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–let’s Swerve!
I’m sorry to be late again, *life* has happened, and there are dogs involved. We’re getting that sorted out, and I’m always looking for new things to bring you.
As I alluded to in a recent post, there is something available for folks who miss SomerSweet, and anyone who’s looking for a sweet alternative to sugar that isn’t toxic or make you feel ill after eating it. An alternative sweetener that allows you to sweeten foods naturally without wondering what will happen in an hour. And one that’s somewhat accessible without ordering it from somewhere else. I found it: and it’s called Swerve.
I still miss my HEB.
Now, y’all keep hearing me say this. I really do, and here’s one of the main reasons:
That’s right, I’m really ticked off about this. HEB, Kroger, Randall’s, and other stores in Houston (and around the country) have cup holders for your coffee. Many stores, like Kroger, Randall’s and Target, have Starbucks locations in the store. (The Walmart on I-45 has a McDonald’s in the front of the store as well.) I mean, coffee is a thing now, right? People shop with their coffee, especially during the cold winter months, so why not?
When I went to Winn-Dixie a couple of days before Thanksgiving, I stopped in at the PJ’s in front of the store for a coffee. Once I grabbed my basket, I realized–no place for coffee! I had to be very careful balancing a coffee in one hand, or balancing it in the “seat” part of the basket. It’s 2016—child seating areas have been in grocery store baskets since I was a kid—so why don’t they have coffee cup holders in the rest of the US?
Neighbor E graciously took these pictures for me last Saturday, and included a pic of of our friends there, Miss Lei:
She made a different version of the hatch apple cake, and E got me the recipe for you:
And check out the display that’s right in front of the bakery, inside the store.
NOW do you see why I miss my HEB? (And many thanks to Neighbor E for the great pictures, too!) Well, I’m getting there. And, BF makes it easier. He’s been to our HEB, so he understands why.
Turkey thighs found!
I did find more turkey thighs at the Rouse’s on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, and I bought both packs—they were under $2! Next trip to NOLA, I’ll go look again. The newest Trader Joe’s is across the street; I just went there for a couple of bottles of water for the trip home (and I know they’re 17 cents each.) But it’s nice, just like the one in Baton Rouge, and the one in The Woodlands. If you haven’t been to a Trader Joe’s, and there’s one in your area, might be worth a visit. I very nearly brought home a packet of their Pork and Beef Tamales. They actually are a product of Mexico. They’re real tamales, and very tasty too.
Anyway. . . .
Do *you* have a coffee while you shop?
I did notice that my Whole Foods in Mandeville has coffee cup holders in their baskets—the little “urban” baskets, as I call the smaller ones with two compartments, have them in the handle like HEB does. The bigger baskets, the ones with the child seats in them, have these plastic holders, which also hold things like flowers:
I know, I know. . .these are “first world problems.” But DARNIT! When there’s a PJ’s right in front of the store, why can’t Winn-Dixie shoppers have holders for coffee too?
What’s this foolishness?
Speaking of Whole Foods, I saw this little gem last time:
No kidding, “Not Beef.” OK, riddle me this, Batman—if you’re truly a vegan and/or vegetarian, and you do not partake of a product that comes from “anything with a face,” why are you in need of a product that tastes of simulated beef? Is this to go with your “plant-based burger meat?” Not a joke, and it’s $3 a box!
No, OK? And that recipe for “Not Beef Noodle Soup” starring cut bits of tofu? Yeah. . .not happening in the Casa. Even if I weren’t allergic to soy, I wouldn’t try it. What’s the point? Besides, BF would run me up the street for bringing tofu into his house.
I know, I know–Whole Foods is giving customers what they want, or what they think they want. This is America, the land of invention, so. . .spend your money where you like, but I still think it’s silly.
Resistance is futile
Oh, and, despite my refusal to do so, I now have a Winn Dixie Customer Reward Card, similar to the ones I have for Kroger, Randall’s, Vitamin Shoppe, Petsmart, Petco, IKEA, and a myriad of other stores in Houston and elsewhere. I added the app to my phone, too. Lucky me, they have “fuel points” that we can use to save a few rubles when we fill up The White Knight. So I hope to be able to use the points soon. I spoke to Winn-Dixie today to resolve an issue with duplicate cards.
While I on the phone with the nice lady, I expressed my discontent with having no place to put my coffee cup while shopping. (The PJ’s is right there, for heaven’s sake!) She didn’t know why that was, but she promised to pass along the suggestion to management. So maybe during the next upgrade of baskets, Winn-Dixie will get with the 21st Century and have a place for customers to put their coffee cups while shopping there.
