals 12. People don’t KNOW stuff like that anymore, and they certainly don’t pass it around if they do. While I don’t try to go around giving advice to people who didn’t ask for it, I do try to help out where needed. Sometimes.

Take vinegar, for instance. Yes, that bottle of strong, clear liquid in your pantry that comes in handy for the occasional recipe, and the stuff I can’t use for a while. (Distilled White Vinegar, that is.) Did you know you can use it for more than just salad dressing and stuff, right? Well, keep reading.

Twenty years ago, when I became a devotee of Martha Stewart, I found in either her Christmas issue or one of her Christmas books an idea for making flavored olive oils. I did some research too, since the web was becoming an information portal. Problem: fresh herbs have bacteria that may flourish in oil, but vinegar would kill anything like that. I just put the same herbs into vinegar, got some sealing wax, corked the bottles and gave quite a few folks some flavored vinegar for Christmas. I did that more than once, too.

Of course, when I asked the now-ex-husband to write down “sealing wax” on our shopping list, he didn’t understand what it was, or what it was for. When we got to Wal-Mart, I looked on his list and it said, “ceiling wax.” Um, what? You gonna get up there and wax it?

Anyway. . .

When I grocery shop, I buy two or three gallons of the plain white kind, because, well, I do not use it for salad dressing; that’s either apple cider vinegar or maybe raspberry vinegar. . I also don’t use table salt for cooking, but we’ll get to that later.

Vinegar does all kinds of non-foodie things, which is why I keep it around. Do you have a stainless steel kettle for boiling water to make tea or coffee in a French press? Leave it too long and it will develop a slime. YUCK! You can also become ill from it–read the linked post, and you’ll see I did that already, hence a previous round of the Yeast-Free Diet.  When I clean mine, I fill it halfway with vinegar, half with water, turn it on to boil and let it finish. Once I hear that “click” of the switch, I know it’s done–the mineral spots on the bottom are gone, too. Drain, rinse a couple of times until the vinegar smell is gone, and it’s good to go. If you use it regularly, doing the vinegar boil twice a week should keep it clean.

Vinegar can also get the scaling out of electric drip coffee makers–just fill it with straight vinegar and turn it on; then run two or three brew cycles after you dump the vinegar, or until you don’t smell it anymore.

I bet you didn’t know you could clear drains with it, did you? Neighbor K found this out on Saturday–I’d mentioned it to her a few days ago, and she texted me Saturday asking about it. So I texted back what she needed and how to do it. A little while later K texted this message back: “WOW it works!”

Would I lie about a thing like that? (See what I mean when I said we keep each other out of trouble?)

Mission accomplished. She told me later that the regular drain cleaner you buy at the grocery didn’t do anything, but this did. Woo hoo! It also works on a slow-running drain, which means you’ve got something developing down in the pipes. You can also do it monthly to keep the drain from backing up, which I consistently forget to do.  (I’ve since run that formula down my own kitchen sink this morning, mostly as a preventative measure.)

That non-toxic drain cleaner came out of one of two old books I bought in the 1980’s from Rodale. The Natural Formula Book for Home & Yard (1982) is 300+ pages of the kind of info that people used to just “know.”  Another vinegar-based thing is what’s called “Blue Window Cleaner” on page 17. Mine isn’t blue, however, because I discovered that to get blue food coloring, you have to buy the box of 4 colors. I don’t need it that bad, so my “window cleaner” is clear in a spray bottle from Home Depot. You could also re-use a spray bottle from Windex, or get one at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or even IKEA.

Cleaning/clearing your sink pipes toxin-free is very simple. Down your drain pour one cup table salt, one cup baking soda, and one cup plain white vinegar. It will fizz and bubble, but that’s all of it. Meantime, put that kettle on and boil some water. Once the water boils (which will take at least 15 minutes, the more the merrier), carefully pour it into the drain behind the mixture. Put that pot down and let the hot water do what it does–melt and disperse the gunk and take it out of your pipes, and out of your hair. Follow that up by running the hot tap water for at least 5 minutes, and you’re good to go.

Oh, and this will work in your bathroom drains, too. Just be careful if you haul big pots of boiling water, OK?  Burns are NO FUN.

I also saw on Facebook recently where you can clean your microwave oven by adding a cup of water and a cup of vinegar to a 2-cup measure or other microwave safe container, running it until it boils, and then wiping it completely clean. (Dump that down the drain while hot, carefully, for a little drain maintenance, too.)

I haven’t bought commercial window cleaner in 20 years; I just use this stuff and it works perfectly. Make it as I need it, one or two batches at a time.

Blue Window Cleaner

  • 3 tablespoons household ammonia (make sure you get clear, non-sudsy ammonia, or you’ll have a mess on windows and mirrors)
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1-2 drops blue (or other color) food coloring (optional)

Measure ammonia and vinegar into a clean spray bottle, and add the water. Add food coloring, if desired, and shake well.

Easy, right? And cheap.

If you’re interested in that kind of natural, old-fashioned cleaning and housekeeping, the other book I still have through all that life has thrown at me is Rodale’s Hints, Tips & Everyday Wisdom. That book was published in 1985, although an updated version was published in 1994 that I just found out about. While I’m always interested in that sort of thing. . .my ex-husbands were not. That should tell you everything you need to know, right?

