Here’s a followup to my last post on the incredible book Tox-Sick.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
That bottle is $3.99 for 16 ounces, and as you can see, has NO sodium laureth sulfate.
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:
The first thing I looked for was the “no BPA” on the label. Nope. But it is gluten free!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
Now and again, I’ll try something new:
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.
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!
Homemade Pizza Sauce. In your slow cooker.
Hello, again, Dear Readers:
Today, we got our new President and a stylish new First Lady. We watched the inauguration and I saw the most beautiful powder blue suit I’ve ever seen. Now I want one, but in royal blue. I hope the pattern companies create one like they did for Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. Quickly.
Well, I got the hankering again for them. Pizza. Waffles. But life throws us curve balls, and in this case, it was the end of my HEB Organics Pizza Sauce, darnit.
Now what? I’m limited if I don’t find an alternative. But–after seeing something on Facebook about pizza, I found Foodie With Family’s recipe for pizza sauce–in the slow cooker, darnit! It’s pretty simple, too–you just need to stir it frequently.
I made sure to look for as many ingredients that were not GMO and in cans that did *not* have BPA in the liners. Cost a little bit more, but of course, there’s a payoff elsewhere–even if BF doesn’t see it that way. I’ll explain more about that in the post that I’m horribly late publishing.
Another thing you have to make sure of is the ingredient list–is there sugar? Soybean oil? What else did they put into the “tomato paste?” No, no, no–read that label. I have returned tomato products before that I found out too late had other ingredients in them.
So, you open up some cans of tomato paste and tomato sauce, and dump them into the crock:
Then add in some garlic:
It says minced, so I minced:
It says one to four cloves, so I added four.
Now, this may offend some of my more sensitive readers. I added the one filet of anchovy, and thankfully, BF was nowhere to be found. I found the tin in the back of the pantry, under something else. Miss Alice packed up everything so carefully, and I am still not unpacked. But I was glad to find this.
If you’ve never seen anchovies, well, this is what you get when you open the tin:
So after separating one of these much-maligned fish pieces, I dumped the rest of it into a glass jar and stuck it in that secret drawer where I keep things I don’t want BF to know about.
Added it into the crock and that was it. Honestly, you won’t taste it, because it melts into the sauce and gives a subtle background flavor.
Now let’s add the rest, starting with olive oil:
The herbs, oregano, basil and parsley:
I had to go find those in the pantry boxes first. Then, the ingredient I almost abhor the most:
Yes, sugar, but of course, a raw sugar:
Tomatoes, especially canned, can be very acidic, and you don’t want the sauce to ruin pizza. The recipe calls for one tablespoon first, and then the second after cooking, but I added a tablespoon of SomerSweet at the end. I chickened out.
Once you’ve got all the ingredients together, whisk them together:
Until it looks like this:
Cook on Low, but stir every half hour or so, for 4 hours. I know, I know. . .but it’s not that much trouble. You don’t want it burning in the pot, do you?
When you’re done, it looks like this:
At this point, it’s up to you to see if you like the way the sauce tastes, or if you think it needs a bit more sweetening. I think it did, so of course, I added the. . .SomerSweet. BUT–I could have added another tablespoon of the turbinado sugar, or even a packet or two of saccharin.
I forgot to take a picture of it, but after it cools, mix in the cheese.
Now it’s time to freeze it for whenever you need it next:
I didn’t feel like looking for more of those glass containers. And I put the plastic wrap on it to make sure we didn’t have any leaks in the freezer.
You can click on the link or check out the Recipes page if you want to try this for yourself. And why wouldn’t you?
The Hot Mess: Waffle Brownie Edition
Wanna know what happens when I beg BF to let me try something at least once in the waffle maker? I finally tried making brownies from a mix in the waffle maker:
After spraying the waffle surfaces with. . .Pam. . .
And heating up the Griddler:
I mixed it all up:
And poured it onto the waffle plates:
I let it cook until it looked like it was done:
And attempted, using multiple spatula tools, to remove it from the waffle maker. This is what happened:
BF ate some of the brownies that came out edible, laughed at me a little, and made me promise never to attempt this again. I also added that I would only make brownie waffles using a recipe designed for the waffle maker. Agreed. And then, after it cooled, I washed it all up.
Lessons learned. One success and one flop.
Next post, which is dreadfully overdue, is a very serious subject, and I’m sorry I’m late with it. I need to re-read the book I want to tell you about and why you should read it. I hope next week. It ties in with this post as well as the last one, and you’ll see what I mean when I finish it.
Meantime, Happy Dining!
Slow Cooking–great all year long!
Hello again, Dear Readers:
Well, I’m back again with more slow cooking. Recently, I was introduced (online) to a lady who is a pro at the slow cooking thing. She’s written books and has blogged about it for many years. And I just found her. She’s going to help us with our holiday dinners!
But first, a lesson in irony.
Recently, I had an errand in Hammond, and of course, made a quick stop in the closest Starbucks there. Take a look and tell me if you see the irony here:
This was, of course, in the ladies room after a tanker full of coffee (free refills with your Starbucks card!) If you’re not seeing it, allow me to explain: the sign is an instruction on how to wash your hands. In it, you are told to dry off your hands with a paper towel, then use said paper towel to turn off the water when you’re done.
In the sticker on the hot-air hand dryer, you are told about the energy efficiency of using the hand dryer. It eliminates the paper towel, but gives you nothing to turn off the faucet (or open the door to leave) with to protect your freshly-washed hands from someone else’s hand germs.
Does no one think about this?