Enough of that—this is the post you’ve been waiting for.
Let’s do the Swerve!
If you’re one of those folks who is missing SomerSweet, isn’t happy with stevia, or would like to move away from the Splenda, Equal or other chemical sweeteners you’ve become accustomed to using, Swerve might be what you’re looking for.
As I mention in my last post, I found Swerve in the Mandeville Whole Foods on my first trip. Swerve is erythritol, a natural sweetener that doesn’t have any nasty side effects like chemical sweeteners, and no, um, gastro issues. This is great news for diabetics and anyone who wants to cut down or eliminate sugar from their diet. You can have some sweet stuff and not be tempted by something you know you shouldn’t be eating. It’s especially useful this time of year, when you know how all the well-laid plans go pear-shaped when someone shows up with anything called “Black Forest,” “Chocolate Cherry,” “Peppermint,” or the thing that makes me knock a big guy out of the way, something with chocolate and raspberry in the same place. (BF knows to move if I spot that combo, but I haven’t been in the company of the esteemed Shaquille O’Neal; I’m sure he’d move out of the way just as fast.)
Here’s a closeup:
How does it compare to the now-defunct SomerSweet?
Here’s a peek in the bag:
The day I bought it, I paid $7.99 for this bag:
No, it’s not cheap–but it’s useful if you’re looking for healthy ingredients.
Not everybody cares.
Please note that in my own experience with healthier foods, not everyone cares that it’s sugar free, gluten free, carb free, or yeast free. This was especially true at Thanksgiving, when my favorite Cranberry Ginger Relish wasn’t well received, and the vegan cornbread made for BF’s Dad wasn’t well received. I’m not doing that again, I’ll make all that stuff for myself. BF “kind of” liked the vegan cornbread, but the “regular” cornbread wasn’t all eaten, either—about half went to Hound Training.
Another example: A few years ago, I brought former Neighbor R a pan of yeast-free brownies at her request (she’d given me a big favor.) She thought that little pan was “too much,” and she gave half to another neighbor. That other neighbor, I was told later, brought them to her booth at a flea market, where “everybody loved them!” No kidding—that neighbor didn’t know they were more expensive, sugar free and all that, because she was accustomed to making brownies from a box. I’ve said this before: alternative ingredients are pricier than the usual white-flour/white-sugar stuff. So unless you know someone who would appreciate yeast free brownies, gluten-free cornbread, or other non-standard healthier recipes, it’s probably better to keep them to yourself, or at least in your family’s kitchen.
It’s all good.
Granular Erythritol is available in a number of places, including Amazon and Dr. Hotze’s in-house vitamin store (called Sweet-N-Natural.) This 2-pound can is $50; SomerSweet was considerably less expensive. But if you don’t have the inclination to pop for that much Sweet-N-Natural, Swerve is a great option to try erythritol. A 12-ounce bag was $7.99 at Whole Foods, and you may find it on sale occasionally for less.
So what do you do with it? Use it like sugar. Between the Swerve website and their Facebook page, you’ll find lots of ideas for using Swerve to satisfy your sweet tooth. They don’t yet have a downloadable PDF file of recipes; you just go there, or to their Facebook page, and pick out what you’d like. I’ve seen some tasty desserts on their site, but I haven’t tried them yet. This one, for Pecan Pie Biscotti, looks pretty tasty. (Access all their recipes here.)
I had a chat with the very nice Natalia at Swerve, and she says that although they’ve been around since 2001, they’ve only stepped up their marketing since 2012. Swerve is available nationwide as well as in Canada, and is also available at places like Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost if your local market doesn’t carry it. (They currently don’t have an e-commerce function on their own website.) You can also use their handy online store locator to find it in your neck of the woods. I had no idea that it was available in Clear Lake, but it is!
Swerve comes in 12 ounce packages, in granular and powdered.
What makes Swerve special?
The cup-for-cup measure is a distinct difference between Swerve and other similar products. Swerve is the only product of its kind that comes in not only granular, like you would put in your coffee, but also powdered for confectionery creations (i.e., truffles.) No one else has a “confectioner’s sugar” version. It’s also gluten-free and non GMO (two big sell factors for me.) Erythritol doesn’t promote tooth decay the way sugar does, and of course, it TASTES LIKE SUGAR! No metallic aftertaste like stevia—I’m sorry, but stevia kind of tastes funny to me. So, I’m liking Swerve a lot.