Another great use for vinegar is weed killing; I just found it recently, courtesy of Capper’s Farmer, with just a little searching on their site. (I get their emails and Facebook feeds, too.)  A non-toxic weed killer that does a pretty good job, and pretty quickly. Lucky me, I happened to have one of those pump-action spray containers like the exterminators have (don’t ask) so it didn’t take long. While it didn’t kill every single weed, it did a good job with the ones I sprayed. In the back, I dumped some out directly on a patch of weeds and they were just gone. I’ve gone out and sprayed the rest, and just haven’t gotten around to pulling them up. But they’re dead, that’s for sure. Except for that tree that keeps wanting to grow back. That’s a tough one to get rid of.

I also keep lots of baking soda and table salt around. Why? Together they are quite useful.

You know how I love to use the little toaster oven for everything, and turn on the big oven maybe 4 times a calendar year? Well, the little oven is getting a cleaning. You know how when you cook fish you remember it long after you ate it? Yeah, it’s like that–and opening the windows doesn’t help, either. I don’t toast bread very often, only when I make the gluten-free stuff, mostly it’s cooking and roasting stuff, like meat, chicken and turkey.

I’ve mentioned this before, I love turkey and get turkey parts (primarily thighs) frequently. Put them (or any part of chicken) on that broiler pan and roast them at 400F for about an hour, and you get perfectly cooked meat with a skin crispier than any potato chip you’ve ever eaten. HEAVENLY, I tell you. But when I cooked two more Friday night. . .I smelled them in my sleep. So the oven needs to be cleaned. Seriously.

I’ve discovered another foodie blog, The Kitchn, and so I get the Facebook feeds now. Good stuff, and what I found for non-toxic oven cleaning was here, using baking soda, water (or as someone in the comments suggested, hydrogen peroxide) and. . .vinegar. Of course, I unplugged the toaster oven first, then went to work. I cleaned the broiler pan, rack and drip tray best I could, and then went to work on the inside of this beast.

First, remove the oven racks, or anything else you might store inside the oven.  Since this is a toaster oven, remove the drip tray, since that’s funky too; we deal with that separately.

Next, you make a nice paste with water and baking soda, although one comment about hydrogen peroxide made me experiment with that. A half cup of baking soda, then 3 tablespoons of water or peroxide; more as needed, a little at a time. Coat the inside of the oven with this paste; not too thick, not too thin:

Yes, it's icky. But that's OK.

Yes, it’s icky. But that’s OK.

Let it sit overnight, then go back and wipe that grunge off as best you can. Scrub a little, scrape a little, but it starts to come off pretty well.  Use a plastic scraper thingy if you need to on some burned-on crud. Once you get as much of it off as you can, spray some vinegar in there and let it fizzy up. Wipe some more. Yes, more. Eventually, you will remove all you can remove.

Better!

Better! (Sort of.)

That weird liquid at the bottom of the page is caught between the glass and the metal band that holds it on. Eventually it drained off and I cleaned it away.

I scraped, scrubbed and wiped some more after this picture, but this is about as good as it gets. Remember, this toaster oven is about 4 or 5 years old. While I’ve cleaned it before, it doesn’t all come off, since it’s not ceramic on the inside like a standard oven is.

Now, the drip tray I treated a bit differently. I put it in a bucket of water and a half-cup of ammonia, which will also work on the oven racks (but I didn’t think about that when I was soaking it.) Some of the comments at The Kitchn suggested filling the bathtub with water, but I thought that was a bit unnecessary since it was small. After I took a shower for the night, then filled up the bucket with water, added about a half-cup of ammonia, closing the bathroom door so me and the cat didn’t have to smell lemony-scented soapy ammonia all night. Next day most of the baked-on stuff came off, but not all. I scraped with a plastic scraper, but not all of it was loose. Maybe next time.

It’s about as clean as it’s going to get now. I turned it on to burn off anything else, and it had a slight smell for a bit and that was the end of it.

CLEAN!!

CLEAN!! (Mostly)

And then I started cooking in it again.

I’m sure I’ll get a few more years out of this one. Maybe this one will croak and I’ll buy me a brand-new one. Again. That’s what happened to the last one–the electronic bits went out and that was the end of it after 6 years of heavy use.

Now, under no circumstances should you use a fancy gourmet vinegar for any of this stuff. My stash of Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar from Oil & Vinegar is tucked away in the back of the still-organized pantry (with the Meyer Lemon Olive Oil) and only comes out occasionally (especially now.)

While I do have some, I’m not using apple cider vinegar for cleaning, either. However, Bragg’s ACV is the best I’ve found, and has the live “mother” in it. While Bragg’s is widely available now in grocery stores (at least, it is here in Houston) Bragg’s website can show you all the products they sell. If there’s something you want but can’t find, you can order it there or on Amazon.com. They have a collection of books as well on not only using their ACV but other health topics as well.

Maybe I should do a blog post on Bragg–whaddaya think?

I heard Patricia Bragg on Dr. Hotze’s radio show one day and have been buying it ever since. She mentioned something about the vinegar for cats, but I missed it, and never got around to finding out what it was.  At one point I was putting a tablespoon of ACV in my water, but I kind of got out of the habit.

If you’re interested in more uses for vinegar, you can find lots more info at Capper’s Farmer’s website, Grit.com, and this article on Backwoods Home’s website too (although a website search will give you all the articles, including recipes.) Of course, there’s always the Google search, too. Up to you.

This book on vinegar by Christine Halvorson also has some good tips, like clearing your clogged shower head by soaking it in vinegar. I’ve done that before, too, and it works very well.

Speaking of those magazines, and Mary Jane’s Farm, I’ve got some gluten-free updates coming soon.

