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Amy’s Starbucks Weekend

Starbucks–I spent the weekend in Hammond, sort of.

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Happy Monday, Dear Readers!

A local festival locked up the library last week, so I told BF, “heck with it–I’m headed to Starbucks.”  So I did. Transferred some money from PayPal into my Starbucks account–yes, you can do that–and while BF worked at his place of business, I worked at Starbucks. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and a quick stop on Sunday at the Mandeville Starbucks on the way home from Whole Foods for an iced coffee.  Let me tell you all about it.

But first, some news.

We’ll be seeing some new “functional” foods in the US soon, called Freedom Foods. If you’re thinking it’s for patriotic Americans, well. . .think again. It’s an Australian company, and will be distributed in the US by AFT Holdings. They’re a “major player” in the “functional health cereal,” snack and beverage market Down Under, but my guess is that you won’t be getting the same thing you get in Australia–the formulations will be “Americanized.” Just a guess.

American Quinoa?

Ardent Mills is promoting North American-grown quinoa, including products made with quinoa flour: nutrition bars, cereals, chips, gluten-free pastas and other snacks. Can they keep the quinoa from becoming GMO or contaminated with GMO? Part of the appeal is that it’s not grown in the US, so it usually isn’t. Fingers crossed.

Less sugar, more starch. . .right.

A British ingredient company has a new sweetener called avante that claims to allow bakers to use less sugar in their products. This tapioca-based product, which is being called a “clean, non-GMO starch,” is still going to be a sugar, especially if they continue to reduce the fat content in these sweets. (Diabetics already know this.) But sweets aren’t something we consume every day, right? Right?

Anyway. . .

The local festival used to be at what they call the “fair grounds,” up the street, but now it’s in the street in front of the library. Rides, vendors, etc., like every church fair you’ve ever been to, except in the street. Whatever–all I know is the library was blocked off Thursday, closing early on Friday and closed all day Saturday. I’m back in the library today, getting back into the swing of things.

Crawfish Night

BF has been “having a craving” for crawfish lately, and Friday night he gave in. Took us to one of those places up the street from the library that doesn’t have a website, they just have seafood and laminated menus. Me, I could take it or leave it. . .but a nice plate of steak or chicken fajitas, some good guacamole, pico de gallo, and maybe some crispy corn chips? Oh, out of my way!

He bought six pounds of them, a couple of chunks of corn on the cob and a few potatoes, which are traditionally boiled in with the crawfish. We took them home and carefully kept them away from the pit bull on the way in the front door. Admittedly, as indifferent as I was to having crawfish again, they were pretty darn good. We sat at the big dining table with some of those big round trays he keeps for such a purpose and dove in. The cat was very interested in what she was smelling, but when offered a bit, turned her nose up. And the leftover shells and corn cobs? BF put those outside near a huge drainpipe for the night creatures. Next morning it was clean. We have visions of possums and raccoons cheering for such a special meal. But they don’t say much, they just enjoy it.

Working. . .in Starbucks

No kidding, I just set up my laptop and stuff, take my black stovepipe coffee mug and walk up to the counter. Since I’ve been in there a lot, and Hammond’s store doesn’t seem to have much turnover, the folks who work there seem to know me when I hit the front door. With earned money on my app, I asked for coffee and one of their breakfast sandwiches. I was hungry, so. . .I had one. (Three, actually, one a day.) That’s not a regular thing, but these were unusual circumstances. I dropped my honey off at his place of employment and hit the road.

Hammond is about a 30-minute drive from Casa de Rurale, and I’ll either listen to the radio, stream music or chant for a while. (In Houston, we called that “windshield diamoku.”) Starbucks is kind of my “Hammond Central,” just because I know where it is. I also know where Winn-Dixie, Tuesday Morning, Rouse’s, Harbor Freight Tools, Lowe’s, RaceTrac (subject of an upcoming blog post) and. . .drum roll. . .Walmart is. They’re all up the street from Starbucks!

I really was working

Today my newest client just gave me two more jobs, and I have another article due next week for the natural health folks. That article is going to spawn a blog post here, BF will be treated to some new food, and possibly another taste-tester or two. I’ll have a backlink for you to read the client article in the blog post, too–but I haven’t finished the article nor the work for the blog post yet. That baking may be this week or at the weekend, so keep your fingers crossed for that one.

I got some coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and got to it. I finished up the last article for my natural health client first, and sent it off to them. They’ve accepted it, and I’ve been paid for it. After a message exchange, I asked about the next one. Checking my milestones, I realized that the next the next article was due on the 29th, and another April 4th, I think. But my newest client’s work work was due sooner. She was supposed to send it, but I hadn’t heard from her, so I checked in. Whoops! Someone slipped up, it was late, and she sent it shortly thereafter. With a free refill on the decaf I put down the next article that I’ve already started, got right on her web copy re-write.

Starbucks Rewards–it pays!

I don’t know if it was just the Hammond store or what, but they’ve been running a special with the breakfast sandwiches–a couple of them are $5 with a coffee. That’s going on until something like April 5th. Well, the sandwiches run about $4.50, and coffee is anywhere from $2 on up, so yes, it’s a good thing. With my own coffee tumbler, there’s a ten-cent discount as well (not just for Rewards members, either.)

I learned to work the system

Then there is what they call a “Star Dash”–a period of time where you buy or do certain things or make a certain number of purchases–and you receive a sum of “bonus stars” (points) in return. Sometimes it’s using their mobile ordering app, which I’ve done. Sometimes it’s getting a breakfast sandwich, a certain type of coffee (i.e., a Flat White) and a dessert item, either separately or together, for those stars. But this particular time, it was from March 14 through March 20. If you make 5 separate purchases, no matter the dollar amount, you would receive 75 bonus stars, in addition to the stars you already receive by the actual purchase (say, 10 stars.) If you make 7 purchases, you would receive 200 bonus stars. These stars also count towards the continuation of your “gold” status for another year.

If you went into Starbucks every day for a coffee, as many Americans do, you would probably reach 125 stars, after spending $62.50. That’s how much you spend normally to reach 125 stars and get a free thing. But if you hit one of the star dashes, well, that goes up quick. I already had a free thing from a previous promotion, and I used it last week. But I still managed to rack up the 200 bonus points.

