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A Monday Post for the Water Cooler

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:

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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:
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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:

 

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Help for the Hubig’s deprived! (Source: Google Images)

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.

Haydel's hand pies flavors

The four flavors of Haydel’s Gourmet Hand Pies. (Source: NOLA.com)

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)

Thank you!!

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.

Enjoy.

 

Meatballs at Starbucks!

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Well, I finally did it and tried out the new Starbucks Evenings Menu at a nearby Starbucks. (The one on my street isn’t yet up and running with it, so I went to the one across the street from Ellington Field.) What did I have? Meatballs!

Why meatballs? Heck, I don’t know, I had to think fast when I ordered. I had to first head to Jiffy Lube for a Texas state inspection. After that I was on my own.

Let me back up a little. . .first of all, I had a coupon. No kidding, a few weeks ago, after getting a coffee one morning, I was given a coupon to try one of their Evening menu items for $2.50. Then I lost it. I cleared out my purse, and found it. Hot dawg! Well, no, it was meatballs, so let me tell you about it.

Neighbor R also generously gave me another gift card recently. Coupled with the coupon, it was a nice treat.

I’ve mentioned the Evenings menu before, and you can see the menu here. Everything that’s currently being offered is shown, including the wine list. (You’ll have to enlarge it and wait for a few minutes, or download it and pull it up in Adobe Reader.) While I was there, a couple of other customers were also having something. When I was leaving, one gentleman had a glass of red wine with what looked like a small quiche (but I didn’t ask or take pictures.) The wine was served in a stemless glass with a small bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds in the top. The nut bowl served as a”cover” on the wineglass on the way to the table. Nice! I didn’t take that picture either. Maybe next time.

Now, they were nice enough to accept the coupon, so I wasn’t going to fuss when the barista served it to me in a to-go box. He just forgot I was eating in. (But had he remembered the plate, it was a little round white one that I’ve seen on the menu.)

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He was really nice, apologized and offered to get me a plate. Nah–this was fine. However he did bring me a very nice stainless steel fork to enjoy them with. So what did I get in the little box?

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Five meatballs. About the size of golf balls. In a tangy sauce that’s slightly on the side of barbecue but not entirely. (The little round white dish would have made a better picture, I know.) However. . . .

Understand that the Starbucks Evenings menu is not intended to be a full meal, like their Bistro Boxes or breakfast sandwiches. These are small plates of savory evening meals, similar to ordering an appetizer in your favorite restaurant. And, to be honest, I was not disappointed, either. They’re made with a mix of ground beef and Italian sausage, and not spicy hot.

The outside was a tiny bit dry, and takes a bit of force to stick the fork into, but not bad. Once you tear it open, it’s fine. And the fork was stainless steel, not plastic.

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So why would you want small plates after 4:00 pm at a Starbucks? Well, lots of reasons–if you’re single, you just might be on a blind date. (When I was doing that, I was in town, and had them meet me at Central Market, including the GER. I had no idea how far south he lived.) Might it be the closest place for a date night when the kids are elsewhere? Now they have more options for people who don’t drink coffee at all, and think of Starbucks as “just coffee.”

If you’re in downtown Houston where I was a couple of years ago, you could duck down to one of the two or three Starbucks around for some food and work later until you’re ready to leave. Maybe you’re meeting friends or clients after work. You’re a little hungry, but not for a full meal. It’s an idea. But let’s turn it up a little.

Live in Texas? You might find yourself in a horrendous traffic jam on the freeway, and you see a bunch first responders rushing to the scene on the shoulder of the road. (That actually happened to me many when I headed to Beaumont one day for shopping; I was on I-10  so long I was doing yoga stretches on the freeway after 3 hours of being parked.)  You know what that means. Hop off at the next exit and wait it out at Starbucks with a small plate, some iced tea, your laptop, tablet and/or smartphone. (Make sure to call home and let someone know where you are.) You might listen to the radio or check the traffic before you leave your office and discover that you’re about to head into it. That alternate route is going to take longer than your normal route, and you’re hungry as it is. Or, as one of my friends experienced many years ago, you’re in the middle of a kitchen renovation, (or heaven help you, damage of some kind) and you can’t get in there to cook for a few days (or weeks.) There are any number of reasons to keep the Starbucks Evenings Menu in your back pocket for the day you might need it.