Now that I’ve covered the subject of that little kitchen condiment, I’ll close here and let you go find out what it can do for you. Sure, it stinks, but the smell goes away quickly, and it cleans as well as anything you can buy in Home Depot.

So what are you waiting for? Go get some vinegar!!

 

 

 

 

Pesto and the gift of tomatoes

Hola, Amigos:

My apologies for being late again. I’ve been busy and just haven’t felt like writing. Period. But WordPress nags you if you don’t, I’d better do something.

Neighbor K introduced me to HEB’s new line of gluten free pasta, and for a while, I couldn’t get enough:

IMG_0658[1]No, the cat food doesn’t figure into it.

However, it’s corn and rice flour that makes this pasta, so it’s high on the carb scale. I think I bought it three times, but I had to quit. It’s not the $1.99 price tag, though–I kept eating it!

Let me give you a bit of background: back in the day (about 1991-1994) I used to walk six miles a day. After the walk, I would eat one of two things: frozen veg with some butter and salt, or boiled pasta with (ugh) Diet Parkay margarine and a small amount of Parmesan cheese. Because, after all, pasta is “healthy,” right? It’s no healthier now than it was, but nobody knew that yet. I would get one of two reactions: with the veg, I had a great evening, but with the pasta, I would fall asleep. It took forever to figure out it was the pasta putting me to sleep for 15 hours, so I cut way back on it.

With the gluten-free pasta, I cooked one cup, added real butter and about the same amount of cheese. I got the same delicious taste without the sudden drowsiness. However. . .I couldn’t stop eating it! So I stopped buying it. Maybe in a few months or so, but not for a while.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yesterday was Pesto Saturday!  The basil got to close to three feet high, so it was definitely time for harvesting and pesto making.

IMG_2185

After I picked them (and picked through them) I rinsed them and put them through the salad spinner. You don’t want WATER in your pesto, do you?

IMG_2189

One of the best parts of pesto: pine nuts. NOTE: do not eat any of the toasted pine nuts, or you will not be able to stop eating them. Trust me on this.

Pine Nuts. Legally addicting.

Legally addicting pignoli.

These burn VERY easily, so let me tell you how I keep that from happening–I put them in the toaster oven at 400 degrees for five minutes, and keep an eye on them. When they start turning brown, turn the oven off, then carefully pour them into a COLD container, like this bowl. You know, one you just took out of the cabinet, not necessarily refrigerated. Why? If you leave them in the baking pan, the cooking process continues and they’ll burn. By dumping them into a cold bowl, you stop the cooking process and they’re perfectly toasted.

Make sure you keep the rest of them sealed in the FREEZER, or else they’ll go bad–quickly.

Once I had all the components ready, I just put the parts together.

Blend it!!

Blend it!!

When it’s done, this is what you get.

Pesto!

Pesto!

You can find a good pesto recipe here at Food Network’s site, and it’s virtually the same as the one I got out of one of Giada de Laurentiis’ books. I add Parmesan cheese to mine, although that recipe says Pecorino. Really, with either one, you can’t go wrong.

If the plants will grow back and produce that much again in a few months, I could have at least one more batch of pesto to freeze for the winter. And that will be a good thing.

That, and finding SQUARE containers to freeze them in. The round containers I’ve been using take up too much room.

And why make so much pesto? You already know why–and I made some this week, too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now here comes the part where I write about the infamous ex-boyfriend known as the GER. He loves it when I write about him.

You know the old saying, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth?”

Last time, I told you about the gifted tomatoes the GER gave me. He said he didn’t get a whole lot this year, but he did give me two nice ones. Take a look:

GER tomatoes

Now, because I know a bit about this, I left them on the stove for a week, so they could ripen a bit more. Ripen they did. When I cut them open, this is what they looked like:

IMG_0653[1]

Not especially large, mind you, but, if you’ve ever been given the gift of tomatoes, you know why they are markedly different from the ones you buy at the grocery. Size really doesn’t matter once you taste one.  If you just slice them and eat them, all you need is a light sprinkling of fine sea salt. Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing would be a crime.

I also clipped what was growing in the lettuce pot. You know what they call “bitter greens?” That, unfortunately, was the only part of the “greens mix” that actually grew, plus some kind of parsley look-alike. Darnit. In order to actually consume this without gagging, I stopped at HEB and got a head of good old iceberg lettuce and made my own “greens mix,” which also included a few chopped up mint leaves and some of the flat-leaf Italian parsley that grows back there. That was quite a harvest, and what was it became was pretty darn good:

IMG_0652[1]

The closest thing I could call a recipe would be one head of iceberg lettuce, a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley, some chopped bitter greens, and a few–like, 5–chopped mint leaves. Don’t add more mint or that’s all you’ll taste. Much as I like mint, I know it’s not THAT enjoyable.

With two judiciously sliced fresh garden tomatoes from the GER, it became. . .salad.

Salad!

A little olive oil and salt was all that was needed. I emphasize LITTLE.

And it was SO GOOD.

Summer’s here, please stay cool and enjoy what there is to enjoy.

Happy dining!

Cajun Spice Girl

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Wow, has it been ten days since I posted? Sorry about that, I’ve been busy. And sleeping. I try to get up early EVERY morning, but sometimes I have long days, and I end up taking a nap. Despite my best efforts, I gotta sleep–and that messes up everything. It’s what happens when you have no set routine, or let go of one. If I won the lottery and were self-funded for life, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Anyway. . .