I got hungry

There was the coffee and breakfast sandwich first thing, and then free refills as long as I was there. But woman does not live on free coffee alone. And dinner was hours away, after BF got off work. We did have one day of CrockPot dinner. There was also a leftover night and Pizza Waffles on the Griddler. But in between, I did some investigation on what was available. In addition to the breakfast sandwiches, which are *not* gluten free, they have panini, but no sandwiches or salads. Pass. And of course, they have the cake pops, cookies, muffins and other baked goods available in the case, but I decided to go out of the case and try something new.

Emmy’s Organics

Something sweet was just the ticket, and I found these while waiting in line:

Starbucks

Chocolate cookies!

There are three chocolate cookies in this package, and I have to say they were not only tasty, but filling, too. Never seen them before? Me either–but they were good. They’re organic, gluten free and vegan–what could be wrong with that? Nothing, from what I saw:

 

Starbucks

They even use Agave Syrup

Healthy nibbles that were definitely worth it:

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See?

So what’s in the package? These cute little rounds:

Chocolate!

No frosting, no fancy design, just a cute little round. What do they taste like?

Starbucks

Yum!

These really are good–sweet but not *too* sweet. They’re about $3 a packet, so I wouldn’t be doing these daily. (Remember this was kind of unusual.) But they’re a pretty good thing to have with afternoon coffee.

The blonde version

I also found the Vanilla Bean version right next to it, and had them the next day:

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These are good, too

The ingredients are similar:

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But no chocolate

They’re good, but I prefer the chocolate version.

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Same as the chocolate one, only lighter.

Emmy’s Organics makes a variety of flavors, available on their website, of these coconut cookies. You can read more about Ian and Samantha’s little company here, how they got started and how they’ve grown.

So what else did you find?

If you are missing Girl Scout Cookies, or wish they came gluten free, here’s a fake-me-out version that you might be interested in:

Starbucks

Can they say that?

They’re non-GMO and gluten free, but what’s in them?

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The usual starchy replacements.

Tread carefully, since these are high in carbs. I didn’t try these because I found the coconut cookies, but I might have. I was thinking about it, anyway.

There is also meat:

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Meat!

I didn’t try these either, because I didn’t notice them early enough. Maybe next time. My choice would have been beef, of course:

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Gluten free, grass fed beef, but I don’t know what that flavoring is.

I didn’t ask the price for these, either, but I should have. Next time.

All around me, things were coming up spring:

Starbucks

Spring coffees, new cups and new stuff!

And a lot of telling information here:

Starbucks

Base?

They don’t sell soft drinks, but some of these specialty beverages are every bit as sugary.

They also have new cups for Easter:

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Aren’t they cute?

This is what one of them says:

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Awww. . . .

The total

So after all that, I found myself with 304 points, which meant two free things. Yesterday I headed to Mandeville for my district meeting, and after a quick forage in Whole Foods, I hit the Starbucks across the street. I was really, really hoping they had salads, but no. It’s warmed up again here, so I decided on a large, fancy iced coffee. The Iced Cinnamon Almond Milk Macchiato looked good to me, and it was–mostly.

Starbucks

Yes, that’s the way it was handed to me.

I asked for decaf *and* sugar free syrup, so I guess it was not exactly to spec. I added a packet of pink and it was still a bit strong, so I added some half & half. Now it was perfect! I put it in the cup holder and headed back to the Casa. It was a pretty good day.

Stop Hating on Starbucks!

OK, so, I know the GER is reading this and gritting his teeth, wondering why I keep going in there. And there’s probably one or two other readers who don’t agree with me on going in. First, well, it’s the best place to go in these parts and get as much free coffee as they’ve given me. And they do a lot of good.

There’s a rumor that has been around for many years that says “Starbucks doesn’t support our troops.” True, they do have their political leanings, but they also do a lot of good. Not everyone can get hired on, but there are good benefits for people who do. But for our military folk, Starbucks does step up to the plate.

It started with an email

The story is here on their website, how how it all went down with a U.S. Marine. Starbucks has facilities all over the world, including military bases. They’ve made the goal to hire more vets and vet spouses. And they deliver coffee to service members overseas.

Yes, I remember #RaceMatters, and the blowback they got for it. Nobody’s perfect. And I know about their preferences in states with concealed carry. But it’s still a nice little place to go sometimes.

Why?

The people who actually work in the Hammond store are pretty darn nice, and are happy to make my decaf. So are the customers. I had mostly the same experience in Houston, except for that one down in the Tunnel. You meet some nice folks in Starbucks. My friend BS, who left Boeing to move back to New Mexico about ten years ago, met his wife in there not long after he moved there. They’ve been married for, what–eight years now? Maybe not that long. I’m not looking for another boyfriend, of course, but I’ve talked to some really nice folks in there. There’s one man I see frequently who’s polite, and in between projects, we talk about stuff sometimes.

Still missing Texas

I still miss my HEB, and the Starbucks on my Street, and of course, my friends. I know some people here, and just accepted a friend request from a lady who is leaving the library for a better job on Friday. I finally got a rack for my kitchen stuff, and unpacked a bunch more boxes yesterday.  BF gave me some help moving things around after I got all that taken care of, and we are both sore today. I’ll take a couple of pictures when I get it all finished.

I’m getting used to things, I guess. We realized the other day that it’s been six months since BF drove to Houston for a “rescue mission.” It’s not always smooth sailing, but we’re getting there. And the garden will be happening soon–the citrus trees have lots and lots of buds on them.

Meantime, I’m back writing for clients, and hanging out at the local library. It’s kind of nice to get out of the local vibe and hit Starbucks sometimes, or go work on a Sunday because I can get ahead on things.

I’ve got more stuff coming, so stay tuned.

Enjoy!

Tox-Sick Followup

Here’s a followup to my last post on the incredible book Tox-Sick.

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Hi, again, Dear Readers:

OK, so. . .I apologize for being away so long. I’ve been writing, all right–but on Upwork, the freelance platform that lets you connect with people just about anywhere for paid freelance work. (Shameless self-promotion: If you need something written, I can do that for you. Get in touch either on Upwork, if you hire there, or via heatcagekitchen-at-gmail.com) I’ve written a few things, but mostly web copy a couple of regular clients, one of which is an IT company on the east coast. (I can raise my rates once I gain some traction.)