Or–I just thought of this–if you are single and of the ingenious variety, and didn’t feel like cooking that night, one order of these meatballs with some pasta you boil and drain at home might not be a bad thing. Just order them through the drive-through. It’s sort of “home cooked,” right? Your call.

Amy’s Note of Caution: since I don’t drink if I even think I have to drive. . .use your own discretion on trying wine or beer in Starbucks. I am not suggesting anyone drink and get behind the wheel of a car, but I know there are those who may be able to handle a single glass of wine with food and drive without a problem. Not everyone can. If you can walk home, that’s a good thing (but probably not alone.) I err on the side of caution and only drink at home, or where I will not have to drive or be with anyone who has been drinking. Just be safe, that’s all I’m asking.

Of course, if you’re not interested in the Evenings menu, but you just want some food, you can always ask if they have any breakfast sandwiches left from the morning. Yes, I’ve done it on occasion, particularly one with a croissant bun, and even later in the evening. Sometimes they have them, sometimes they don’t, but all they can do is tell you no, so ask.

It’s a bit unusual, to have a light dinner at Starbucks–but why not?

The nice barista who waited on me said that they have been selling quite a bit of the Evenings menu selections, but their biggest seller is, of course, coffee.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering what these delightful little things cost. (Mine was $2.50, but that was because I was lucky enough to have a coupon from a previous visit.)  Honest, the most expensive one I saw was $6.95, and I think that was what I had, and perhaps the Chicken, Sausage & Mushroom Flatbread. Others were $3.95 and up. A glass of wine or beer will set you back about the same, but if you add in a dessert like a muffin, cake or something else big, you may be looking at $15. Up to you. I do know that the Michigan Cherry Oat bar is about $2.50 here in Houston. (I saw it recently, and well, I like cherries, too.) But if you just have one of the small plate dishes and a cup of water, or maybe a smaller coffee, (not a big Venti Frappuccino with lots of sugary add-ins) you’ll be under $10, and you can call yourself a “cheap date.”

Remember that a plate of meatballs or a flatbread could be the thing that stands between you and starvation after work one day, too.

I did notice a new bistro box in the case while I was waiting in line: the Southwestern Style Steak Wrap. No kidding:

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It’s considered a “lunch item,” but I found it after 6:00 pm. Interesting, no? (I put it on the table to get a better picture.) It does have wheat and soy, darnit.

I know, I know, I go on about Starbucks too much. I need to get a life, too. But with so many tasty things available, I feel the need to try as many as I can.

Then again, I remember that Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, would love to have a Starbucks on her street. . .but I don’t think they’re expanding into Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Yet. Ree laments about missing Starbucks at home on the ranch, but she and husband Ladd are restoring an old building in downtown Pawhuska. Hmm. I wonder if she’s going to get Starbucks to go there? Oh, that would be interesting! Ree would be blogging about that daily.

Starbucks is also a good company. They give back to their communities, their employees, and also to veterans. If you’ve heard the repeated urban legend that “Starbucks hates our troops,” click here to read how that got started and how they worked to right it.  Much like the old Proctor & Gamble rumor about the logo containing satanic images, urban legends like these take on a life of their own, especially now with social media. Starbucks is a socially conscious company that also works to do good in the world.

OK, enough of that. No, this is not a sponsored post. I wish!