The HeatCageKitchen garden is in need of a good weeding, but I don’t feel like going out there right now. It’s best to do that kind of thing after the sun goes down, or first thing in the morning (as if!) so that it’s not burning hot. The three Meyer lemons are still there and growing bit by bit, but I can’t find the little lime buds anymore–I’m guessing snails or possums, which roam the property and go pretty much wherever they like. I think they really like my place, but I can’t seem to catch them to let them know they’re not welcome.

The eggshells have helped but are not infallible for deflecting slugs, so I put a border brick under the pot holding the basil. Looks like the basil is getting big enough to where it’s too hard for them to <burp> feast on the pungent leaves. I have more eggshells to crush up and drop outside, I just haven’t done it yet. But I’ve been watering, much as I can, and everything is doing fine.

Yesterday I picked my first two strawberries! Yes! And they were delicious! Check it out:

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

Granted, they are the size of the top digit of my little finger, but they were delicious. The plant has more buds, flowers and berries in various stages of development. They look weird, but they’re really strawberries. Maybe the additional sunlight will make them grow in normal.

So, last week I was making some food in the HeatCageKitchen and realized that I am running low on a particular salt/spice blend that I used to, ah, “import” from Louisiana. In other words, when I went to visit, I’d buy three or four of them and bring them back to use. Time to order more. However, over time, like a lot of things called “Cajun” will do, this particular item has started to appear in Houston, and I thought I’d seen it one day, but couldn’t remember where.

Guess what? It’s available at my HEB, along with the crab boil!

Straight from Metairie, Louisiana, Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning with Green Onions

Straight from Metairie, Louisiana, Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning with Green Onions

The Cajun Seasoning with the green lid is the one I like. I’ve been buying it for years, but the last time I imported some was. . .2008, while i was there after evacuating for Hurricane Ike. So it was time to buy more, although I’m not completely out yet.

What I thought I’d be doing is ordering it online, which you can, if you can’t get this in your local grocery store. HEB will order something unusual for you if you fill out a form, but they will also ask, “will you buy a case of it?” However, it’s also easy to order online (There are also recipes using their products on the site.) You can see all of their products at their website, as well as the parent company’s website, Deep South Blenders. I’ve bought products from Deep South Blenders as well, but it’s been a while. It’s a local brand, so it’s in every grocery store in the Metropolitan New Orleans area.

As you can see, Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning is NOT grossly expensive, either. That’s a 15 ounce bottle.

NOTE: How much you use is up to you, but don’t dump a lot into your food until you know how much of it you’d like at one time. It’s got a bite, but it’s not too spicy. But too much of anything with heat can burn you. Unless you grew up in Texas eating jalepenos and Scotch bonnet peppers for breakfast. . .go slowly until you find how how much you like.

My favorite way to use it is on frozen veggies right before I put them in the microwave. A sprinkle of Cajun Land, a touch of salt, some butter, olive oil or unflavored coconut oil on top and it’s perfect. I add salt, because I don’t want to add too much of the Cajun Land to get the salt taste. And I started doing the unflavored coconut oil when I had to do the yeast-free diet many years ago, and I just keep doing the same thing, because it’s so good.

Note: Zatarain’s WAS a local New Orleans brand, but is now owned by McCormick’s. If you don’t believe me, go do a search for it.

So I decided to ring the company, which, I didn’t realize, is 1.4 miles away from where I used to live in Metairie. No kidding! They’ve been there for a long time, and I walked in that neighborhood for 7 years and didn’t even realize they were there. DUH.

So what is this magic mix? It’s a salt-based spice blend, with dehydrated onion, garlic and green onion (you know, what everyone else calls “scallions”) paprika and red pepper, as well as what they call “spices.” It’s salty, it’s spicy, but not burning hot like hot salsa is. A nice rounded flavor with a little bit of bite.

Now, one ingredient is called “spices.” You know what that means–it could be anything, right? So I rang the company and asked about it.

Any guess what the first question was?

Craig Barron, a family member of this 40-year-old family-owned company, said, “Let me go talk to my wife. She’s the food scientist.”

Dear Readers, that’s REAL NEW ORLEANS. No kidding. And Craig is a really nice man, answered all my questions and he didn’t mind me asking, either.

Craig came back to the phone and told me that although the proprietary spice blend is indeed gluten free, they do have some wheat in the facility, and the possibility of cross-contamination does exist, however small the amount. So, if you are highly sensitive to gluten, use at your own risk. But as anyone who looks for gluten additives will tell you (and Dr. Davis, the Wheat Belly guy) it’s always better to ask. Many prepared food products, including spice blends, use gluten or gluten components for filler, thickener, or some other chemical purpose. Anyone who has ever had a reaction from “just a little bit” knows what that means.

Craig spoke proudly of their 40-year history, and the work they do to have Cajun Land products in places like Houston, and they are working on having the products available in more stores, like Kroger and Food Town.

While their website is functional, they are also working on a complete update, so that’s it’s a little more modern. It’s functional, but, a bit, well, 1990’s (by Craig’s own admission!) The day I called they were doing some work on the network, so I tried not to tax him too much.

Turns out his brother Kevin Barron is also a food blogger in South Carolina and also has a company called Muffuletta Media. I hope Craig wasn’t too offended when I laughed at the name–I just thought it was cute, nothing more. If you’re not familiar with the New Orleans classic meal, well, it’s a great big sandwich.  No, the muffuletta is NOT gluten free, either. I can’t tell you the last time I sunk my teeth into one, and thank heavens I don’t live there anymore. Writing about it there would send me to the French Quarter to get one.