The Knitting Bowl

I’ve also bid on other types of jobs, and was hired for one, a product review for a knitting bowl. Who the heck knew there was such a thing?

Isn’t it cute? Yes, I actually have one. It’s pretty nice.

The bowl was given to me for free and I was paid a little for the review. I figured it would be fun, and I’m now using it to hold little things on the dresser with some of that blue sticky rubber stuff on the bottom holding it in place.  BF must keep his paws off it–being a woodworking/building kind of guy, he wants to fill in the spiral with wood putty and stain it! But if you’re someone who knits or is looking for a knitter’s gift, click here and you can go see it and maybe get one if you want.

I’ve also written an article on magnesium and high blood pressure. Reminded me that I need to get back on that stuff. If I can get a back link, I’ll post it for you to read.

And because I’m earning a little money–not a fortune, yet–I’ve finally been able to order a replacement drip tray for my Cuisinart Griddler/waffle maker. Woo Hoo! Now we can waffle bacon and eggs, soon as the part arrives.

I did offer to make some waffled mac & cheese for BF the other night, but after the waffled brownie hot mess, he smiled, hugged me and said, “step away from the waffle maker, please.”

Valentine’s Day

Our V-D didn’t work too good, because it fell in-between paydays and we were both a bit under the weather. So, we postponed our “Valentine’s Day”  until last week, when we headed to a popular local seafood eatery. It’s one of those kinds of places with laminated menus. . .no candlelight here. It was pretty good, but BF tends to be a bit nervous when we go somewhere and it’s time to order. In Cracker Barrel, I can order a nice chicken or shrimp salad with no croutons; when they bring crackers, I decline them. But I ask a lot of questions, and still don’t get what I want in some places.

This particular evening, I ordered grilled shrimp with sweet potato fries and a trip to their small but pretty good salad bar. (It’s more of an accessory, and not like Sweet Tomatoes.) I figured that would be good, and about as “junk free” as I could get. Then after asking questions and thinking I was ordering something pretty safe, the waitress says, “and it comes with hush puppies and. . .”

Whoa! Back up the truck!

It doesn’t say that on the menu, not that I saw. I don’t want all that rubbish–I want SALAD and un-coated, cooked food, please.

BF was a bit horrified, but managed not to show it. I explained to him, and later to the waitress, that I’m not used to ordering something and discovering it “comes with” all kinds of things I don’t want and wouldn’t order. I didn’t have that experience in Houston, and I don’t understand asking for something and getting something completely different. Fortunately, I was able to get away with just those hush puppy things and BF took them in his styrofoam “doggie bag.”

I dove into the salad bar, piling up lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced black olives, broccoli, and a tablespoon or two of the dried golden raisin and cranberry mix. No croutons or dressings, since most have trans-fatty acids and kill the taste of the food (not to mention do a number on you.)  Just a bit of salt. BF had a “salad,” too–consisting of two tablespoons of lettuce, a cup of some kind of salad dressing and croutons. No matter how I explain it, in his furry little head, he “ate some salad, too.” Later, he claimed the lettuce made him gassy.

No flowers-and-chocolate routine, because I specifically asked BF not to do that. I guess a card would have been OK, but I didn’t think that much about it. I just don’t want him going broke thinking he’s going to be in the doghouse if he comes home without roses, fancy jewelry and a heart-shaped box of candy like you see on TV. He can get into the doghouse all on his own. But there was a little sugar-free chocolate involved.

Detoxing myself

I also want to tell you how I’ve been trying to find ways–cheaply–to detox since reading Tox-Sick. I’ve finished the e-book twice and returned it to the nice library that I borrowed it from. Soon, I’ll get a hard copy so I can refer to it whenever I want to (and maybe get my cave man BF to read it himself one day.)

The first one is toothpaste, as I mentioned last time. Here in the local Walmart, I have only found one non-fluoride toothpaste, and that’s Tom’s of Maine. I’ve bought it before, but of course, BF refuses to use it, since it “tastes weird.” (Dude–you’re weird!) I’ll keep looking, but you know that Amazon has a selection of, well, absolutely everything.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Trader Joe’s has a small selection of health & wellness products. I’ve used them occasionally and known about them for a while. Britta and Carli Garsow of Twinspiration recently reviewed a few. But I knew what I wanted when I went in there last week–the Tea Tree Tingle Body Wash.

I’ve used it before, along with bars of their tea tree oil soap. But after reading in Tox-Sick about an ingredient called sodium laureth sulfate–avoid it any way you can–I knew that I could find something to replace the accumulated Avon stuff I’ve been using up for a while.

The ingredient list. Look at what’s there, and what’s NOT there.

That bottle is $3.99 for 16 ounces, and as you can see, has NO sodium laureth sulfate.

None! Not a drop.

I have to go look again, but I didn’t see any SLS in Dove body products, which are available locally at <cough> Walmart. I’ll also check out Dove’s shampoo and conditioners. I used to use Dove, but one day, somehow, switched to Tresomme. I didn’t see any SLS in Tresomme conditioner, either, but again, more research as I run out of things that I would like to stop using.

Trader Joe’s carries Tom’s of Maine as well as their own brand of fluoride-free toothpaste. Next trip, I think I’ll stock up on their body wash and toothpaste.

They’re not all the same

I have tried the natural, aluminium-free deodorant from Trader Joe’s. Much as I was hoping for a less-toxic odor prevention, the TJ’s natural deodorant left me smelling like a locker room after this year’s OT SuperBowl. At work, no less, after a walk through the Houston Tunnel–not good. Tom’s of Maine has one, and I’ll try it soon.

I considered getting BF a tube of TJ’s shave cream, but I couldn’t get him on the phone because he was disassembling a leaking toilet at the time. (It wasn’t the AC, and we were thankful for that.) Maybe next trip. (Toilet’s fine now.)

What about BF?

BF, of course, thinks this is all a bit bonkers, especially we have two types of toothpaste in our bathroom now, while he chews on his Tums and drinks milk while taking an OTC proton-pump inhibitor. When he took a whiff of the TJ’s body wash, he turned up his nose and said, “it smells weird.” That’s what I get for living with a cave man.

I had a water filter on my shower in Houston, and maybe I can talk him into that at the Casa. I haven’t mentioned the whole-house reverse osmosis filter again, either.