Louisiana is the only state I’ve ever been in that posts hand-washing instructions in the bathrooms, nearly everywhere. I never saw those in 18 years in Texas. Draw your own conclusions.
I took out one of my sewing machines this week, mostly to test it out. With a few fat quarters from Walmart, I made this item:
Funny how you don’t notice them until you don’t see them anymore. (The sign underneath is a WWIIposter that says “Sew for Victory.”) There will be more of them, if for no other reason, to use up the stars. But BF has been told that when the day comes that he puts up an American Flag on the property, as many neighbors have, there *will* be a Texas flag flying next to it. And if the Texit business happens, I do hope they take Louisiana with it so we can have more great barbecue!
For the record, Whole Foods isn’t kidding about encouraging you to “shop local” and all that. Not a bad idea, of course. This big guy’s grin greeted me as I checked out of the Mandeville store this past weekend:
William Terry, the founder of Bayou Soap, is on board with natural soaps and creates them right in New Orleans. (You can read more about them here, and their Facebook page is here.) I couldn’t resist looking at the many bars—lovely soaps, and they all smell wonderful:
Yes, these are pricey, but handcrafted artisan items usually are. (You can also order them online.) Mr. Terry doesn’t have the manufacturing muscle of Proctor & Gamble, and he uses natural ingredients without harsh chemicals. (I used to buy some very nice soaps from a lady at the farmer’s market in Nassau Bay on occasion, too.) Plus, they’re very big bars. My thinking is to cut them into one or two smaller bars to make them easier to handle and last a while. I’ll get some one day soon. I do like to shop local when I can, and patronize local businesses.
While others have seen Jesus’ face in a grilled cheese sandwich, and the Virgin Mary in a mobile home door screen, I see BF’s cute face in this bar of soap:
I can’t possibly use that to wash my hands now. . . .
Christmas is SUNDAY.
How did this happen? I mean, wasn’t it Turkey Day just a week or two ago? Carols have been playing nearly everywhere I go. . .that stuff has been out in Walmart for weeks. . .yesterday I told BF I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas, ha, ha. Being the smart aleck he is, he might just get me one–but where do you get the refill packages for it? I’ve never seen them, but I guess because I don’t have to.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through the house
The A/C was running, for we live in the South.
Yep. We’re waiting to see how Mother Nature treats us this year. It was quite warm last year, and I was in shorts Christmas Day. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like icy cold watermelon chunks. That could be the case this year, even though we’ve been shivering cold for quite some time–and so have my friends in Houston, too.
Let’s get serious with our slow cookers, shall we?
Longtime readers know about my affinity for slow cooking, and my more recent affinity for the waffle maker. Last weekend I used my Cuisinart Griddler not for waffling, but for making BF some pancakes. I used the flat griddle plate to make them right on the counter top. (I still haven’t replaced the drip tray, but we weren’t making bacon or anything that required it.) He got the biggest kick out of it–“you and your gadgets!” he said. Look at it this way: I didn’t have to turn on the stove for a little bit of cooking.
Yesterday was a 2 pound pork loin roast slow cooked with some olive oil and Italian seasoning. BF ate that right up with some baked sweet potato fries.
That’s the thing about the slow cooker–you really do just set it and forget it. It takes some advance planning, but so does cooking a standard meal. The other day I put two turkey thighs in BF’s 4 quart slow-cooker, and dinner was done when we got home. Added some Waffled Hash Browns, which took about 15 minutes to create, and we had. . .meat and potatoes, ready to have in less than 30 minutes.
Then I got ahead of the game by slow cooking.
I also started cooking the next day’s meal that night, before we sat down to the turkey and hash browns. There is a back-story to this.
Recently I was introduced, on Facebook, to a lady named Stephanie O’Dea, who is the author of a number of books and a blog called A Year of Slow Cooking. I write a food blog, and would cook every day in the slow cooker if I could. . .how did I miss this?
Apparently Mrs. O’Dea decided she would be slow cooking every day for a year, and blogged about it. She’s since written several books on the subject, and has more slow cookers than we do at Casa de Rurale. So I eagerly signed up for her emails, and read them. This lady goes all out, OK? The other day, she sent one about making tamales in the slow cooker. I’ll try that one day, too, when we’re in the mood for Mexican food. But the one that caught my eye was the Crock Pot 16-Bean Soup Recipe.
Mrs. O’Dea admits to being somewhat lackadaisical towards many things. . .OK, she’s lazy.
I have walked by the bags of soup mix in the grocery store a hundred million times. I’ve even picked one up, read the print on the bag, and taken it for a ride in the shopping cart.
But then I chicken out and put it back on the shelf with it’s friends.It just seemed like a lot of work.
I, um, actually don’t really enjoy work.
I’d really like a house full of forest creatures like in Snow White or in Enchanted to come do it all for me so I can spin around in circles singing.
So far the closest I’ve gotten to that dream is a six-year-old wearing a two-sizes-too-small rooster Halloween costume running around with a feather duster…But it’s a nice dream, nonetheless.
We all think like this from time to time, right? Well, after reading this email, I had some time before I had to pick up BF, so I stopped at HEB. . .I mean, Walmart. . .on the way home and picked up a few ingredients I needed.
Unfortunately, this is Louisiana, so we only get 15 beans, not 16 beans in our soup packages. (I miss my HEB.) I take what I can get, check out, and head home to the Casa.
And I started cooking tomorrow’s dinner!
When I picked up BF later that evening, I told him, “I am on it.” He gave me that cute look of quizzical confusion that he often does, and I explained myself. I saw this email, and I acted on it! The turkey thighs were ready when we got home, but the soup would cook all night, and he could have some to take to work the next day. Thumbs up on this one. . .but no pictures this time.