I can just see folks in South Carolina trying to pronounce that. In New Orleans, most (including me) say “muff-ah-LAH-tah,” but there are a few other pronunciations around, too.

So if you’re looking for a little something new to add to your spice rack armory, consider Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning with Green Onions. Inexpensive and easily available, it might just be your next big thing.

Happy Dining!

 

 

Pantry Pride

Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers:

I hope everyone had a peaceful Memorial Day yesterday. Here in Houston, it was OK first thing in the morning, but as the afternoon wore on, the clouds started coming through and eventually we got some serious rain. It’s great, we needed it, only the timing was off. It rained pretty heavy this morning, too, although it receded when I went out to bring my sewing machine to Hancock Fabrics.

Oh, I broke it last week. I took it to Hancock Fabrics for repair; there’s a gentleman who picks them up every Tuesday and repairs them, then returns them a week later. I did NOT intend for that to happen, but it did. Oh, well.

At least the HeatCageKitchen garden is happy with the rain.

Yesterday I had my first mojito. That’s a Cuban cocktail with lime and mint and rum. . .and sugar. I used Suzanne Somers’ recipe from her Cocktails book, and sweetened it with SomerSweet. I could only get key limes yesterday at Food Town, but that’s OK. The recipe calls for vodka or light rum; I had vodka left from making vanilla extract, so that’s what I used, along with mint from the garden.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a regular thing–I just felt like having a good cocktail, and this mojito doesn’t have any sugar. After binge-watching 7 seasons of Burn Notice out of order, I figured a mojito would be great to try. Delicious! But more on that later.

In my kitchen, not in Carlito's.

In my kitchen, not in Carlito’s.

Two things I managed to complete this weekend were carpet cleaning and tidying up the pantry. The pantry in this place is a floor-to-ceiling corner cabinet with three doors and five shelves that is deep enough that you could get lost in it. The pantry measures 8′ high, 22″ wide and 21′ deep, with some wasted space above the top shelf. More on that extra space later.

In one of my prior reorganizations, I labeled each shelf to categorize things and keep it organized. Over time (particularly when I don’t have time to be neat) the organization kind of took a nose dive, and it looked like this:

It took a while to get this bad.

It took a while to get this bad.

The bottom part of the pantry, which sits on the floor, looked like this:

That's the extra stuff that ended up being jumbled in there.

That’s the extra stuff that ended up being jumbled in there.

I actually couldn’t close the pantry doors. That’s great, because I have plenty of supplies.

I couldn't close the door

I couldn’t close the door. That’s a kitchen laundry bag.

I added these door racks when I moved into this place, and they too are full of spices and wraps.

IMG_0500[1]

Can you tell I love my Brother P-Touch label maker?

I do this pantry re-org every so often, when I really have to, and it’s usually an all-or-nothing thing. I take everything out of the pantry, wipe down the shelves, clean up any spills, and put it all back.

It was ALL OVER my kitchen. Which is fine, because then I can see what’s stuffed where:

That's one batch

That’s one batch

Ran out of room on the countertops, so I used the floor:

From the bottom of the pantry

From the bottom of the pantry, the spare and storage area

And when I ran out of room in the kitchen, I moved it out:

The end of the unpacking

The end of the unpacking

I’m low on baking soda, almond milk, kosher salt and nearly out of quinoa. I’ll live without the quinoa, of course, and I’ll get more soon. Normally I have a large jar full of quinoa, but I’ve been using it and not replacing it. Now I’m nearly out. See why your pantry needs to be tidy?

I tossed some things that were way too old that I didn’t realize I still had, like 10+ year old packets of star anise and pennyroyal. (I’ll find a place for that big apothecary jar that used to hold the packets, maybe in another cabinet.) I also consolidated some things, like three containers of Herbes de Provence:

Central Market Herbes de Provence

Central Market Herbes de Provence

Now, longtime readers of this blog may remember my column last year on the old Suda Salvage store in River Ridge, Louisiana. I bought this bottle of Central Market herb mix on one of my last trips to Suda.. If you’ve never been in Central Market, you won’t know that this bottle sells for about $7 or $8 in HEB and Central Market. The contents of this unopened bottle and another small, partial bottle went into a larger bottle of Herbes de Provence from Phoenicia. Saved a little space, and really, I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference. Dried herbs are pretty good for a long time anyway.

Now, because the pantry is as deep as it is wide, stuff gets stuffed way back in there, and you don’t realize you’ve got a jar of curry paste and three unopened jars of French chestnut creme bought on sale at Williams-Sonoma right after Christmas after Nigella Christmas came out.

It took pretty much all afternoon. Between consolidating, tossing stuff I don’t need anymore, and figuring out what goes where, it took about six hours. No kidding. I was too tired to clean carpets when I was done, that’s why I was doing it Monday.

Did I mention two broken sewing machines? Anyway. . . .

I did manage to make more of my favorite sugar-free Barbecue Rub I told you about last week, using up the thyme in the fridge. (The thyme was in one of those cups like the ones you get cold coffee drinks with whipped cream in at Starbucks, with the hole in the top.)  I also have two very large containers of chili powder, after running out one day and not realizing I’d already bought some. Time to start making more chili.

IMG_0508[1]

The easy-to-make barbecue rub. No sugar or toxic additives.

I also didn’t realize how much decaf coffee I have in the pantry. After sorting it and corralling all of it into shallow plastic basket containers, I put this box in the front so I’ll use the stuff in this first:

How hard is it to miss this?

How hard is it to miss this?