There is only one small square of carpet in the house, and that’s in the bedroom closet. Hopefully that’s old enough that it’s not out-gassing anything now, and we’ll be safe from that. But no more carpet, please.

In the matter of cans. . . .

Remember the slow cooker pizza sauce? I showed you the non-GMO product in cans that did not contain BPA. I’m looking for that all the time now. It’s pretty easy in Whole Foods, because most everything they sell is like that. But in Walmart. . .keep your eyes peeled! I’ve long told BF that any food product thing sold under their “Great Value” brand is suspect, and I avoid buying them. But sometimes, that’s all they have, for things like olive oil that isn’t extra-virgin. They even have some “organic” products, but I don’t know how “organic” they actually are; I never checked.

In fact, I noticed that the last can of GV cannellini beans I bought and used not only didn’t taste that great, they were hard, like they weren’t completely cooked. So no more of those. I’ll stick with Winn-Dixie’s or Bush’s.

BPA hurts men

Friend of the bog JKH, LK’s sister, is a big proponent of NO cans at all, ever. This makes sense, because the BPA can affect her teenage son’s development. BPA, (or by it’s full name, Bisphenol A) the chemical that’s in a lot of cans and plastic stuff. (Here are more tips for avoiding it.) Of course, completely avoiding canned foods is difficult in the real world, but. . . I do try. (Keeping BF from rampaging through Walmart on payday wielding his debit card like a sword helps.)  While I use up the cans of things I brought from my kitchen in Houston, I am now seeking out cans that don’t contain BPA.

I explained to BF that BPA is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor, and that it could “turn you into a woman.” As usual, he dismissed my comment as, er, “nonsense.” (Never mind what he really said.) No, he won’t be able to get pregnant, but the xenoestrogens (synthetic estrogen compounds) can cause some issues with “feminization” in males. (Think “man boobs.”) Even the National Institutes of Health knows about this.

BF doesn’t get why I don’t want to use his aluminum pots and pans with half the Teflon scraped out, preferring to use my own uncoated stainless ones, or one of the seasoned cast iron pots we have. But there are gender-bending  endocrine disruptors are in those nonstick pots, too. And yet. . .I’m “fussy.”

Teflon, the great kitchen innovation.

Remember what I said last time about low-fat being nonsense? The flawed “logic” behind Teflon and other nonstick coatings is that you can cook without using fat. Problem: real fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil) is what keeps you alive, sugar can and will kill you. So can Teflon, or at least cause a few problems. These chemicals leach into your food. Reducing chemical exposure best you can is what you’re after.

Well, anyway. . . .

We were out of popcorn

The other night we used the last of the HEB popcorn I brought from Houston. Yes, the 4-pound bags I bought or $2.64, and I had two unopened bags from our last trip in October. We emptied out the last one the other night. BF has become very fond of my version of microwave popcorn, as I described in The Popcorn Post last year. What I have been doing since moving here is to put a little coconut oil in the bowl with the kernels, popping it, pouring a little melted butter, then olive oil, on it, then seasoning it with some of Paula Deen’s House Seasoning and tossing. It’s just kosher salt, ground black pepper and garlic powder. I’ve been making and using that for years, but only grabbed it one night for popcorn and discovered that it’s pretty darn good.

Then one night, HE tasted it. Now that’s the only popcorn BF will eat. I suppose that’s good, because it’s so much healthier than the chemical-laden microwave popcorn he was buying. But now I make more, because BF has fallen in love with it.

The Orville Redenbacher Affair

Out on a milk run, I asked BF to get more popcorn, since we were now out. This is what he brought home:

Yes, he did.

The first thing I looked for was the “no BPA” on the label. Nope. But it is gluten free!

Thank heavens!

Hint: this is raw popcorn, and it was gluten-free a long time ago. Like, when it was discovered. Like the first time someone made salsa, OK? That too is gluten-free. But I digress, I guess you have to look these days, because you never know.

No GMO!

That’s nice, but. . .as I mentioned in The Popcorn Post, raw popcorn has not been genetically modified. However, Conagra is apparently part of a non-GMO project–which I haven’t yet read about, maybe next week–so they put it right on the label, just like the Hunt’s tomato products.

So what did I do? I decided to call Con Agra and ask them a few questions:

Someday they’ll regret putting a phone number there. . . .

I was told by the nice lady who answered that not only does this jar not have BPA in it, NONE of their products do, anywhere. That made me feel better, but I still made BF buy me a nice glass jar with a clamped stopper at Hobby Lobby the other day so I could fill it with popcorn and make it look nice in the pantry.

Do you give your babies popcorn?

The warning, however, was a surprise to  me. Are people giving babies and toddlers popcorn, requiring that warning on the label? Seriously? Doesn’t anyone teach new parents how to feed babies anymore? That really reminds me of the warning labels on hair dryers and curling irons telling you not to use it in the shower. Someone has actually done this, somewhere.  I hear comedian Bill Engvall say, “heeeere’s your sign . . . .”

Jambalya, crawfish pie, filet gumbo. . . .

OK, so, despite my best efforts, I have not been able to avoid “real Louisiana food.” I had quite enough of it as a kid, and I just don’t care if I never have it again. I don’t lay awake at night wishing for jambalaya like I would for something from HEB with Hatch chiles. BF likes to make a quick version of what he calls “jambalaya.” From a rice package, and he adds in more rice.

We were out of the stuff he usually uses the other day, so he pulls from the pantry a box of this stuff, local brand Tony Chachere’s. You can get this in Houston, and I’ve bought the TC seasoning. But then, I read the ingredients. . .oh, HELL NO.

He really didn’t look.

After explaining to the BF, again,  that I’m allergic to soy, he paid attention and put it back in the cabinet. I really won’t eat it, I’m allergic to soy. A quick search for “gluten free jambalaya mix” the next day showed me that Zatarain’s was indeed gluten free, by virtue of no gluten in it.

That’s a little better

Granted it’s not a perfect solution, and it’s one of the rare occasions that I’ll eat rice. But it’s not loaded with wheat, soy, and the industrial sludge known as “vegetable oil.”

But I did, at his request, make him some brownies from a box Friday night. It called for a half-cup of industrial, I mean, vegetable oil, which, of course, is nearly always hydrogenated soybean oil.

Talk barbecue to a Texan?