Just checked my email, and there’s yet another offer for bonus stars for cardholders who buy a Carmelized Honey Latte from March 29th through April 4th. Um, pass. . .that sounds too much like the exalted Pumpkin Spice Latte. No, I’d do it if it were my favorite Molten Chocolate Latte (description here) but that’s gone away for a while. May have to learn to make it myself one day. . .but I’ll pass on the new one, especially since my Starbucks has a sticker on the outdoor menu saying that they’re “sold out” of the Honey Latte.

But if you’re a Starbucks fan, and you’re bored or something, head to a Starbucks that serves the Evenings Menu and give it a try. You might find a new favorite.

Happy Dining!

The Post for Neighbor K

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

I hope all is well with everyone. It’s been a busy week, but I hope everyone is well and enjoying the sunshine. Remember it wasn’t too many months ago that people were freezing even down here in the south of Texas. Now that you can feel your feet again, put them in some fresh grass or warm sand while you can.

I’ve often written about Neighbor K, who literally lives right next door to me. She has a lovable pug, while I have the GER’s somewhat aloof rescue cat. K works in one direction, and when I was last working (and where I went today downtown) we literally went in opposing directions. We talk about all kinds of stuff, compare notes, and keep each other out of trouble. K has fed Jezebel the step-kitty, and she lets me walk the lovable pug.

K is more of a serious athlete than I’ve ever been. I only recently started walking and working out again because I walked into Vitamin Shoppe a month or so ago and asked for something for pain. What they gave me, Solgar No. 7, works like a charm. Now I’m trying to exercise daily, mostly with walking and strength training; I’ve also got some yoga and Pilates DVDs that I use when I feel up to it.

K runs, jumps, swims, bikes, lifts weights, beats up engineers and finds yoga kinda boring. She can lift that 25-pound pug like a sack of flour, and pretty much anything else short of her car. That’s why I have been known to ask for help with lifting and moving stuff when I know she’s home.

Mostly she eats pretty good stuff, although I did tell her about being gluten free and all that. Now and again, I know she orders pizza. . .and more than one person has heard me ask her, “Are you feedin’ my dog pizza?” (He gets little pieces of crust–but I’ve seen him try to stare K down while she’s eating pizza.)

The other day K mentioned that she’s just trying to eat clean, which is what a lot of us strive for. Me, I generally avoid wheat, soy and mostly, sugar, as well as high-carb stuff. Mind you, there are times when you eat what’s available–and occasionally, when someone is nice enough to make me a sandwich, I just say “thank you.” (But then I avoid wheat again after that.)

So today was the first time I’ve been back downtown since February, and a few things have changed since the last time I was there. The first thing I noticed is that the Seattle’s Best Coffee shops are now called Amilie’s, at least the ones I saw. The fixtures are the same, but I didn’t stop in. I thought about it, though, but didn’t have time. I made it to the building in plenty of time, and it turned out to be the same building, but not the same company, that I visited the last time.

When I got off the bus, I passed by My Fit Foods down in the tunnel, and planned to go back there for lunch after looking at what was in their fridge cases. Then I hiked it all the way over to the other side of the tunnel, taking the yellow branch to get to the sky blue branch to get to the building. (Thankfully, I didn’t see anyone I know.)

The interview went well, I thought, and it lasted for nearly 2 hours. Nice place, nice people, but we’ll see what happens.

In that part of the tunnel, near the Allen Center, is a nice little round food court area with a number of places to eat. Another one of the newly renamed Amilie’s coffee bars, a branch of the Houston Shoe Hospital also populate this round area. But where did I end up eating lunch? I saw a place I wrote about last fall: Snap Kitchen!!

Yes, they have a little storefront next to Amilie’s, and when I got out of the interview, that’s where I got a spot of lunch. We don’t have these down in my neck of the woods, but I hope one day we do. It’s awesome takeaway designed to be healthy, clean food in disposable microwave-safe containers. There are microwaves there in the store–you can heat them up there, or eat them cold, your choice (and the heating instructions are on the package.) The two young ladies working there were so nice, and of course, I FORGOT to ask their names!