The canister holds a nearly-full bag of . . .decaf coffee. I got the canister several years ago when they were selling them at HEB with a pound of regular Community Coffee shrink-wrapped to the front. I gave the coffee to someone else, just so I could have the canister. You can’t buy it on their website right now by itself, but it is available as part of a set.

I got the scoop at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Houston in 2011 from the Community Coffee reps, who had plenty of fresh hot decaf on tap and gave these babies away. You can buy them for 50 cents on Community’s website. (You can see my pictures from the food show with this link on Facebook.)

Maybe one day I’ll write a blog post about my coffee cups, coffee and stuff, and the French press pots I use. I’ll give that some thought. I’ve got a lot of coffee in the back of that pantry, along with the tea. Need to start drinking it again. I did make some iced coffee, but going up and down the stepladder had a lot to do with that.

Another thing I discovered a surplus of is. . .SomerSweet. I’d bought a case of 12 during a sale, and another case of 12 during another sale, and had some already, but didn’t realize it. Once I’d pulled everything out, I sorted these cans by expiration date. Now, it’s a dry powder, and it’s in a sealed can, so a sell-by date doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. But there are three cans that I will use first, (the ones with check marks on them) and the rest in time.

I have a stockpile, not a stash:

That's a total of 25 cans of delicious, natural SomerSweet, not counting the open can in the fridge. I didn't realize I had that many. Time to start making some sugar-free delights!!

That’s a total of 25 cans of delicious, natural SomerSweet, not counting the open can in the fridge. Time to start making some sugar-free delights!!

I happily made myself a delicious sugar-free mojito last night using SomerSweet. Took a little more SomerSweet than the recipe required, but that book was written when the cans were very small. Now SomerSweet is cup-for-cup with sugar, so you multiply the old amount by 5 or use the sugar equivalent.

I’ll be doing that again one day. Maybe soon.

Now, you’ll notice that there is a lot more space above the SomerSweet, wasted space. Last time I had wasted space like that I put in some wire shelving that held extra stuff and emergency supplies. I have considered adding it here, but I’m not ready to do that just yet.

Another thing I discovered was a supply of canned salmon. At $2 or $3 a can, it’s great to keep on hand for quick meals and for emergency backup food. However, now and again, I make some salmon salad, just like tuna salad, and put some things like garden parsley and celery in it. I also have a couple of other recipes that use a can of salmon, and I’m always looking for more that taste good. Right now I think I have 15 cans, and you know I’ll eventually buy more. (I don’t like salmon croquettes, however.)

So, when I had everything sorted, organized and neatly returned to the pantry, this is what it all looked like:

The neat and tidy HeatCageKitchen pantry

The neat and tidy HeatCageKitchen pantry

 

The "spare" area at the bottom is also tidied up. But the little cans of cat food are still on the stove. Maybe I'll find space another time.

The “spare” area at the bottom is also tidied up. But the little cans of cat food are still on the stove. Maybe I’ll find space another time.

And look–now I can close all three of the pantry doors!

Look! The door closes!

No more open door and stuff spilling onto the floor every time I need something.

Seriously, I should have done that a long time ago. Like a lot of things, I put off dealing with the pantry.

I am also a big believer in dumping my purse occasionally and tidying that up, too. Because I’ve been interviewing, I have a nice purse I bought in December just for interviewing, and I’m also using a cloth purse I made just for short trips like the library or the grocery, so I’m aware of everything in my purse. But over time, stuff accumulates, gets heavy and gets lost.

Dump your purse regularly, and you’ll be able to lighten the load a bit, and keep from losing things, too.

When I was at Boeing, I had a BlackBerry, along with a wired headset for long meetings and a Bluetooth headset for traveling. One day I took the all-black Bluetooth off and stashed it in my black purse, “just for a little while.”  For a couple of weeks, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I knew I hadn’t lost it, but couldn’t remember where I’d stashed it. I was about to tell my boss I’d lost a piece of equipment, and found it when I dumped my purse. It was in there the whole time, I just couldn’t remember where I put it in a hurry thinking, “I’ll get to it later.”

Whew!

Men, you are not off the hook–tidy up your wallet now and again, and make sure there aren’t any “ex” pictures in your wallet, OK? And you don’t want to sit on a big lump of whatever’s in there, right?

I’ll get my sewing machine back next week, I hope, and I’ll be happily stitching again.

Yes, I know that there is a grocery store by the name of Pantry Pride. There used to be a huge chain, but they’re gone now, and the only one is in St. Mary’s, Ohio. I looked it up, and figured it was safe to use it for a title.

Meantime, have a great week, and Happy Dining!

 

 

Report: The Fresh Market

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Well, I’ve had a little good blogging news this week–I have a number of new followers on WordPress! Welcome to my humble little blog, which I do little to promote at the moment, and consists of opinions, observations, recipes, and a whole lot of what I think of as wisdom. You, however, may call it something else–but please, keep it clean. This is a family blog. Swearing is reserved for driving around Houston, particularly during our long, hot summers.

So today our Fresh Market opened up, and finally, we get a little more gourmet in the Houston area known as Clear Lake. We’re near the NASA facility, and up until recently, was a thriving space community. The space program is, for the most part, winding down, and the population is doing the same thing. While space program people are mostly moving away to jobs in other parts of the city, for some reason there is some serious building going on. Fresh Market is part of that. Although we have Kroger, Randall’s and some very nice HEB stores, we have a hard time finding some gourmet items in this part of Houston–despite our diverse population.

And now, we have Fresh Market. Woo hoo! I hope they stick around.