Then there was the trip to BF’s favorite BBQ place in Hammond, which happens to be up the street from the only Starbucks around. Everything is a sandwich, or you can get some BBQ in. . .styrofoam. UGH. I passed on a cup of water because it was styrofoam, only to discover that the food was served in it. He couldn’t understand “the big deal.” I told him I’d like to stop being poisoned. Styrofoam leaches chemicals into whatever you put in it, especially something like coffee, and the compounds stay in your system forever. Next time he will be dropping me off at Taco Bell, which is a little further up the street, but on the way to Starbucks and that place. They use paper.

Besides–that was the most tasteless BBQ I’ve ever had. I’m a Texan, for heaven’s sake! It just didn’t taste like anything but shaved meat in a bland sauce. Sorry, Honey, it’s true. I can do infinitely better than that. But if that’s what he likes, I’m not going to argue, I’ll just get that lovely Power Bowl at Taco Bell.

The Safe Haven With Food

This is not to say that I’m a paragon of virtue–far from it, Dear Readers:

What happens when you’re working in Starbucks on Sunday when the library is closed and you get hungry.

Now and again, I’ll try something new:

What happens when you’re working in Starbucks and you’re still hungry.

Yes, she did, and it’s pretty good:

 

But ‘s not every day, honest. And they don’t have the salad bowls here, nor in Baton Rouge, even near LSU. In fact, I was told yesterday that there’s only one store around that has salads and sandwiches–and that’s down in New Orleans.

Sometimes, it’s either eat what you can forage, or don’t eat anything. We sometimes have to forage.

Since Starbucks’ primary stock and trade is brewed coffee, they lose money when I come back and say, “Bartender!” Because they have to make me another decaf. (They’re really nice to me in the Hammond store, though, and a few of them know me.) The cup gives me a ten-cent discount, and I’m a Starbucks Rewards member, so refills are free as long as I’m there. And I don’t do that every day.

La Casa

Cleaning up is another area that I have tried to improve as well, but we’re limited by availability. I still use original blue Dawn for dish washing (we don’t have a dishwasher like I had in Houston), and there are steel wool soap pads under the sink for the occasional need.

Combining two households means that we have a lot of stuff under the sink, even though I left a whole bunch of it behind when I moved. (That wasn’t my choice.) I still have some of those Martha Stewart Clean products, even though you can only get it online now. (Amazon doesn’t even carry them anymore.)

Catmandu and Kismet

I used to have cats, and my two were kind of old when they passed to the Rainbow Bridge. (Jezebel the step-kitty was actually the GER’s cat, and about 8 years old when she went.) Kismet, the tabby, well, I don’t know why, but he just stopped using the litter box one day. Bribing with treats only meant he’d walk in and walk out of the litterbox, waiting in the bathroom doorway for it. He didn’t get it that he’d have to, um, “produce” to get a treat, and would sit there for hours, just waiting.

I went looking for something to get the cat smell out of the carpet, and somewhere, I found Biokleeen’s Bac-out for pet odors.

Fast forward a few years. . . .

Now I live with two dogs and a cat, and the dogs. . .well, BF’s solution to dealing with the dog accidents has been Lysol’s multi-surface cleaner, and I think it’s this fruity Tangerine Mango scent stuff he likes. He pours it over the area and leaves it for a while, then mops it later. It leaves behind a strong chemical perfume smell that covers the odor but doesn’t get rid of it. Dogs know this and can smell past the Lysol. And it’s not healthy for man or beast.

Then we ran out of Lysol

I went under the sink and found the Bac-Out and sprayed it all over the offending area. We use less because it’s a spray, and it removes the odor from the spot. (Of course, there’s the matter of the dog’s learned behavior, but that’s another matter.)  A quick mop, and it’s gone until the next time. I don’t know where I found the first bottle, but in addition to buying it on Amazon, you can get it at Whole Foods and a few other places. (I picked up another bottle last trip to Baton Rouge, we needed it.) The spray bottle at Whole Foods in Baton Rouge is $8.99, and the non-spray bottle, which I used to refill the spray bottle, is $8.49.

Over time, I plan to change the things we bring into the house so that we aren’t using as many toxic chemicals inside for us as well as the fur babies. Eliminating nasty toxins is the goal. But it’s also a matter of what we can get at Walmart or Winn-Dixie, or have to drive to the Hammond Target to find.

You can’t do it all at once

If you’re interested in detoxing, of course, read that book! Tox-Sick explains the science and reasoning, and gives a good understanding of why getting rid of toxins in your body, your home and your life is so important. But you know most of us won’t be able to do everything all at once. Cycle things out and change what you bring in. Make educated choices about what you eat, drink and use, and go from there.

I asked BF to please not buy the Lysol again. . .we have the Bac-Out, and it removes the odor instead of just overwhelming it with perfume for a while. Just gotta keep an eye on him in Walmart.

Coming soon. . . .

Something delicious from the Crock Pot, and it was easy! Mostly. I did manage to cut my finger when the knife slipped dicing the onion. And. . . .

Something deliciously chocolate from. . . Texas? Oh, yes! Stay tuned.

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras. *yawn.* I’ll be at Starbucks, the library is closed.

I’ll try *not* to be so late again.

Until next time. . .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!

HEB: The New Clear Lake Marketplace

Hello again, Dear Readers:

Welcome to the first new post on my new website! I got most of the pieces put back together, and will finish the Recipes page soon. Do you like the new Food & Drink theme? (I hope so–the old one isn’t available anymore.) I think it works like the old site, but if it doesn’t, do get in touch at heatcagekitchen@gmail.com.  Ditto if there are any topics you’d like me to cover here, or you can’t find.

Now. . .on with it.

I hope your Valentine’s Day went well and you enjoyed yourself, whatever that meant to you. Me, I really did take myself out for a #StarbucksDate, at the Starbucks on my street:

My fabulous, delicious Molten Chocolate Latte on Valentine's Day. #StarbucksDate

My fabulous, delicious Molten Chocolate Latte on Valentine’s Day. #StarbucksDate

Now, let me remind you that I know how to get free coffee from Starbucks. . .here’s how I did it: I purchased a Venti (“large”)  Molten Chocolate Latte, as planned, and enjoyed every hot, chocolaty sip. (This was the expensive cup, about $5. But wait, there’s more.) Then asked for a refill with plain brewed decaf. Then, as with the first one, I used the Starbucks App to pay for it. And my Venti rang up $0.00. Five times. No kidding. I really did drink that much decaf coffee on a Sunday afternoon, reading two books.