If you two are reading this, I do apologize. I was a bit flustered after the interview, and, DUH, I forgot. Y’all are very nice, and it’s appreciated.

After prowling the fridge cases for a minute and talking with them, I decided on beef–specifically, Naked Beef!

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No kidding that’s what it’s called. Yes, it was really tasty and filling:

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Cooked sugar snap peas can be mushy, and so I prefer them fresh. However, these were not mushy, and the cauliflower had a bit of scorching to it. Delicious!

Now, if I’m going to splurge on lunch, even if it’s a healthy one, I want dessert too. Get a load of this:

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Yes, you read that right: Goat. Cheese. Cheesecake.

Oh, my.

Now, you know that when you try something new, the law of probability will tell you that there are three possible outcomes: you will love it, you will hate it, or you won’t care either way. But I had to try it, just once.

Gluten free, sugar free, egg free. So far, so good.

Ya’ll, I LOVED this cheesecake! The nuts and coconut are ground up on the bottom to form the crust. Since goat cheese has a slight tartness to it, not nearly as strong as, say, feta cheese, I had to find out for myself. The cheesecake is sweet, but not overly sweet, thanks to the agave syrup. The little red things on top are pecans, in strawberry puree, I think.

All I can tell you is that this is a great little thing to try. Rich, creamy, sweet–everything you expect cheesecake to be. I don’t know if it’s baked or not, I didn’t ask; it might be closer to the “no bake” variety. Honest, it didn’t matter when I took that first bite.

Realizing that Snap Kitchen is mostly in Houston, most folks won’t have access–but really, with anything new, splitting it with friends may be the way to go to find out whether or not you’ll like it.

But no Snap Kitchen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something new. Look–I have friends in Australia, one born in New Orleans like I was. They’ve been all over the world more than once visiting friends and relatives. You think they haven’t tried something new? So you find something you don’t like–make a note and try something else. You might just surprise yourself–and you will find something new to enjoy.

Now–I also mentioned to these two nice ladies working there that I’d been in Snap Kitchen before, and they knew exactly where it was. I also mentioned that I write a food blog, and try very hard to be gluten free. I told them that mostly because. . .I knew what Snap Kitchen was, and also mentioned the Epic bars, which I failed to remember earlier. I did extoll the values of the Epic bars to one of the young ladies who wasn’t sure she’d like one. A bit weird to have “meat bars,” but they really are great.

After I’d thanked them for their help and tossed out the used containers, the other lady gave me one of their gluten free brownies to try–on the condition I write about it. I didn’t ask, she offered!! (I don’t ask for stuff like that, I think it’s rude; if I’m offered a politeness, then that’s different.)

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After walking nearly 3 miles this evening, I did have that delicious brownie–but it did have sugar. Of course it was good! A little different than my favorite yeast free brownies, but no less delicious. It wasn’t a big brownie like you’d get in a bakery, but they sure do pack a lot of flavor in it.

And, even before I told them I was a blogger, I was going to write about Snap Kitchen anyway–it’s one of my favorite places to grab a bite.

I texted K on the bus and told her about it, but forgot she’s never been there, and maybe she’s forgotten last year’s blog post. Heck, I forget some of them, too. So I’ve got a couple of their brochures for her for the next time she goes into town for work.

Somehow, I can’t see taking the GER into Snap Kitchen, but you know, maybe he’d like it. I don’t actually take him anyplace anymore, but if he asked, I’d probably take him. (Maybe on a leash.) But my friend LM, a college professor, drives into town to shop at Whole Foods now and again, so I wonder if I told her about Snap Kitchen. I’ll ask.

So tonight, this post is for Neighbor K and anyone else who want to “eat clean.” Here in Houston, it’s Snap Kitchen, but wherever you are, you might be able to find something similar, like MyFitFoods (we have one down here by Barnes & Noble.)