There are a couple more of these stores in Houston, namely the one in the Post Oak area that I have forgotten to stop into when I have been in town. It’s not exactly near the Montrose Trader Joe’s, but I could have gone once or twice. Now that ours is open, I’m glad I stopped in. I went at 8:00 pm, because I figured all the free samples would be gone and I wouldn’t be tempted. I was right. I am trying to avoid sugar all week, in fact, completely. I had some coffee and a small cup of orange juice (which I normally only drink on airplanes.)

Let me iterate that I didn’t spend a lot of money this evening. I have gone to Half Price Books this week three times to sell some books, so I had some cash on me. It wasn’t a fortune, but then again, I didn’t spend too much, either–even though I could have easily spent $100 more. (Ask Neighbor K, she knows!)  When I start working again, I might buzz over and drop $100. But I’m not in need of that much of anything right now.

First up: you can get a cup of coffee for $1, all day, any day. (This is great, since the GER won’t go into Starbucks, and he can stop there if he wants some good coffee, not the rotgut from his local petrol station.) I had a sample of their decaf Kona, which was wonderful, but before that, a sample cup of hazelnut–which, unfortunately, was not decaf. Oops! Good thing I didn’t drink a whole 8 ounce cup. So it’s a nice place to stop for a coffee if you’re not near Starbucks or don’t want to go in with the crowd. Fresh Market also sells their own brand of bulk coffee for $11.99 a pound, every day. The hazelnut was wonderful, and so was the Kona. They also have almond amaretto, which I think I saw in decaf. I’ve got plenty of coffee for now, and I hardly drink it, mostly I drink tea these days. But a half pound of decaf hazelnut might be on my first big trip over there.

Oh, but this is one I’m not sure I’d be trying even if I was on the regular:

And look--it's on sale!

And look–it’s on sale!

My favorite flavored coffee is, not surprisingly, chocolate raspberry. Non-flavored, Kenya AA and Sumatra coffees. Caramel Pear? Oh, I don’t know about that. But hey, what I think smells like Raid is going to smell like heaven to the lady standing next to me.

Speaking of tea–you’ve probably seen PG Tips tea in your local grocery store, but have you ever seen PG Tips in decaf in your grocery store? Me either, until now.

PG Tips in Decaf

Um, no, I don’t belong to the Cuppa Club.

Fresh Market has 40-bag boxes of PG Tips Decaf tea in their regular tea section, along with most other teas you can find most places. YES!! I’ve been ordering it for 3 years now from Amazon.com. It’s so good. I grew up with Lipton tea, and after a British lady introduced me to it, I bought a box from HEB. Delicious tea, #1 in Britain, but the regular has so much caffeine. The decaf has all the flavor and none of the caffeine, thank heavens. And now I can get it in Clear Lake.

Another thing I got is another box of Maldon Salt, the flaky stuff from the UK that’s also enjoyed by many chefs and foodies. The box I bought three or four years ago is nearly empty, but if you go to Williams Sonoma to buy it, it’s expensive. Right now on their website, it’s $10.95 a box, but I think it’s like $12 or $13 in the store. In Fresh Market, it’s $3.99. Of course I bought some! I’ll use more of it too.

Saltandfrozenveg

Ordinary frozen veg, but good enough for today. And nice wooden floors, too.

Limes are 2 for $1 there, but they’re high everywhere; I’ll try HEB or Food Town soon. I did get a couple of super-sized lemons and two nice grapefruit, as well as a small container of their store-brand half and half for coffee and tea. Their milk products are not treated with rBGH, but not all organic; HEB does the same thing. There is a fair amount of USDA certified organic product, but there are also containers of Cool Whip in the freezer next to the organic frozen fruit.

I know, they have to appeal to a wide range of folks, but anybody who puts Cool Whip on organic fruit of any kind just needs to head over to Wal-Mart and stay there. (That was my snarky opinion coming out.)

Oh, and speaking of dairy, they also have their own store brand of refrigerated almond milk! I’ll try that another day.

You know I was looking for this, and sure enough, they do gluten-free.

A good selection of gluten-free products, not only here, but in the freezer case as well.

A good selection of gluten-free products, not only here, but in the freezer case as well.

They’ve even got their own house brand of gluten-free products, and as you can see, they’re marked as such so it’s easy to find, and there are many products located in different parts of the store. However, as Dr. William Davis warns in Wheat Belly, much of it is made from corn flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, and other ingredients that have a high carb content and can give you an insulin spike. So, that’s something to take into consideration; you must read the labels.

If you like chutney and fancier versions of peanut butter and jelly, you’re in luck, they’ve got lots of it:

Whatever your heart desires here.

Whatever your heart desires here.

And then inspiration struck (or maybe it was the coffee.) There’s a recipe called Rapid Ragu in Nigella Express that I put off making until recently because I couldn’t find something called onion confit. I did find it a few months ago, in Central Market, but at $10 a jar, this imported French stuff that doesn’t last in the fridge too long isn’t practical to keep around (and it’s more on Amazon!)  However, while I didn’t buy it this time, I wonder if this will do the trick, and I can get it at Fresh Market for a lot less:

A possible replacement for hard-to-find Onion Confit?

A possible replacement for hard-to-find Onion Confit?

I’ll get it when I start working and I can drop the occasional $100 at the grocery store again. Not today–the recipe also calls for ground lamb, which is, shall we say, more than ground beef. I can wait for it, as well as another gluten-free cupcake from Frost Bake Shoppe.