I did as she instructs, tossed out that chemical “flavoring packet,” (no need to tell me twice) and altered it slightly. No tomatoes, BF has a problem with them sometimes. Beef stock and water from the pantry, and an inexpensive one-pound packet of cubed ham from the meat case. Boiled the beans and let them sit for an hour, and then started loading up the 6-quart slow cooker.
This soup smells wonderful while it cooks. The soup was slow-cooking all night, and we really enjoyed it the next day. BF became “all beaned out,” so I froze the rest for another day.
This soup is highly recommended. Slow cooking it makes it really easy. Check out the recipe and the “customizations” for making it yours. Yum.
Slow cooking a full holiday meal?
Absolutely–Mrs. O’Dea has you covered! Check out this Christmas Ham in the Slow Cooker with honey and ginger. Ham not your style? Heck, she’s got a myriad of slow cooker recipes for the holidays parked right here on this page.
Need an extra slow cooker? Borrow one a day or two before if you’re afraid of going out to the mall this holiday season like I was in Houston. If you haven’t planned anything yet, well, better get a move on! Both links have recipes suitable for holiday gatherings, but you have to plan ahead.
Please note that despite the fancy fixtures that come attached to modern slow cookers, they are not essential. Last time, I told you about the web-enabled model with the smartphone app from CrockPot. I don’t have one of those, nor the one where you can brown and bake before the slow cooking. Mine are 13-year-old Crock Pots bought in 2003 or 2004 at Big Lots in Texas before I moved out of the GER’s house. I also have a “little dipper” I bought to get the cooking smells out of the kitchen. BF’s is a Hamilton Beach 4 quart, just like my Crock Pot. I refer to them as “dumb terminal models,” because you control them from the little knob on the front after you plug them in. (Eight years in IT, I know stuff like this.) I know, I know, there are slow cooking marvels with all kinds of bells & whistles and apps and all that. You do not NEED it. If you spend that much on a slow cooker, that’s less you can spend on food. Your choice.
Wrangling the whole thing together.
The best advice I’ve ever heard for planning any kind of special occasion was from The Barefoot Contessa in Foolproof. Write it all down, figure out how long everything will take to make, create a schedule and work backwards. In other words, if your turkey will take 4 hours, and dinner is at 5:00 pm, you put it in the oven about 1:00 pm, making sure your oven is at the temperature you need (usually 350F.) Potatoes will take an hour, so those go into the oven about 4:00 pm–and at 350F, you can easily bake them at the same time on a different rack. I mean, why not?
And you can always drop the potatoes in your CrockPot, right? Slow cooking can indeed help with Christmas dinner as well as parties and other celebrations.
What’s on the HeatCageKitchen menu for Christmas?
Well, nothing yet, but there likely is going to be some slow cooking going on. Especially if I don’t make much.
BF mentioned the other night that he wanted to have ham for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind if it was *this* ham, but he says he wants it “baked.” How is this not baked if it’s slow cooking at 300F or 350F for several hours?
If he wants something with Coke and sugar all over it, or requires the use of any kind of “enclosed packet,” I’m roasting a Lemon Chicken for myself. And I’m not doing *everything* I did for Turkey Day, although I wouldn’t mind making those Perfect Mashed Potatoes again. But we haven’t heard from the kids, nor anyone else, so it might just be the two of us with the critters.
But whatever we do, there’s a good chance a slow cooker’s going to be involved. And there’s a good chance that something will be waffled.
Remember too that there are recipes posted on this page. Most are favorites that I’ve tried many times, and that may be just what you’re looking for, including some slow cooking, too.
And if you’re not hosting. . . .
Are you going to someone’s house for Christmas lunch/dinner? Bring something tasty and delicious, whether you’re slow cooking or not. A Year of Slow Cooking is a great place to start, as is Pinterest.
And if it’s looking like you’re going to be home alone on Christmas, as I was for many years, enjoy it. Enjoy the peace and solitude, watch whatever TV shows you want, (I highly recommend British TV, especially a comedy if you can find some, turn on the CC,), enjoy the best meal you can cook up, and don’t feel “alone.” Slow cooking something delicious will free you up to watch your favorite holiday DVDs, listen to your favorite music, and spend time with yourself. There are folks who will be working on Christmas and would be happy to be home. Many are first responders (fire, police, medical personnel, etc.) so please don’t make their job harder.
It’s OK to be alone on Christmas.
If you’re really not happy about the holidays (there are more than one) remember that Christmas comes but once a year. . .and in a week or so, it will all be over. No more carols blaring from the PA system everywhere you go. No more drunks wishing you a “Cherry Mistmas.” No more red and green everything. Come January 2nd, the trees will be heading to the recycling bin, the lights will come down, and people will start packing stuff up to put away for another year. Some might not finish until March, but you get the idea.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year!
I’m probably not going to publish a post again until after Christmas, so I will wish all of you Happy Holidays, whatever holiday you want to celebrate. (Hey–if there’s food involved, there’s a good chance I’ll be celebrating it, no matter what religion it’s from.) Whatever it is you like to cook, make it tasty, healthy, and make enough for everybody, OK?
There’s a good chance I’ll be in the back doing some sewing while I’m doing some slow cooking.