And you know what? Even if you don’t try to do the healthy food thing the way people like me and K do, I bet you’ll find something you like.

Enjoy!

 

Steppin' Out

Good evening, fellow Foodies:

Yes, I know it’s Thursday, but this is the first chance I’ve had to write. This past weekend was Labor Day in the US, and boy did I labor! Laundry, carpet cleaning, dusting, shredding, taking out multiple bags of trash, tidying up–you name it, I probably did it.

The closest I got to sewing anything was returning a pattern to Hancock Fabrics that I can’t use. It’s an elegant coat, but I can’t get something called loden cloth locally, and, well, since it would be about $32.50 a yard to order it from the UK, I don’t need it that bad. The coat calls for 4½ yards, and then there is shipping from the UK (Scotland, I think.) I just don’t need a new coat that bad; it’s not like I don’t have coats, I just like making one now and again. Burda patterns are designed and made in Germany for a European market, but they are easily available here. I like them, mostly, but this one was just not going to happen. Fortunately, I kept the receipt and only looked at the instructions–that’s how I realized that it was made just for loden fabric.

Ok, back to the foodie thing.

This week, my favorite newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, ran a story about how Greek yogurt is taking over--literally–and it’s getting on people’s nerves who like regular American-made yogurt. (Wonder how long it took them to come up with *that* clever headline. Get it? “Culture war?”) A couple of weeks ago I decided to try something new–Icelandic-style yogurt! YES!

Icelandic yogurt?

Icelandic yogurt?

No kidding, you can read more about it here. If I remember correctly, it was $1.89 for that cup–not cheap, but definitely a treat. No strong yogurt taste like your regular stuff, and enough raspberry to make it pink. It has cane sugar, but not as much sugar as your usual yogurt–which usually has that poisonous high-fructose corn syrup anyway.

So, how was your Sunday?

Me and my debit card, oh, we got around this weekend. See, when I go to World Peace Prayer on the first Sunday of the month, I also do some shopping if I need something, or just want something. Sometimes I come straight home–but no, this past Sunday was a shopping weekend for sure. Me and my debit card went to town, literally, in this order:

SGI-USA Houston Buddhist Center  (I only needed some incense for my altar)

IKEA Houston (only for some catalogs, didn’t buy anything)

Snap Kitchen

Whole Earth Provision Company

Sur La Table

Crave Cupcakes (Kirby Location)

Trader Joe’s (South Shepherd location)

What a day!! I started out at about 9:00 am and didn’t get home until, oh, heck, 4? Maybe 5? Oh, it didn’t END there–I dropped everything and went to get someone’s mail, then to Super Target in League City, then to the post office to mail his stuff and ship two IKEA catalogs to friends in New Orleans. THEN I realized I’d forgotten to look for fresh tarragon after Trader Joe’s didn’t have it, so I was also at Kroger getting me some.

Are you understanding why I’m still tired on Thursday? Monday was all housework, all the time. But the cat appreciates the shampooed carpet. I guess.

I was going to have lunch at IKEA but it was way too crowded, so I kept going. I went looking for the subject of my next blog post, which I’ll share more about when I write it. But in my search, I went first to Snap Kitchen, and ended up eating lunch–by this time, I was really hungry. Know what? I’m going to go back sometime. Healthy food, freshly prepared, plus some healthy (sort of) snacks, and takeaway in BPA-free packaging you can put right into the microwave. No, I probably wouldn’t, but you get the idea.

Let me tell you, it was hot this past Sunday, so instead of an entree, I found myself at the cooler case, and this is what really hit the spot with a bottle of water:

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Caprese salad was cool and delicious. Egg salad isn’t something I would normally go for, but both of these are soy free, and the Caprese is dairy free, too. The egg salad also had chickpeas and hummus in it. Pretty good, and both these small sizes were just enough.

Hit.The.Spot. Nailed it, in fact. And their menu is, according to the flier I took with me, 99% gluten free. You gotta like that.