Unlike xylitol, erythritol is also safe for the dogs who might get under your feet and nibble a bit of crumbs you didn’t know you dropped. Xylitol is very toxic for animals, so if you have some or might use it, do keep an eye out around the critters. Last thing you want is an emergency vet bill for a poisoned animal.
So what does Swerve taste like?
It tastes like sugar! No, really, it tastes like sugar. No aftertaste at all.
I tried Swerve myself recently when I made some coconut oil chocolate to nibble on. With It worked perfectly, and there was no difference between the one I made with SomerSweet and the one I made with Swerve. They were equally tasty, and melted all over my hands as coconut oil is wont to do.
Some cocoa powder:
Two tablespoons of cocoa powder, then mix well with a fork:
Now add Swerve, just stir it in:
I think I added two of those tablespoons, just like SomerSweet. And because the coconut oil was unflavored, a little almond extract does wonders:
Please note that almond extract is VERY potent, and you only need a tiny drop for this.
Freeze until hard, and carefully break it into chunks to eat like candy. Well, it pretty much is, isn’t it?
I’m thinking it might be time for another crack at the YeastFreeBrownies, sweetening them with Swerve. I haven’t made them in a while. Maybe BF might even like them, just a little.
So, now you have an alternative, and if you’re like me, a replacement for the beloved SomerSweet. (Or if you’re looking to permanently ditch the toxic chemical ones.) I’ll use the rest of the SomerSweet over time, and will pick up my sugarless cooking and baking with Swerve. BF will probably not like me buying many bags of it at a time, but you know I hate to run out of anything.
Be sweet and enjoy!
Hello, again, Dear Readers:
I hope you’re feeling better by now. The election, and all the associated nastiness, is over for a while. Now it’s time for transition, and hopefully, getting back to whatever passes for “normal.” It was a nail-biter, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop eating BF’s ice cream. (I didn’t eat all of it, just a little.) We stayed up until 3:00 am or so watching the results, and back-checking CBS News on our phones against what was showing up on Facebook in our feeds. Bizarre–I’ve never done that before, but we finally hit the sack once it was all over. Good thing we didn’t have anything planned for the next day, and he was off work. No more sugar-laden ice cream, and the weight is going back down again, thank heavens.
Time for some comfort food, OK? Keep reading, there’s a recipe for you shortly.
We’ve been doing some renovation type of cleaning in the Casa, which includes having one of his, um, ex-girlfriends finally come get her stuff out of his house. She’s got some of it, but some still resides for a few more days. (What are we, Public Storage?) His daughter took the things she wanted and I helped her clear out stuff she didn’t want. All that’s left is his friend from the Navy. Well, with moving stuff around and out, painting the back room for my soon-to-be studio office, and clearing car parts out of the house, we’ve set up a little breakfast area by the kitchen:
This is my IKEA Tarno patio set that we just put there and put a tablecloth over, and BF decided to add my tiny lamp (Lampan, also from IKEA.) I repaired the miniblinds which had been damaged by a passed-on pooch, and cleaned the window really well. Know what? It’s kind of nice to have breakfast right there, or dinner. When we get things better situated, we’ll put my regular dinette there, and I’ll repair more of the miniblinds, now that I know how. (Looked it up on eHow and learned on the fly.) The blinds are closed so you don’t see that the Casa “beautification project” has not yet carried over to the patio out front.
After my trip to New Orleans on Sunday, where I bought some lovely pork chops, chicken sausage and chicken thighs for us, BF decided Monday to get. . .one of those “kits” to make tacos for lunch on Tuesday. I kid you not. At least he had the sense to get the crunchy taco kit, which has corn tortillas. No word about “gluten free,” but there was no wheat or its derivatives in any of the ingredients that I saw, so I was glad about that and reluctantly took part. (It does say that it was partly produced with GMO ingredients; my guess is the corn, which I rarely eat.) He asked me to brown the ground beef to get started, and of course, twenty minutes later, we had tacos–because he went into the living room to watch more TV. GRRR. . .but I got the job done.
Dinner was Mustard Pork Chops in the Crock Pot, which I may post soon. It was pretty good, and worthy of doing again. Because he really wanted. . .tacos. . .the chicken shifted to lunch on Wednesday, where I made him, for the first time, Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, or “The Hunter’s Stew,” which, in Nigella’s case, is “lazy hunter’s stew.” (It only takes 30 minutes.) Although it’s long been a comfort food favorite for me, this was his first taste of it. Thumbs up–he likes it, and I can make it again for him. (Thanks.) The next day for dinner at work, he took some with a cup of rice, since he thought it “needed” some. No problem, I cooked up a small batch of white rice for him and added it to the container. Along with a slice of made-from-scratch pound cake from his friend’s birthday, he was all set for work.