Happy Monday, Dear Readers:
Are you over the food coma yet, or are you wondering when you’ll ever be done eating turkey new and different ways? HA–you know me, I’ll eat turkey anytime, and frequently do. Still looking for fresh turkey thighs around here. . .haven’t found them yet, but I managed to procure four at the Mandeville Whole Foods this weekend. (Turkey is cheap right now!) I was so happy when the little guy offered to butcher a turkey to give them to me, I said, “if you can do that for me, I’ll kiss you.” He looked a bit nervous, and replied, “I don’t think we’re allowed to do that, Ma’am.” I smiled and said, “Yeah, it think my boyfreind would be a bit upset with me, too.” Guess he’d never had that before; he was about 17, I think. Well, I’m a Texan, and I’m a tough customer, but I appreciated the help.
My cashier, Monica, knew exactly what I was talking about when I complained about no place for your coffee in grocery baskets here. (More on that later–and WF actually does have them.) Turns out she lived in League City for a while, and Clear Lake–and she misses HEB as well! My new BFF there. I told her all about our FABULOUS Clear Lake HEB, and how I used to have lunch on Saturdays with Miss Sunie, Miss Lei and Miss Carolyn’s wonderful samplings. But as nice as she and Lisa were yesterday, it’s getting easier, even though I still miss my HEB.
We’re going to have to take a trip to Clear Lake and buy groceries soon.
BF had to go to work early Saturday morning, but I was up early, and managed “bright-eyed and busy tailed” without the addition of caffeine, much to his dismay. BF can’t handle perky that early. He was looking for duct tape in the truck as we drove to town. (One guess.) But I’m here at the library, telling you all about my Thanksgiving.
We’re no longer taking the bucolic Cow Road, because *that* main road is now repaired after the August flooding literally broke it in several places. I’m gonna miss Cow Road, but maybe not all that much. . .it was kind of spooky at night. Episodes of The X-Files start out on settings much like Cow Road. I warned BF to lock his door when we were going home, in case *something* came out of the woods, opened the door and pulled him out of the driver’s seat. This amused him to no end.
The other night, I was heading over to pick him up for 9:15 pm, and since it was cold, I took a cup of hot tea in a lidded travel mug. I told BF I was on my way, and halfway down Cow Road, he texted me that he was getting ready to leave. I stopped The White Knight and texted back that I was “bumping and grinding down Cow Road.” When I arrived at his place of business, I let him know that I was bumping and grinding and managing a cup of tea when he texted, and I had to stop to text back, slowing me down. He was quite amused.
I’ve also visited the local Ace Hardware Home & Garden Center. They have more than just home and garden stuff. They have stuff for animals. They also HAVE animals–baby chickens!
They carry Leghorn, Ameraucana and Bantam varieties. The Leghorns are brave, they’ll walk right up to you and say hi. The Bantams are indifferent. But the Ameraucanas are, well, chicken! When I got close enough to take a picture, they all ran to the back of the cage, like I was trying to hit them. Poor babies. When I told BF about these little darlings, he asked, “you didn’t bring any of them home, did you?” They were $3.49 each, and I actually had enough in my purse to bring three of them home to the Casa. But no, we have a 60-pound pit bull puppy who will eat nearly anything, including jumping crickets (I have personally witnessed this behavior), so I figured the little darlings were safer at the hardware store in the heat chamber. They’re just adorable, though:
I enjoyed seeing them so much. . .I went back the next day just to visit them again. (BF didn’t know what to make of that, but it’s just around the corner from the library.)
They also have warm, soft bunnies and doves. And, maybe one or two other farm critters. But although they had supplies, there were no cats. Darn good thing. BF promises that we will, at some point, acquire a feline for me, but I warn him not just yet. Here’s one more cute picture of baby chickens:
BF’s BFF tells me that the grew up with chickens, and they’re not that cute. Oh, well. Let’s talk about a bigger bird.
As I mentioned last time, at nearly the last minute, I found myself making a full-on Thanksgiving dinner for four and a half people: me, BF, his daughter, her better half and their nearly 3-year-old son. My head was buzzing with all the details and reverse-engineering the process: when to make the brining liquid and when to add the turkey to it. When to start on the make-ahead sides, what I needed to make on Turkey Day. BF, to his credit, stepped back and let me do what I needed to, and just said with a smile, “this is your show.” In return, I promised him the best turkey he’d ever had, and I believe I delivered, based on what I heard from everyone. (Well, the wee one didn’t say much about it.) BF was also ultra-helpful in doing some tidying up, removing a lot of stuff from the dining area, including several large clear-plastic storage containers filled with my sewing patterns and a myriad of automotive things that, for the most part, belong in the garage. He went back and swept, mopped and put everything right so we could all enjoy a pretty nice meal.
We certainly did, except for one detail: BF’s daughter promised to bring mac & cheese and a pecan pie, BF’s favorite. Unfortunately, she only showed up with mac & cheese. BF was VERY disappointed to miss the pecan pie, but he did manage to find apple pie in the evening at his Dad’s house. She promises to deliver a pecan pie at a later date.
What did I do? What didn’t I do? My back still hurts from standing up for two days! But I had a blast, and all the dishes are finally washed. Let me take you through all this. Warning: I didn’t get pictures of everything. That’s how crazy-busy I was for 2 days.
BF was off work Monday and Tuesday, and we did some stuff in the house. He went back to work on Wednesday, working until 9:00 pm, and I stayed home to get everything started. I got up early, whereas BF slept later. But I got right on it, getting the turkey into the drink (brining fluid, that is.) Since I had half a jar, and we had an 8-pound turkey breast, not a whole turkey, it was plenty enough to brine the whole thing. That went into the fridge early, then I started on other things. I pulled supplies I knew I would need:
And why are those potatoes there? Mashed potatoes were requested. I also made sure these two were full and ready to rock:
Oh, and another special request:
I bought three boxes of this drek, I mean, holiday dinner staple, just to make sure we had enough, and I have one box left. You know what I did with it, right? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I decided to make two loaves of cornbread: one was an old Martha Stewart recipe from her big green compendium book, and one was from Babycakes, the vegan/gluten free variety.