Snap Kitchen has several locations in Houston and Austin, and you can see their complete menu here. With dishes like Grassfed Bison Quinoa Hash and Almond-Crusted Goat Cheese Cakes, well, gluten-free doesn’t have to mean taste-free. I’ll be back–and I hope they put one down in my ‘hood one day.

Next stop was Whole Earth Provision Company, an outdoor store which is right next to Trader Joe’s, but for some reason I failed to realize this. That’s OK–next was up the street to Sur la Table, where, yes, I purchased their coffee tamper for my aging cappuccino machine. Just to make sure it would fit, I brought the little grounds container from the machine and tried it out. Perfect, and the little machine seems to be working better since it’s got better pressure to make the espresso. Frothing is much improved, too. DUH. Maybe one of these days I’ll go find the instructions and finally READ them again.

I got the bug for something sweet.

Last week in the office we had mini-cupcakes from Houston’s Crave Cupcakes, and whilst I fell off the gluten-free wagon again, I am back on it. This is what somehow ended up right by my desk:

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No, they are not gluten-free. The white ones were originally believed to be coconut, but they were more like vanilla. The pink were strawberry, with a drop of strawberry jam in the middle. Yes, they were worth it.

Nevermind how many I ended up eating before they were gone. The white ones were the best.I am going back on the Draconian Diet Drops again soon, so I’m enjoying what I can now.

I also brought four of the little cupcakes to my elderly neighbor, who greatly enjoyed them. (She doesn’t get out like she used to, so I bring the world to her anytime I can.) I made it a point to head over to Crave myself on Sunday and get me a gluten free model. I even used Google Maps to figure out the best location during my trip and a better way to get there and avoid Kirby’s incessant traffic on a busy Sunday. Yes, I did have a gluten free model:

IMG_2079They come in this Tiffany-esque box that you open VERY carefully to release the delicious cargo:

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You knew it was going to be chocolate, right? They make chocolate-on-chocolate, which is what you see here, as well as vanilla-on-chocolate. I figured if I was going off the rails, I’d do it right–gluten free chocolate on chocolate.

I would be remiss if I didn’t show you the gratuitous chocolate picture:

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Yum. . .that’s my camera case to the left of this delicious thing.

One thing Crave does–see that button on the top? It says “CRAVE GLUTEN FREE.” However, the ones brought to my office last week had a logo on it, and the name of the building, which was celebrating 30 years being built. (Houston is anything for a party, you hear?) Some just had the building shape in that button, some had the name of the building. All of Crave’s cupcakes have that little button with a description on them. They also have a vegan model, although I think that “non-dairy frosting”  has tofu in it; I’d have to check some other time. There are actually two Houston locations, and you can see their entire menu here.

Much as I enjoyed this tasty cupcake–and I really did–I have to say I think the gluten free model I had at Frost Bake Shoppe in The Woodlands was better. I’m not sure why, and I may be comparing apples and oranges, but for some reason, I remember that one as softer, less sweet, and the icing much softer and butterier.

Is “butterier” a word? Sure, it’s a technical term.

But I got me a gluten-free cupcake. Next trip north, I’ll be hitting up Frost Bake Shoppe again, because I remember them as the best one. (I hope I’m right.)

Now, the last stop was the Trader Joe’s next door to Whole Earth, and I did that last because I was planning to buy cold stuff. You know, meat, veg, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, I forgot the small insulated bag I have from Target, and ended up buying one from Trader Joe’s for $6.99.

In Buddhism, we call this a ‘benefit.” Because that new bag is bigger, better insulated, and no squishing of anything. They even gave me two frozen bottles of water to keep everything cold!

