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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!!

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