Why both? Well, the MS recipe was for dinner at the Casa, and the vegan loaf was to take to his father’s place later. Turns out BF’s dad is a diabetic, and I brought it so that he could enjoy some with coconut oil and agave syrup. Well. . .he already had some, but I told him if he didn’t like it, I’d take it home, because I like it! No word yet on if he liked it or not. But first was the *real* cornbread, then the vegan version:
The “regular” cornbread recipe, which I may post eventually, is pretty simple but uses a fair amount of butter, which is why it’s so darn GOOD! (A stick and half, to be exact.) Sure enough, everyone loved it, as they always do. We still have some in the fridge, but I may freeze it if BF is sick of cornbread.
Once I got all that done and the washing up finished, I went onto. . .you know. One of my favorite Thanksgiving staples.
Yes, that’s the infamous Cranberry Ginger Relish (it’s no longer on Martha Stewart’s website, but a printable is available on the Recipes page.) I’ve made it many times, and it’s always a hit. Until now. Everyone said it was “OK.” Even BF. I was really disappointed–I made it with regular sugar, not SomerSweet. It always disappears, even with real sugar, but not this time.
I made a double batch, some for us, and some to take with us to BF’s Dad’s place later in the evening. It’s easy and you can make it a couple of days in advance. No word on if he liked it, or if the rest of that group liked it, but our little group said “it’s OK.” Oh, well. . .I finished what was left over time and burned it off washing up and moving stuff around in the studio. More for me!
Also done in advance: from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, delicious Green Beans Gremolata. I did enjoy BF’s face when he asked, “what’s gremolata?” Another “pesto moment” with a cute quizzical look on his face! I explained it, of course, as a fresh seasoning blend, which it really is. Blanched the green beans, then put them into ice water, and then made the gremolata. When I finished that, I packed it up, then drained and packed up the green beans and stashed them in the fridge. And then I started the washing up.
The kids (I can say that now) were slated to arrive at 11:00 am. Of course, they didn’t make it until about 1:30, which threw me off, but gave me lots of extra time to make sure everything was DONE. Thursday I got up about 7:00 am or so, and went to work. First up: drain, rinse and pat dry the turkey:
I used my roasting laurel, which holds the turkey UP in the roasting pan. It also garnered another funny look from BF–“what’s that green thing for?” I explained that, too, as politely as I could. It’s not my intent to confuse him, only to explain. But I don’t want to sound like I’m talking down to him either, because that’s not my intent, either. But I do enjoy the funny looks!
Next up: butter it up!
This gives the turkey a nice crispy skin and keeps it moist and tasty. Since it sat in the drink all night, it didn’t need any additional seasonings like salt or pepper. It was 8 pounds, so at 350, it baked for 2.5 hours. Once that was in the oven, I did more washing up and got started on the mashed potatoes.
Low-carb folks don’t normally have potatoes, but of course, I was asked, so I did. (I also made some waffled hash browns for breakfast last week, I think on Wednesday–BF enjoyed those, too.) Using another Ina Garten recipe, I peeled and boiled some potatoes. While those were boiling, I warmed a stick of butter and some half-and-half in a small saucepan. When the potatoes were done, I put them into the stand mixer (BF also lifted that heavy thing up for me), turned it on low, added the melted butter and half-and-half, salt, pepper, and a half cup of sour cream.
What Ina tells you in the book is that you can set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, and they stay hot and tasty for 30 minutes or more, but you might need more liquid. I didn’t–and this worked very well for me. Best mashed potatoes ever, and they stayed perfect more than 2 hours after they were cooked, just like this.
But get this: since sour cream only comes in a whole cup, I took some out for the waffled hash browns and dipped mine. I offered BF some, and he declined–seems he doesn’t like sour cream on baked potatoes. Thankfully, I didn’t tell him that was the “secret ingredient” in the mashed potatoes–he would have been mad at me for doing that.
Next up was a subject of much contention: sweet potatoes. Longtime readers know I can’t stand the ridiculous treatment given to these nutritional gems around the holidays, which includes marshmallows, maraschino cherries, pineapple, corn syrup and other unnecessary additions. I made my favorites, but. . .they stayed in the oven too long, darnit, and were a bit over-done.
GRRRR. . .I’ll eat them. Just can’t seem to recapture the magic the first time I made these in 2002 for me and the GER. We couldn’t stop stuffing our faces with them that day, but this time. . .darnit.
Next up: stuffing. But not just any stuffing. I begged BF to let me make STUFFLES!! Yes! Two boxes of stuffles, and put them in the little oven to keep them warm. I couldn’t resist:
Those went over very well. The next day, I offered to make BF a sandwich with the stuffles, and turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy in between. He declined my inventive idea. (They make sandwiches like that at Starbucks, you know.)
Because I was being daring, I decided to try my hand at Ina’s Perfect Homemade Gravy. You know what? They LOVED IT!! I kid you not–I even used pan drippings from the turkey. It was pretty easy–start out by caramelizing the onions:
I had to explain what that meant, but to his credit, BF gave me the space to do everything, and he was not disappointed. In fact, they were all expecting gravy from a packet. Oh, NO. I kept cooking the onions, despite BF’s skepticism:
See how much browner they are? By this time the turkey was done, and I took it out to sit for 20 minutes under a foil tent. I removed some of the pan drippings and added them in. Then, as instructed by Ina, I started sprinkling in. . .flour:
Cook that a little:
And then add two cups of hot chicken (or turkey) broth. Ina specifies that she prefers homemade, but. . .well, this came from Trader Joe’s:
Next up was a tablespoon of Cointreau, or other good brandy. Well. . .I opened up a couple of those boxes marked “Amy Liquor” and pulled this out:
I added one tablespoon when BF wasn’t looking, and when it was all stirred up and cooked in:
I added in a tablespoon of cream, which was optional, and stirred it well.