I don’t know how much I spent all day (and I’m not going to add it up) but at Trader Joe’s the total was $84.95. Two bottles of regular olive oil, one EVOO, two containers of baking cocoa, some of their flouride-free toothpaste, oh, you get the idea. Oh, and 8 tins of Myntz, which I keep in my purse so that I can read and ride the bus (at least until I doze off completely.) I discovered flying on planes that the minty things keep my stomach on an even keel–and since Metro buses have neither lavatories nor barf bags, these mints are the best solution. They’re $1.69 a tin at Trader Joe’s, and I’ve never seen them anywhere else, so obviously I stocked up for a while. (I like the vanilla ones in the yellow tin.)

I had a piece of London Broil I bought on sale, but didn’t know what to do with it. I looked in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof and found a recipe for Mustard Marinated FlankSteak on page 126. It’s what I needed fresh tarragon for, and got some shallots at Trader Joe’s too. You let the meat marinate in the fridge in this mustard/olive oil/shallot mixture overnight, and OMG–it is SOOO GOOD!

I love having the best lunch around.

I couldn’t remember whether or not I had any Dijon mustard, so I got some at Trader Joe’s. And then I couldn’t decide which to get, so I got both:

Trader Joe's two types of Dijon mustard. Why get just one?

Trader Joe’s two types of Dijon mustard. Why get just one?

Looking at my receipt, the regular Dijon on the left was $1.69, and the whole grain mustard on the right was $1.79. It’s almost like IKEA for groceries! (Almost.)

One thing I did do and wish I hadn’t was get a carton of their TJ Coconut Milk. It looks just like the almond milk, and with that quick glance, you’d think you were getting almond milk, too. It’s not bad, and I’ll use it in my coffee and tea, but no more, I’ll stick with either almond milk or regular dairy.

Incidentally, if you’re lucky enough to have a SuperTarget in your area like we have in the Houston metro area, Target has a new line of organic products called Simply Balanced. I’ve bought the organic skim milk for my smoothies (subject of yet another future blog post) and while I like it, the cat doesn’t. I guess because there’s no fat in it, but she’s a fussy cat anyway.

Well, dear readers, it’s getting late and I will write again soon. Please take care, and eat good food anytime you can–unlike two of my travelers, who went to Midland, TX last week for a networking activity and had some of the worst food they could find! It was just one place, and not a slur on Midland. Just don’t make that mistake–eat good food, what ever it is.

Enjoy!

Tastes like chicken

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Sorry I haven’t written in a while; it’s been busy. Lots to tell, so let’s get started!

Ok, foodies, I have big news—Hostess Twinkies return next week! Along with Hostess Cupcakes (upgraded with dark chocolate) as well as a few other of your favorite Hostess goodies. The new Hostess, LLC, is rolling them out as we speak, and they are due to be in stores on Monday the 15th. Can you believe it?

You didn’t buy a bunch of them on eBay, did you? Well, soon you’ll be able to replace them with fresh ones.

Remember the joke about how Twinkies had a shelf life of “forever?” They really didn’t, but the new Hostess company is working on extending the freshness period. Originally, Twinkies had a shelf life of about 30 days. Are you ready for this? They’re going to deliver some of them frozen, so that stores can stamp their own freshness date on them, and extend the freshness date to 45 days, or longer.

Oh, YEAH!!! Just take some into your fallout shelter, and you can stay there a lot longer.

The new company is also going to start investigating different ways to make a Twinkie, including whole wheat , low-calorie, and yes. . .gluten free. That’s what it says in today’s Wall Street Journal. Woo hoo!

Friend of this blog MK says, “so now when the zombie apocalypse comes, you can be gluten free.” What a guy. The new versions of Twinkies may be available as early as later in the year.

Rest assured I’ll be on the case and report back to you on this important development.

In other news, I discovered a new taste to love. Cold-smoked salmon.