It was a nice day, and there were a few couples that came in for a #Starbucks date. They even had props so you could take pics and show that you were actually in Starbucks:

Just what you need to make your #StarbucksDate complete for social media!

Just what you need to make your #StarbucksDate complete for social media!

I only saw one couple actually use the frame to take a picture. But it was nice. And I sure do wish that Molten Chocolate Latte would come back for good. You can have the rest of them, including that new butterscotch stuff. (I don’t like butterscotch either.)

Oh, and the Starbucks on my street will soon be serving the Evenings Menu. Still haven’t tried it, don’t know when I will. Never think about going there for dinner, you know? But that place is still busy nearly all the time.

And I think that’s where I got my lovely bronchitis–I started needing naps the next day, had sugar cravings and nearly every day last week, except one–the day Neighbor E and I went shopping at the new HEB. (I was standing up and walking a lot, so it kept me awake.) Let me tell you all about this place!

I probably have mentioned this on the blog before, but I’ll mention it again. My Grandmother O’Donnell used to take me grocery shopping when I was a little bitty kitty. We would head to Schweggmann’s early on Saturday morning and. . .shop for groceries. No kidding. To a pre-teen girl in those days, it was great fun–because my mother did not want to take *anyone* grocery shopping. (It was likely her only “alone” time.) Maw Maw taught me grocery shopping at an early age, and, unlike many folks, I’ve enjoyed it ever since. Now do you understand my affinity for Suzy Homemaker toys?

Nestled at the end of El Dorado Blvd, where it meets Clear Lake City Boulevard, it’s on a huge expanse of land, which will include more shops in the future, and a petrol station (it’s not finished yet.)

Longer view of the store from one side.

Longer view of the store from one side.

The store itself is now open, with more and more of what HEB has.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take enough pictures.

Something E noticed that I didn’t at first, was the addition of a false front wall, complete with sliding entrance doors:

The first set of entrance doors

The first set of entrance doors

Looks normal until you realize that it’s just a front, with sliding electric doors and everything:

Why a false wall? (You can see the little plants in the background on the left.)

We’re still scratching our heads at this one. But that’s OK.

Once inside, we were treated to a coupon for a $25 gift card for bringing a new prescription to the pharmacy, or transferring one. (This came in handy when I was sick last week, and I haven’t used the gift card yet.) We went in on the pharmacy side and worked our way around to the other side. We were treated to samples of health care products, including three from Dallas-based MopTop Natural Hair Care, which is being sold exclusively in HEB stores. I haven’t tried the samples yet, but I was supplied with an instruction sheet. I’m particularly interested in the Curly Hair Custard, since my hair will curl in the most unflattering and unnatural ways at the mere hint of humidity, no matter how much I straighten it with the hair dryer.

Another sample set was from a company distributing health & wellness products imported from Mexico. I have two little packets of Broncolin honey from Mexico with “natural plant extracts,” in it, and I haven’t used it yet. Not sure what I’m supposed to use it for, but. . .I have it. (Guess I should have tried it when I started getting sick.)

Both Neighbor E and I had things to get (including cream cheese for an upcoming recipe test), so we just wandered around hither and yon, sampling where they were offering food and finding new stuff. E also found his favorite Vanilla Chai, less expensive than Target, as well as some FreshPet things for his sweet little Chihuahua, Speedy. We found a number of new things, and, well, literally ate our way through the store, really. We tried cheeses, pesto, chicken, fresh juice, samples of HEB’s ready-to-cook meals, and I can’t remember what else. Everything was delicious, of course, and when I went back on Friday to get my prescription filled, I also had ice cream!

From the cheese department, I introduced E to Manchego Cheese, which he’d never had before. He’s now a fan. I explained Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs to one lady while looking for more turkey thighs in the meat case.

Neighbor E also noticed something I didn’t: the aisles are wider than most of the other stores we’ve been in. Definitely an improvement.

On the other side of the store lies the bakery, meat and fish areas, (including a sushi case with fresh samples) and a huge produce department that has not only a lot more product, but freshly squeezed juices as well. We were able to sample some of them, and one had raspberries in it. YUM. This HEB also has fresh lemonade, orange juice, apple juice, carrot juice and a few others I don’t remember–all freshly made daily, in neat little bottles. In addition to the apples, oranges and other fruits we were sampling.

Then we found it–coffee! We were elbow-to-elbow with everyone else interested in the grand opening, and they had plenty of fresh coffee for us. Well, I was going for the decaf, and once I got the sweetener and cream in mine, I looked over and there’s E having some coffee. Which was fine, until I realized that E doesn’t actually drink coffee. . .except this time, he did, and enjoyed the heck out of it. (And it was free coffee, so that was the best kind, right, E?)

Well, after we saw everything and sampled everything, and got what we needed to purchase, we headed out. . .or so we thought.

Lots of checkout lanes!

Lots of checkout lanes!

I don’t know how many checkout lanes they have, I think it’s 20 or 25. Most, if not all, were open that day, and one of the cashiers told me that on Monday they brought the new employees in for a walk-through. They had three cakes for all the employees–does that tell you how many people it takes to run the place?  We left with our purchases, but stopped to look at these lovely decor pieces that we wanted, but passed on:

Oh, yeah!

Oh, yeah! (I know just where to hang it in my place.)

I’d love a place to park this cute truck:

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And this adorable rooster will get you up in the mornings:

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As you can see behind the rooster, there are a number of Texas-themed and Americana pieces. . .which we also wanted but didn’t buy.  (Yet.)

What we did buy (groceries and such) we put in the trunk, and realized. . .we forgot to look for plants. So back we went, and E got a small tomato plant and some mint, while I got two tomato plants and a basil. (And checked out a second time.)

The new tomato and basil plants from HEB

The new tomato and basil plants from HEB, a week later. I’ll plant them soon.

We also noticed this out front:

Recycling!

Recycling!

Easy and convenient, and right where you can find it.