Now, if you’re interested in making this “hunter’s stew,” I want to point something out that’s not immediately obvious: although the printed recipe calls for a half-cup of pancetta cubes–which is perfectly acceptable, albeit expensive and hard to find here–you can also slice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon in place of it. That’s the way I’ve always made it since I saw the original show. The show may be on YouTube; you’d just have to look for it.
It really is a nice comfort food. Even if it does come from across the pond. You’re welcome.
I’ve been in the larger Winn-Dixie in Hammond, and indeed they do have more organic produce. Surprise–they even have fresh sushi. I still hate sushi, but–they have it! I did some recon in the morning, and then did some shopping later in the day, mostly meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. I almost–ALMOST–thought I was in Kroger. And I kept saying “I live down in La Marque. . .” which, of course, is in Texas. Well, it’s probably because I felt like I was in Kroger. I sure do miss my HEB, though–the pork loin roasts I used to get on sale for $3 in HEB are something like $12 here. What’s up with that? I did find a nine-pound pork loin that was about 3 feet long, but we don’t have any place to store that monster. Another time.
Rouse’s has purchased a rival grocery store chain, so there will soon be a Rouse’s in Hammond for me to visit, right near that Winn-Dixie. That’ll be good, too.
A quick look at the calendar tells me that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s next week! I really have lost my sense of date and time. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I won’t be cooking turkey. That’s OK, I cook turkey all year long (I just wish I could get turkey thighs here; maybe Albertson’s has them.) I asked BF the other night what our plans were for Thanksgiving; he said his brother usually does a big spread, and we would attend. (Just have to figure out what I’m going to wear.) Well, if I’m allowed, I’ll bring some of that fantastic Cranberry-Ginger Relish and maybe one or two other small things, but I warned BF that I would likely eat before I went. Longtime readers know that things like sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with other abominable things added to it and all things bread, pie and gravy are not coming my way. I’ll be happy to have some turkey–maybe a little mashed potatoes, too–but no gravy, please! Gravy, to me, kills the taste of everything under it. So this will be interesting, and maybe I’ll pull the Nordic Track out in the morning before we go.
Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?
So, what do you do when you’re hosting such an occasion and have health concerns to consider? (Besides panic, that is.) Or, surprise, his new girlfriend is a vegetarian, and he’s going vegan soon too? Knowing this in advance helps, of course, but sometimes you don’t, so having some extra vegetable dishes helps (just don’t use chicken stock!) I’ve written about these kinds of things before, and you can also get some help on Martha Stewart’s website, under “All Things Thanksgiving.” Sur la Table has also published its annual Thanksgiving Guide, and it’s available online or as a free download to print. BF and I caught a bit of the Rachael Ray Show the other day, and someone named Clinton Kelly was making dishes you could make in advance: Turkey Meatballs, a Roasted Vegetable Soup (which looked pretty good, actually), which you could make in advance and freeze, then serve from the Crock Pot and some popover kinds of things with smoked salmon. The Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is really good, too. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific, please check out the worlds’s biggest idea database, Pinterest.
One thing I can’t emphasize enough is getting started on your Thanksgiving planning early. Get that turkey NOW, if you haven’t already. Get your brine mix, or make it, NOW, because the turkey has to thaw first, AND you have to make the brine ahead of time. Buy your ingredients early, especially the unusual stuff, like puff pastry or something else that everyone will be looking for like fresh or dried sage. Doing potluck? Ask and assign people a specific dish–dressing, veg, cornbread, whatever–so you avoid the problem of everyone stopping at the grocery and picking up a cake or cupcakes at the last minute. All dessert and little turkey does *not* make happy dinner guests, you know? A broad variety of different vegetable dishes, and maybe including maybe a pilaf or risotto (using vegetable stock) can keep everyone happy and well-fed while including the vegetarians and not calling them out for it.
Brining a turkey? Here’s one from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (warning: it has brown sugar) and one from Martha Stewart’s website. If you want to brine a turkey–and I highly recommend it–get going. Now. Juniper berries might be hard to find soon.
It’s also a great time to dust off the slow cookers and the waffle makers if you’re not using them regularly. Make sure all your appliances work before the big day, too. And isn’t there something you can slow-cook or waffle ahead of time? (Cranberry Ginger Relish can be made a few days in advance, thank heavens.)