Sunday I did some shopping while in town, and I didn’t plan on getting hungry. Oh, well, I did. While in the area of a number of my favorite eateries (and the location of many more), I ended up having lunch at. . .IKEA. Yes, that Swedish bastion of the flat-pack and Allen wrenches, derided by many (and even parodied in season 10 of British comedy show Red Dwarf, an episode called Lemons.) I needed a couple of things and decided to have lunch while I was there in the café on the second floor. It’s simple Swedish (and some American) food, for the most part, and no, I didn’t have the meatballs. (That was only an issue in Europe, anyway.) Normally, I would have the open-faced shrimp sandwich on multi-grain bread. Topped with a hard-boiled egg, a mayo dressing and a sprig of dill, it’s one of my occasional indulgences that I have in IKEA, and occasionally, one of their interesting chocolate desserts.

Until now. Now I’m gluten-free. No bread. No cake. Now what?

I could get that sandwich and eat just the top of it. But, eat the filling without the bread? Well, that’s half the enjoyment of the sandwich. No, I would have to find another thing to eat, maybe the chicken salad. I didn’t make it that far. The gentleman in front of me went smoked salmon and dill dressing, and I decided to be brave and try something new. I got the one next to it, smoked salmon with a pile of lime-marinated tiny-diced veggies, sitting right next to what he picked up. Called Najad Salmon, this is how it was served:

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If you’re not familiar with this kind of thing, it’s a preserved salmon using salt and herbs that’s very thinly sliced crosswise with a flexible thin blade. Honest, I’ve seen Martha Stewart make this kind of thing on one of her early shows, but I’ve never had it before. Just not something that’s part of traditional New Orleans cuisine, you understand. So, I decided to be brave and try something new.

Salmon preserved in this manner is softer than you may be used to. Between the herbs and the salt, it softens the flesh and infuses lots of flavor into it, taking out the “fishy” taste that salmon has when cooked, in the same manner that ceviche does to shrimp. Being from New Orleans, I would have never known what this was without seeing Martha Stewart making it on her show and adding it to one of her many cookbooks. Still, being more familiar with baked/poached/fried salmon and the stuff in a can, this kind of thing just isn’t something that would normally cross my path were it not for Houston being such a diverse and international city. With an IKEA cafe’ right in the middle.

So, you likely have at least once in your life asked someone, what does (whatever they were eating) taste like? You may have heard the old yarn, “Tastes just like chicken.” (In some cases, the individual may have a sarcastic streak.) Well, this cold-smoked doesn’t taste like chicken. . .but it does taste like thinly sliced deli ham. No kidding, that’s what it tasted like to me. Ham, sliced. Go figure. It was salty, a bit sticky and quite delicious.

Guess what? It’s my new gluten free favorite at IKEA! (I hope.)

I did try to roll up the salmon, burrito-style, around the tiny diced veggies and eat it that way. Nothin’ doin’, the salmon was too soft. Ended up being like scrambled eggs at that point, but it was very tasty. Of course, if I had a tortilla, it might have worked, but it wouldn’t have been gluten-free, either.

According to the nutrition information on IKEA’s website, it has less than 300 calories. Not bad!

I added a side salad from the salad bar, which consists of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, croutons and sliced black olives. Added a bit of olive oil and what looked like balsamic vinegar and I was in business. Skipped dessert this time, and went on with my afternoon.

After I’d paid for the other things I went in for, I headed over to Trader Joe’s, where I proceeded to have another DUH moment while looking for almond flour. It’s considerably less expensive there, so I bought extra. I went to where I thought I picked it up last time, where all the bagged nuts are, and just could not find it. Looked around where I was standing, too—nothing. So I asked someone. . .and it was right where I was standing earlier, at knee level on me.

DUH!

Maybe I should have stayed home. Well, at least I have more almond flour to make some delicious Wheat Belly Biscuits with. Sometime.

Now and again, it’s good to take a chance and find something new. You might even find a new favorite.

Don’t forget:

THE TWINKIES ARE COMING!! THE TWINKIES ARE COMING!!! GET READY!!!

Happy Dining!