See that Cranberry Grab-It dish on the burner above the saute pan? That burner is also the “air vent” for the oven. When you use the oven, that burner gets very hot from the air vent, even though the burner is turned off. I put that dish there to warm it up so that the gravy wouldn’t go into a cold dish. Worked like a charm, too.
Then it was cleaning that pan, adding oil on high heat, then the green beans and heating them up. (I put my red universal pot lid on top to heat them faster.) A few minutes later, I took them out and put them in another serving dish, topped them with the gremolata, tossed them and covered them.
Then we heard the car door shut and the dogs making noise.
When BF’s very nice daughter brought in the hot mac & cheese, we immediately went to putting food out and having some. We had a great time. His daughter raved about the gravy, and all of them just loved it. I took a taste, and agreed that, for the first time, I like it. So, maybe one day I’ll try this again gluten free. A Facebook commentor on Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly offered the suggestion of thickening gravy with arrowroot in place of the flour, so I may try that at some point. (Shhh! Don’t tell BF.)
I went through at least a pound and a half of butter for Thanksgiving. BF was shocked when I told him we had no more butter, but it’s the truth–even the butter dish was empty. So when I hit Whole Foods on Sunday, I bought a pound.
Incidentally, did you know there’s a difference in the way butter is packaged on the east coast and west coast? I’ve noticed that when I’ve bought butter at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, they come in short, fat sticks, rather than the longer slimmer ones we get down here in the South. Turns out there is a reason for that–the ones we get here are known as “East Coast Elgins,” and the ones west of the Rockies are called “Western Stubbies.” Since Trader Joe’s is a California-based company, well, you get it. Whole Foods is based in Austin, but they also sell Western Stubbies, but I’m guessing it’s because they were primarily a west-coast store for so many years. (The first one in New Orleans was in the French Quarter, and was the size of a Circle K, until they built a bigger one in Metairie.) I found this out when I was looking at OXO’s website. You can read a little more about that on The Kitchn’s website.
We went to visit BF’s father, sister, and brother-in-law later in the evening. BF’s brother and sister-in-law brought a big spread that people were in various stages of enjoying; that’s where he found the apple pie. It was very rushed and busy, but we had a nice time with them as well.
So. . .next up is Christmas, and I have no idea what we’re doing or where. I hope to be able to do more slow cooking and maybe a bit of waffling, too. Maybe brownies, maybe cake, maybe sweet rolls–whatever they ask for, I’m up for. But I’m getting back on my regular low-carb/gluten-free/somewhat Paleo eating style, best I can.
Give some thought now to any upcoming holiday gatherings, office parties, and Christmas lunch/dinner celebrations that you’ll be attending, and what you might need to bring. Feel free to search the archives here, or start looking for some inspiration online. Start with Martha Stewart’s website, The Pioneer Woman’s website (she has a recipe section just for Christmas), The Kitchn, or jump in with both feet and get on Pinterest. Other celebrity chefs have websites and recipes, and they’re too many to list here (just pick one!) Create your “Holiday 2016 Recipes” board and start pinning. The Food Network also has a huge database of recipes (well, DUH.) But if you want more, well, ask yourself a question.
What’s your favorite grocery store? HEB’s website has a whole section for holiday things–products, recipes, etc., and you can order HEB things from the website from all over the US (except coffee to California.) Go here to find lots and lots of HEB’s recipes–just pick one. (Wait–Chocolate Pecan Pie? That could put BF on his knees!) Kroger has a general listing of recipes, while Randall’s also has a page for Christmas recipes. East-coast readers familiar with Publix will also enjoy their recipes and meal planning page. Louisiana-based Rouse’s has a recipe page as well–so if you’re looking for some Louisiana food for your Christmas dinner, take a look there. (Winn Dixie doesn’t have anything, I checked.) Trader Joe’s has a very nice recipe site, primarily using their own products, and so does Whole Foods.
No, I will NOT be making those “mirlitons.” Longtime readers know I hate them, whether you call them that, “Mexican pears” or “chayote squash.” They’re good for one thing: breaking windows. Wait a minute. . .Hatch chili bread? In Louisiana? Hmmm. . . .
OK, folks. . .I think I’ve bored you enough with getting started on Christmas early. Just think about what you’ll be doing, OK? Whether it’s a church function, going to someone’s house, or just doing Christmas dinner alone the way I did for many years, you’ve got time right now. Try out a recipe or two, gather any unusual ingredients that might be harder to find on December 20th, make room in your pantry, fridge and freezer for them, and plan your menus,but GET STARTED. If you find yourself with a last-minute invitation, check your Pinterest board for something you can make quickly or looks good.
I’m all about getting ahead of problems. You can ignore it, but it won’t go away. And if you are going to be alone, do what I did for all those years–make a delicious dinner and enjoy yourself. I recommend some good old-fashioned British comedy DVDs, too–and if you have cable, the Doctor Who Christmas special, which is always well-done and spectacular. No cable? See what your local library can get for you, by interlibrary loan, if need be. But as always, START REQUESTING THEM NOW. See if your PBS station runs Doctor Who or other British TV. Or you’ll be watching stuff on YouTube on your phone.