Yes, it’s time to get your thinking cap on. Quick. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, it’s time to take inventory so your Thanksgiving will go well and everyone, including yourself, will enjoy themselves. (Here’s some advice I wrote about last year that may help.)
Here’s another tip: READ your recipes and understand them before you shop and get started. Case in point: last night I decided to make something new for me and BF. Seems he’s never had eggs with tomatoes in his life, despite his claim of “I’ve been all around the world!” So, I found this recipe for Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce in one of the Everyday Food cookbooks last night, and asked him if he’d like to try it. He said he would try it, with a bit of reluctance in his voice. (Next question I asked: “Do we have any anchovies?” Oh, the look on his face was priceless.) In the book, this recipe makes two servings, not the four that’s on the website. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the book called for a HALF can, 28 ounces, of tomatoes. Skimming over the ingredients, I just figured I could use two cans of tomatoes, 14.5 ounces. That’s pretty much the same, all right? WRONG–it was, indeed, way too much tomato, and that was his first comment. (I ate them, though.) I noticed the difference when I put the book away–and then made a note of it. He said he’d like to have it again, with half as much tomatoes. Done. (And maybe an anchovy, too, but don’t tell BF–I hide that kind of stuff in a drawer of the fridge.)
The point: please READ carefully and understand before you do something dumb like I do sometimes. Especially for Thanksgiving. OK? Don’t forget the hot mess I made when I invited The GER over a few years ago. It can happen to you. READ. Please.
Now, would I leave you without help for Thanksgiving? Of course not.
Remember last time, when NM handed me a bunch of apples to take home? Well. . .I did put them in the Crock Pot, and darnit, they were pretty tasty! I made them at the same time as the pork chops, but not because I had pork chops. BF wasn’t wild about them cooked, he’d rather have fresh. But, it’s fall, and it feels like fall, so I wanted to try something different.
I actually made two batches, in two different slow cookers, to see what would happen with two different sweeteners–SomerSweet and Agave Syrup. I think this would make a great lower-carb/gluten-free alternative to the traditional apple pie. Either for everyone, or just for guests like me who would rather keep the calorie count down.
If you’re planning to have an apple dessert, or more than one, for Thanksgiving, this is an easy one to toss in and forget for a while. I actually made it a second time with bigger, fresh red apples so I could take pictures and show you how it’s made.
When I cruised through Pinterest to find apples in the Crock Pot, I didn’t find much in the way of healthy versions–mostly, they were loaded with sugar. GRRRR. . .but of course, we have alternatives in our world, don’t we?
Yes, that’s the same sherry vinegar I have around to make Cranberry Ginger Relish, but since I don’t use it often, and it only takes a small amount, I decided to try it in this apple dish. You could use red wine vinegar, or just leave it out if you wanted. But I found that the sherry vinegar added a nice depth of flavor that’s not often in apple dishes.
I started out by washing all the apples, of course:
The first time I made this, I used just cinnamon. I decided to use apple pie spice for this incarnation, because I’m glad I did. I made some using this recipe, but because not everything is unpacked, I couldn’t find any allspice. So, it was back to Winn-Dixie for more after I picked up BF from work Sunday afternoon. He wanted some hot chocolate because the weather had turned cold. While he was prowling around looking for that, I went to the spices. Hmmm. . .should I get the stuff called “natural,” which is a rather nebulous word on food products, or get the brand I frequently bought in Houston?
I picked up that bottle that was $1.64 and put it in the little hand basket. Then BF returned to the spice aisle and was of the impression that I’m not getting what I wanted. He then said to me, “Look! Here’s all the ‘allspice’ you could ever want, right here!”
Oh, he was so funny, gesticulating towards all those spice blends. Giggling, I took the little bottle out of the hand basket and showed it to him:
BF was in the Navy, you know. Fortunately, he was *not* on KP in the galley (kitchen), or he would have been keel-hauled for making that mistake. He only had to put up with me laughing at him all the way home.
This apple pie spice mix recipe from Life Made Sweeter is quick and easy, and I made a double batch to make sure I had enough:
And use it like you would the store-bought stuff. No sugar or other additives to worry about. (Of course, yesterday, I found another carefully packed box marked “Amy Pantry,” which had not one, but two bottles of allspice. GRRR.)