The new Clear Lake Marketplace is 100,000 square feet of nearly every kind of grocery shopping you can think of, and is open daily from 6:00 am to 12:00 pm.  In addition to a pharmacy, there is a much larger Healthy Living section, as well as catering and wedding services (just for cakes and flowers.)  There isn’t yet a Redi-Clinic, but there should be within a year. When I realized I was sick and needed to get treated, I drove to the Friendswood store to see a PA, then to this HEB to fill the prescription. And with the 100F temperature I was carrying around, I didn’t enjoy the walking the place like I did the day we went!

I also discovered that this pharmacy offers compounding services–just like the ones I use in The Woodlands for my hormones. However, they don’t compound on site, they send it to a lab. But more and more pharmacies are offering compounding–why? Because we’re asking for it. This pharmacy also offers pet medications. That’s new, too.

This new HEB is not your grandmother’s grocery shopping. And I still wish I could take her to this grocery, as well as Central Market. But I hope she’s with me in spirit when I’m shopping.

Happy Shopping!

Valentine’s Day–again???

Good afternoon, Dear Readers from everywhere:

I just realized that Valentine’s Day is this weekend, and that I should drop in and talk about it just a bit. But first. . . .

There are some changes coming to this humble blog, and a big thanks to friend of the blog AK and another one of our writer friends, whom we know on Facebook, but I haven’t met in person. I don’t know if JM reads this blog regularly, but I know she has once, for sure. I’ve got a Facebook page set up just for HeatCageKitchen, as well as other social media accounts. I’ll tell more once I get it all done. The blog is growing up.

Last week was the open house for the Drs. Davis at Woodlands Wellness and Cosmetic Center. Much as I enjoyed it last year, this year I didn’t go. BUT–they posted pictures on Facebook, and once again had an appropriate show-stopper of a cake:

PeacockCAke

A good time was had by all, and I’m glad, even if I didn’t go. But I’m sure I’ll be visiting again one of these days for blood testing.

In other news. . . .

This isn’t really food related, but it might have been. When I say a cat is a cat is a cat, I’m not kidding. This wily cheetah decided that the back of a Jeep was a great place to hang with the humans recently. Honestly, it’s no different than when Catmandu and Kismet used to hop up on the back of my futon and park it there for a while. Cheetahs, as I understand from comments on the Daily Mail site and Facebook, are much friendlier to humans than other species of big cats. But as Big Cat Rescue will tell you, approaching big cats is never a good idea–and anyone caught petting one at their Tampa, FL facility is escorted out immediately, including staff. If you have a kitty cat that has ever turned on you while you were petting it or scratching it behind the ears. . .imagine the force behind a paw-swat from a 500-pound Siberian tiger. It can, as they say on FB, “escalate quickly.” ‘Nuff said. But this time, it turned out fine, and the short video is pretty amusing. Because. . .that’s a cat for you.

Now back to Valentine’s Day. Or as my brother called it yesterday, “women taking advantage of men” day. Oh, well.

If you’re looking for advice on romancing, proposing, or how to ask out someone you fancy, that’s someone else’s blog. This blog is for the day you decide to cook for that someone special, you already are going to cook for them, and you’re looking for something special for your date. You’re on your own on the romancing/proposing part, so search through WordPress for that kind of advice blog.

Do you have plans for Sunday? Are you going to hang out at home and watch a good DVD or two with your sweetie, or risk your life and head to a restaurant? I can hear it now: “Oh, Amy–what’s wrong with that?” Even Waffle House serves steaks and takes reservations on Valentine’s Day–and in some more rural areas, that’s the best and only–restaurant in town. (NOTE: I am not disrespecting Waffle House by any means.)

I’m not going to deny that it’s something special to go out for Valentine’s Day. But hear me out–when I was an administrative assistant, I was required to “go out with the bosses” for Administrative Professional’s Day. I really didn’t want to do this (particularly at an insurance company I worked for, where they took us to McCormick & Schmick in the Galleria and didn’t give us a choice) because it was a reminder that I was still in the steno pool. But at Boeing, that wasn’t always a bad thing. My Boeing supervisors were frequently busy, so we didn’t always go on that Wednesday–and that was a good thing. Why? Because you’re elbow-to-elbow with everyone *else* who’s doing the same thing; service is going to be slower, too. The last time, I had to request that Monday, because the next day, I was getting on a plane to go somewhere, and I wouldn’t be in town for AP Day. (I got to choose the restaurant that year.) Another time, we went two weeks later. Know what? We nearly had the whole place to ourselves! We could chat without yelling, and the service was better.

Want proof? This article from The Kitchn verifies what I just told you. Like retail stores on Black Friday, nobody *wants* to work that holiday, so you may get pinch-hitters who aren’t as experienced. And you’ll be elbow-to-elbow in a crowded restaurant on that one day a year when things could go wrong for you. Just something to consider if this is a really special date.

Once again, Starbucks is at it again with the #StarbucksDate. Create a special .GIF file (similar to an e-card, they’re all the rage now) to send to someone you’d like to meet up with (it could be your best friend, your elderly neighbor like Neighbor R, your brother/sister, or, heaven help you, the GER) and make a date to meet them at the Starbucks on your street for one of the new chocolate drinks they have this week, through Sunday. (They’d like you to put it on social media with #StarbucksDate, too.)

You know, I probably shouldn’t say “Starbucks on your street.” We have several in my neighborhood, including one two blocks from my front door. But I have a friend in semi-rural Louisiana who is about 20 miles from the closest Starbucks. I’m sure he’s not the only one.

This year’s offerings are three new seasonal chocolate-infused drinks:

And because I couldn’t wait, I personally sampled the Mocha Chocolate Latte this morning. Highly recommended. Unlike the famed Pumpkin Spice Latte, this was very good and not overly sweet. If your honey doesn’t drink coffee, there is the Molten Hot chocolate option as well as other dessert options. But remember, Starbucks has their “signature” hot chocolate all year long. Yes, they really do–it’s just that this particular variety is a “seasonal offering” for Valentine’s Day.

I am actually planning to take myself out for a #StarbucksDate. I’ve got a couple of books to read, (one by master copywriter Bob Bly, his newest book of great witticisms) and that might just be the place to do it. I’d like to have another Mocha Chocolate Latte, then get brewed decaf coffee (and free refills in my stainless steel travel mug) until I’m sick of coffee, or I finish the books. They’re not long books, but. . .there are less distractions in Starbucks than at home.