Library’s closing. I gotta go, but I’ll be back again real soon with more foodie things.
Hello, again, Dear Readers:
OK, so it’s been a month, and you’re probably wondering what happened to me. Join the club, me too. And by the title of this post, you’re probably getting a fair idea of how it all went down.
To follow up on the last post, I eventually did bring back the oversized microwave and got. . .another small Rival microwave. But it’s not even plugged in. There’s a reason for that.
I’ll be as blunt as I can be: I am not living anywhere in Texas. Will I ever return? I don’t know, that depends on a number of factors. I hope to at least be able to go back and visit occasionally, since Houston is a five-hour drive from where I am now in. . .rural Louisiana. Someplace I never thought I would ever see, and never planned to be. But sometimes life takes you in different directions, no matter how you try to take your preferred path.
Take in this scene, which I politely call Cow Road:
That’s not the real name of it, of course, but I didn’t know that until the third time I went on it. But there are two farms on the right side of this scene, and one of them, I think, is a dairy farm. Do they sell raw milk? He doesn’t know. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Texas, and in particular, Houston, is changing fast. (Just today there was a shooting in a high-dollar affluent neighborhood, with six people injured, one of those neighborhoods where “this sort of thing never happens.“) Things have been changing quite radically for a few years now, and if it continues, well, Texas will probably not be Texas anymore, and then the rest of the US will be hosed too. Lots more people moving in than there are jobs available, and a lot of people are being left on the side of the road. Governor Gregg Abbott’s office estimates 340+ families migrate into Texas every month, primarily from California. It’s obvious with large numbers of new, high-end vehicles you see driving down the street, and paper dealership tags riding around Clear Lake and in Houston. Everywhere I went, someone talked about “how it works down here in Texas,” or the more offensive, “you people down here in Texas.” Without showing my ruffled feathers, I politely asked each one of them, “and where are you from? What brings you to Texas?” They’re quick to tell, and I’m quick to say, “oh, so that’s why I can’t find a job for more than 2 years.” Yeah–don’t mess with Texas women. (I now have a coffee cup and a small sign that say that.) After 18 years of living in the Houston area, I’m a Texan, and nothing will change that, including a change of address form.
People like me, over 50, are routinely being shunted out of the workforce in favor of the so-called millennials and those under 40. Neighbor E is still looking for work as well, and while we hope he finds work soon, it’s not looking good. That folly will catch up to industry eventually (and if you click around the ‘Net, you’ll see articles on both that and the forced removal of over-50’s), but it means that I have had to take refuge in a different kitchen, if you know what I mean.
I’ve been in a long-distance relationship with a nice man for quite some time now, but haven’t mentioned it much here. He’s cute, smart, funny, lovable and a pretty handy manly man. We’re not connected “in a relationship” on Facebook at his request just to keep things private. I’m OK with that, and I won’t say too much about him here. OK, I have to–but I’ll have to keep identifying details to a minimum, because he’s a rather private person. (I know–what was he thinking?) This came as a complete surprise, and he knew my situation at the outset. He has offered for months to drive to Houston and “rescue” me, and every time he said it, I said “no.” Louisiana was someplace I escaped from and never wanted to go back to. When I visited him in January, it was the first time I’d been over the Sabine River since evacuating from Houston for Hurricane Ike in 2008. I always presumed that things would, eventually get better, and he would visit me in Houston, but it didn’t happen that way. At least not until this month, and he showed up with his white Chevy truck (we call it “The White Knight“) and an 18-foot trailer.
I waited until the last minute, hoping that the last interview would be a successful hire. When that didn’t happen, then I pulled the trigger on the “rescue.” It was a writing job, and as part of the interview process, I was required to take two sets of tests–one grammar, one writing–and I did well with the first one, I was told. The second I worked off and on all Labor Day weekend. Sent it back to the recruiter, and then I waited, but not for long. A couple of days later, I got that “no thanks” email, for which I have a less polite name. With only a phone interview with someone in Ann Arbor, it was decided that I “wasn’t a good fit for the position.” Never met anyone. That’s when I called BF and said, “OK, it’s time.” It was not a decision I made lightly, but when you’re backed in a corner, there aren’t always many ways out.
Neighbor E and AC offered lots of help with packing, and we packed as fast as we could. Correction, THEY did, and I looked at what they did and realized I didn’t really do anything. (That’s what it felt like, anyway.) They worked their paws off, and as much as I appreciate their generous time and help, it’s a favor I may never be able to return. The GER came by with some tarp, too (I still owe him $28 for that) met my BF, and gave him some help tying down cargo. They started talking about cars, because both are petrolheads, and I knew they were bonded at that point.
And that’s how I came to be The Dislocated Texan. Friend of the blog AK says that I should start another blog on being over 50 in America now; she’s not far behind me. I’m still thinking about it, but if I do, you can bet that’ll be the blog’s name. I’m returning to Houston this week to retrieve what I hope is the last of my stuff, which is now stored in Neighbor E’s place. If I can, I’ll get me another one of those coffee cups from Buc-ee’s that says, “Don’t mess with Texas Women.” Preferably one that isn’t pink, to keep on my desk at my next job. I’ve also got a small sign with the Texas flag that will be going up in the kitchen where everyone can see it.
I am a Dislocated Texan.