Back to it–I started by putting a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the crocks:
Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering if there’s a deliberate reason for a black and white crock. Well, yes, and I used it–the black one was mine, a replacement during a Karma of Spare Parts incident, last year, I think, when I sent the 4-quart crashing to the floor on a Sunday. They no longer had white, so black it was. The white crock belongs to BF. The difference came in handy: the black one had apples cooked with Agave Syrup, and the white one had apples cooking in SomerSweet.
Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)
Then started cutting the apples and adding them to the crock, and rolling them around in the oil:
Then I added in the apple pie spice mix to both crocks:
Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:
Then added in a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar to each one:
And then I added the respective sweeteners:
Mix it all up again to coat the apples with the rest of it:
And cooked it on low for about 4 hours. What happened? Well. . .it was interesting, and BF gave me his honest opinion (I only had to needle him a little bit.)
Hmmm. . .looks like Miss Food Blogger forgot to take a picture of the results. Oh, well. I had three things going on at once. . .and we just ate them!
While BF would prefer eating apples raw, he said that the apples cooked with SomerSweet were a little less sweet, and still somewhat crisp, although they weren’t hard like a fresh apple. The agave syrup crock apples were softer and sweeter than the others, and that’s the one he preferred.
If I had cooked them longer they would have probably been a lot softer, and maybe even soft enough for applesauce. But peeling all them apples? No thanks. It was just something to use them up the first time.
Agave syrup works for a lot of different things, including a replacement for honey, with less of an insulin spike than honey would give. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, I just read about these things.) SomerSweet’s primary ingredient, erythrytol, is a sugar alcohol that’s also quite sweet and works like regular sugar, also without the insulin spike.
For you and your guests who don’t want pie or other heavily-sugared dessert, baking apples in your Crock Pot may be a good alternative to have around, and in the Crock Pot, couldn’t be easier. But why wait for Thanksgiving? Apples are in season now, and available all year around–make some this week or this weekend, and see how you like it. Tweak it to make it yours, and offer it with pride on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of those things you can set and forget. You may be asked to make it again next year, or even before then–and what would be wrong with that?
Now for another side dish that’s also low-carb. Spaghetti Squash. Have you tried it? I have. They’re hard as a rock and can be somewhat dangerous to cut, especially the larger ones. Easiest method I knew of, until now, was to cut it in half, scrape out all the seeds and strings, coat the inside with a touch of olive oil, and roast at 350F cut side down for an hour. I used to use the toaster oven to roast even the larger ones, but now I don’t have a toaster oven. What to do? Well. . . .
I also follow a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I found a recipe there a while back, and I may have posted it here, but I can’t find it now. HOWEVER–a few weeks ago, this recipe for Crockpot Spaghetti Squash with Lasagne Bolognese showed up and got my attention. I haven’t made the Bolognese sauce yet, but I might one day.
But cooking a spaghetti squash in the Crock Pot? Why haven’t I tried this before?
Tieghan makes up her sauce, adds it into the Crock Pot, then puts the whole, untouched spaghetti squash right on top the sauce. No kidding. So I pulled out the big one and put the (little) squash in it, because the ovals were needed for the apples.
I just pulled off the sticker, washed it off, dropped it in, turned it to low and left it alone for a good 8 or 9 hours.
You put the food in, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and leave it alone:
I did this early on Monday, and about suppertime, this is what came out:
And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:
Either use a good potholder or wait til it cools, then cut it in half to remove the seeds. Once you’ve got the “guts” out of it, scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork into your serving bowl:
Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:
Mix it up well, and if needed, re-heat in the microwave or on top the stove, or leave in the oven to keep it warm:
And you’ve got delicious and perfectly cooked spaghetti squash for your vegetarian guests. (You could also use olive oil if you don’t want to use butter.) But don’t be surprised if the non-veg folks dig into it–spaghetti squash is delicious when cooked well and seasoned right. (If only I could get BF to try a bite of it; he hates squash across the board.)
So, did I give you some new ideas for a great Thanksgiving meal? Alternatives for your guests, maybe? Or just something different and deliciousi for dinner this weekend? (November also has 29 *other* dinners to prepare besides Thanksgiving, you know.) I hope this helps, and I hope everyone has a tasty and happy Thanksgiving next week.
Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Amy, there you go again, banging on about SomerSweet again. You have the last three cans of it in existence!” Well, here you go. I hope to finish the post on a new replacement for SomerSweet for you, but I want to reach out to the company and find out more from them. I will tell you that I found it in Whole Foods in Mandeville, it’s called Swerve, and the company is located in New Orleans!
More to come on this, hopefully soon.
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.