What if you’re going to camp in with your honey?

I’ve got some recipes posted on the Recipe Page, and there are others scattered throughout the blog; a search will help you find them. (The Sweet Potato Supper is a good one, and quite simple.) Then again, websites like The Food Network, MarthaStewart.com, AllRecipes.com, and TheKitchn are great places to start if you don’t find anything listed here. Really–the culinary world is at your fingertips, and a quick search will show you that.

Looking for a special treat? Found on The Pioneer Woman’s Facebook feed this week, these Chocolate Sugar Cookie Hearts are an easy treat, especially if you have kids.

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Source: The Pioneer Woman website (note: NOT gluten free!)

These are really easy, because there’s no rolling out the dough–you bake it as a sheet cake, then cut them from the baked cake. Frost them, put some sprinkles on top, and you’re ready for your honey. NOTE: keep this recipe in your back pocket for other occasions, cut them in squares, rounds or other shapes, and you can frost them like cupcakes and use other appropriate colors and designs for, say, a birthday, graduation, or something else like St. Patrick’s Day (which happens in about a month.) Heck, your dog’s birthday, just don’t feed them to the dog. But for now, they’re for your Valentine.

Now, if these cookies aren’t your thing, there are a couple of things in the HeatCageKitchen archives that are delicious and gluten-free, including my all-time favorite, YeastFreeBrownies (I just uploaded it.) The recipe is no longer available on Dr. Hotze’s site, but I’ve got the PDF file for you on the Recipes Page.

Another good choice is last year’s Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes. First, I re-blogged a post from GF and Me last year, and then I made it myself. Of course, mine didn’t come out as pretty as Brenda’s, but they sure were good–even the fussy GER said so. The trick is finding hazelnut flour, or buying the hazelnuts, roasting and skinning them yourself, then grinding them up really good in the food processor–but not so far that you get a paste.

Click around on Brenda’s GF and Me site and you’ll find lots more delicious food and desserts for Valentine’s Day.

If you have more time to prep, I highly recommend the sugarless, Crock-Pot made Chocolate Fudge Custard I talked about last summer. You have to make it a day or two in advance, but it’s quite tasty and easy to make.

You didn’t forget your waffle iron already, did you? If Santa brought you a waffle maker (or the Cuisinart Griddler with the waffle maker plates, like mine) consider waffle brownies. If you haven’t read that previous post I linked to, please do, and you’ll learn more about waffling. You’ll also find this recipe in the post that I made and reviewed. However, if gluten-free isn’t your thing, brownies from a box–yes, like Duncan Hines or Jiffy brand–can be made in the waffle maker, fast and easy. You can also use boxed chocolate cake mix. If you’re thinking about a waffle maker,  Bed, Bath and Beyond also (still) has the Cuisinart Griddler bundle package, and if you have a coveted 20% off coupon, use it.

Still another optioin–a bit healthier than most–comes from none other than Graze.com, this dual-layered Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie might be just the ticket. It has a few steps, so make sure you read the recipe before proceeding.

What to make for dinner for the two of you? There’s a myriad of options available, just pick one–but don’t overthink this or make it too complicated. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll probably *want* to try something really fancy, complicated, and extremely gourmet. Foodies are like that. But if you’re a fan of the easy, make dessert early, maybe the day before (especially the custard) and consider Nigella Lawson’s Flash Fried Steak with White Bean Mash. I’ve written about this delicious white bean mash before, it’s one of my absolute favorites, and I even made it Monday for AC with mild Italian sausages from HEB. (I called it “Bangers & Mash,” which is actually sausage and mashed potatoes in the UK.) She loved it too, and will probably start looking for cannellini beans next grocery trip. Add a tasty salad like we did, and you’ll be all set. Wine? Your choice, but make it a good one, if you do.

One thing I started doing with the white bean mash is grating the lemon zest first, then grate in the garlic with your Microplane Zester. The garlic is more evenly distributed, spreading the flavor throughout the mash.

And you can say that you’re inviting him/her over for a steak dinner–it’s just not filet mignon, that’s all. (No, I’ve never cooked that one, for myself or anyone else.) And why not? If you’re cooking steak, say so! (Unless he or she is vegetarian. . .then you’ve got some extra work to do.)

Here’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: if you and your partner get along fabulously and enjoy each other’s company all year around, going all-out on Valentine’s Day is probably not needed–a nice dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine, a small, inexpensive gift, whatever you like. But if one or the other isn’t such a great partner all year long, but spends a lot of money on flowers, candy, jewelry, dinner out, etc., on Valentine’s Day. . .it’s money wasted. Be kind to each other, and, I hate to say it, but if things are just not working out well, you’re discovering you’re mis-matched, or you just don’t get along after the “honeymoon phase” is past, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. (Or, in my case, file a restraining order, ha, ha. Yes, I’ve had that kind of luck.)  It takes two to tango, and usually, neither is totally innocent, but if you’re wondering why you’re in this relationship, maybe Valentine’s Day will be awkward. Better to be alone on V-D than stuck with someone you don’t want to be with–ask me, I know. (No, not the GER.) “Better off as friends” is not a bad thing, if that’s the case.

I’m not telling you to break up with your significant other on Valentine’s Day, (that happens occasionally) but if that’s where it’s headed, or things have significantly changed. . .take some time to think and consider. Next year things could be completely different–you could be single and unattached, you could be with someone better, or you and your Significant Other will have a better relationship by then.

I know, Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, is merchandised to death in the US, but it doesn’t have to bully you (or your partner) into spending too much money.

Again, I’m not a relationship author–but I speak from experience on being in bad relationships. I’d rather be by myself on Valentine’s Day than stuck with someone who let their “good face” down and I discover that I can’t stand. The longest relationship I ever had with a male was. . .Catmandu, the Russian Blue. (RIP.)

And if you’re single and alone on Valentine’s Day–remember, you too could be stuck with someone you wish would just go away forever. If that’s the case, and you can, take some time and take yourself out for a #Starbucksdate. Better yet, use the .GIF creator and send it to one of your *real* friends for a #StarbucksDate and get something chocolate on Sunday. It’s OK to be single and unattached on Valentine’s Day, I promise.

You might be making these cookies or something else for someone next year, so be ready.

Enjoy!