And for the “I don’t have time to cook” crowd, a little shortcut:

Wash the jars and get rid of the labels and no one will ever know. . . .

Wash the jars and get rid of the labels and no one will ever know. . . .

In addition to many familiar products, they also have a fair amount of stuff you might not see in your regular grocery store, unless your regular grocery store is Korean:

I have never had a Korean mother-in-law.

I have never had a Korean mother-in-law.

Again, as wide of a range as you can get. I think I’ve had it once, and like sushi, was quite enough. I’m not slamming anyone’s cuisine–but I’ll pass on this kind of thing, OK? I grew up in New Orleans, lived in California in the 80’s and acquired a taste for Mexican food, and have been in Texas for 15 years, love the barbeque. Kimchi just isn’t for me, that’s all, and I’m just reporting.

Don’t judge me, I only took a picture and didn’t purchase any:

I have no idea what they will do, and I don't wanna flunk a drug test!!

I have no idea what they will do, and I don’t wanna flunk a drug test.

Another section nearby this one has olive oils left and right. But I just know everyone is waiting on pins and needles to find this.

Just in case you really, really, need to know about this stuff.

Just in case you really, really, need to know about this stuff.

No, I didn’t buy any of this, either. Heck, I didn’t even pick it up to see if it was imported from Italy, France, Greece or Croatia. Maybe if I invite a sophisticated gentleman for dinner.

The GER couldn’t care less if it was this stuff or Wesson. He’s nice like that.

Now, folks who know me know about my grocery bag collection–I’ve got several from East Coast chain Publix, HEB, Central Market, import store Phoenicia, Safeway, Trader Joe’s,and a bunch of other places in between. Fresh Market has some insulated tote bags like the one I got from Trader Joe’s a while back, but not as big. I passed on theirs as well as these, but I almost gave in.

Aren't these cute?

Aren’t these cute?

This is, obviously, for buying bulk goods so you don’t need the plastic bags. Again, I passed on them, but there will be a day where I get a few. Not only are they reusable for shopping, there’s probably a few things I can use them for at home..

Even Jezebel the step-kitty got a little something:

OK, she didn't mess with the salt.

OK, she didn’t get any of the salt.

I’ve never bought Newman’s Own cat food, in fact, I didn’t know they had it, and I’ve never t ever seen it. That one, as you can see on the far left of the picture, is USDA certified organic. The one on the right isn’t, not that I saw, but since it was rabbit, I bought it as a treat for Jezebel. I put out half a can, and she went after it. I’ll give her the other half tomorrow, and save the Newman’s Own for another day. Both, as you can see, are also grain free, which I try to buy much as I can. I’ve also given her some cat food from Trader Joe’s that she likes, but this stuff is grain free. (Normally, it’s Fancy Feast; the vet’s office feeds that to their boarded cats.)

Wish I could have given some of this to Catmandu, but he did get Blue Buffalo duck a few times. On the other hand, as fussy as he was, he might not have eaten the rabbit. Jezebel appreciates the good food, but she’s now enjoyed samples of my cooking as well to the point where I can’t make a cup of tea without her demanding to be given some. She nearly climbed in my lap the other day when I was eating some chicken. My bad.

Now, this is an interesting site at the checkout lane:

What a good idea for impulse buys!

What a good idea for at-the-checkout items!

Although Fresh Market has a collection of natural toiletries like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods does, this is a great idea on the way out. Well priced and convenient, I like this the best out of all the stores I’ve been in. I have plenty of lip balm and hand sanitizer at the moment, so I didn’t get any. But when I run low, I know where to go, because I try to keep hand cream and hand sanitizer in all my bags, including my purse, just in case. And the lip balm is less than Burt’s Bees–good, since summer isn’t waiting for anyone (except way up north, where some of my friends report a wind chill factor this week.)

Oh, I forgot to to mention the deli, bakery, meat department and the dining area at the front of the store! DUH–and I didn’t take any pictures of those, either. Sorry about that–I should have at least glanced at their takeout. (I did see sushi.) You can get some lunch or coffee and have it at a table and chairs, much like Central Market in Houston. It’s a smaller area than Central Market’s but quite nice.

The only bad thing I can say about Fresh Market is they don’t carry those Mynts that I love from Trader Joe’s, but I think I can live with that. I’m stocked up for a while, and I’m sure I’ll be at Trader Joe’s again one day. Plus, I can order them from Amazon if I really need some.

Verdict: a pretty good gourmet place to shop!

Their store is about the size of Trader Joe’s, not real big like Central Market or Publix. While they have a fair amount of store-brand product, they also carry a fair amount of national brands, too, along with some imported things. I can see myself spending some money in there and saving money on petrol in the future, or at least in for some takeout or a forgotten item one day.

If you’re lucky enough to get one of these in your neighborhood, go during their grand opening if you want to sample all kinds of stuff. If not, do what I did and wait until 8:00 pm (they close at 9:00 pm.)

Note: even The Woodlands doesn’t have one of these, although they have Trader Joe’s. But even the New Orleans area has four of them, one on St. Charles Avenue; traffic must be a bear.

Ours is next to the Lifeway Christian Store across from Baybrook mall, just behind Zoe’s Kitchen–another new addition to our area, which I should write a review for soon. I’ve enjoyed food from Zoe’s a few times, although not in a while. Neighbor K likes them too; she visited the one in San Antonio when they opened a couple of years ago. Heck, if you’ve got a Zoe’s in your neighborhood, you’re lucky on that one as well.

Happy Dining!!