I hope I can go back and visit Houston, and Texas, again one day, do some shopping at IKEA, Central Market, and maybe even my fabulous HEB. Get some Texas pecans from Buc-ee’s or Frohberg Farms one day. I finally took my BF over there to see my HEB, the day we started moving me. I said goodbye to the nice ladies who always helped me out and fed me deliciously every Saturday after the Buddhist meetings at LK’s. (Even HEB turned me down for part time jobs.) BF was impressed, enjoyed the sampling and the company, saw what I’d been telling him about for a long time, and then we left. For now, locally my choices for grocery shopping are Walmart and Winn-Dixie. In Baton Rouge, there is a Trader Joe’s and a Whole Foods, thank heavens, and if I find myself working down there (I have an interview tomorrow and continue to apply there and other local cities), there will be regular grocery runs on the way home from work on payday or Fridays. I’ll eventually find the equivalent of an HEB, or something as close as I can get to it. If not during the week, it’ll be when he’s working on Saturday or Sunday, and he can’t stop me. (HA!)
If HEB or Publix ever make their way into Louisiana, it’ll be a happy day for me. But Albertson’s, Rouse’s Walmart, Winn-Dixie and other local chains are likely to dominate for many years to come. Still, if they’d build an HEB in Baton Rouge like the one on Clear Lake City Boulevard. . .I’m just saying. But if you like HEB coffee, or lots of their other great branded products, you can buy much of HEB’s things online now.
I will, at some point, try to get back to see Dr. Davis and Woodlands Wellness, because I’d really rather not change doctors, but that may be what I have to do to get back on my hormones and back on the health track. (I have just started sleeping a little better after 4 years of not sleeping well at all.) We’ll see. I really, REALLY need to get back on all that, I’m feeling it, and it hurts.
Moving into someone’s house, away from everything I know in Houston, also means I now have ONE taste-tester, and he’s what us foodies call a “fussy eater.” This morning I offered him a bite of my Wheat Belly Apple Quick Muffin, which he sampled after having a bowl of some kind of sugar-coated wheat cereal with whole milk. (UGH.) He said it “tastes funny.” Interesting, since I made it with almond flour, just like the pork chops I made on Saturday, at his request, along with some black-eyed peas in the Crock Pot and some hurriedly cooked white (!) rice. He went back to work, I turned the classical music station back on the TV (there is no radio in the house, and cell phone service is spotty) and I later received a text message: “Lunch was awesome.”
He wasn’t wild about me using up that sausage in his freezer and pairing it with the last packet of Halloumi cheese from Trader Joe’s, out of my kitchen in Houston. (He thought the jarred roasted red bell peppers were tomatoes.) The next day’s slow-cooker meatloaf went over a bit better, but the pork chops and black eyed peas made up for all that.
I have more room to cook in. However, I will need to eventually clear out all the cabinets, put down more shelf liner (I think I have plenty), and organize everything so that we can put our hands on the stuff we more frequently use. There may be shelves hung at some point, and the pantry space will be getting more of those white wire shelves to use up the wasted space (I’ve done that before for stock and seldom-needed things.)
But I’m telling you, that George Foreman thing has to go–it’s a huge pain to clean! And somehow, I’ve got to replace the grease trap on my Cuisinart Griddler–I just waffled a pizza the other day, but now I can’t find it! GRRRR.
His sparse pantry, not much bigger than mine in Houston, has been filled to overflowing with everything that came out of my smaller kitchen in Houston, including what are the last few remaining cans of SomerSweet in existence. I just found out today that Somersweet, through a series of events, is no more. I’ll visit the Baton Rouge Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods soon for reconnaissance on powdered erythrytol and powdered agave, as well as other possible solutions.
The look on BF’s face was pretty funny when he looked at organic this and gourmet that stacked up around his boxed stuffing mix, macaroni cheese and canned chili. I said to him, “I know there’s a lot of new things in your pantry, but please, if you don’t know what it is, don’t mess with it. Many of these things are expensive and will be hard to find around here.” He just smiled and shook his head. What did you expect a foodie to bring to your house–a checkers set? He doesn’t know what most, if any, of it is, but he knows I need it for cooking. Eventually we’ll be adding more of that white-wire shelving in there to use up the wasted space, like at the top and on the sides, and maybe something new for the inside of the door. I’ve added some small shelves I bought at IKEA several years ago that doubles space in spots, and he really likes them. I just wish I could get a few more of them for us.
I offered to make him some Overnight Oatmeal, but he passed–he prefers the “instant” sugared stuff out of a box. UGH!! When I mentioned getting organic milk at Trader Joe’s, he said, “Don’t go changing my diet!” Just improve, not change, that’s all.
I removed my Suzanne Somers’ EZ Gym from the suitcase last night, but it’s all rolled up in the storage bag. BF took one look and said, “are you going to kick my butt with that thing?” No. . .I suggested he go look at it on her website, but I don’t think he did. I hope to start using it again, and maybe hit the bike now and again, once things settle. No bike lanes in rural Louisiana, though, so I’m a bit skittish about riding on these skinny two-lane back roads. A bike trainer might be in my future.
I now have four slow cookers at my disposal–two oval four-quarts (one mine, one his), my large round six-quart and the small “Little Dipper” I bought a couple of years ago to help get rid of the cooking odors in the condo kitchen.
Oh, and here’s the ultimate irony: the cat lady now lives in a house with three big dogs, one of which is a 75-pound pit bull that just loves me. No kidding. I keep telling him I’m a cat person, but he doesn’t seem to care.
I’ve also met my new Buddhist leaders, PB and NM. I’ve known PB since 1988, and NM I only knew by reputation. They’re a couple, like me and BF, and came by to do a “home visit” last week. I was so glad to see both of them, and have also been in touch with LK since the move, too (plus she reads this humble blog when she has a chance.) I hope to make a Buddhist activity this weekend, but if not, it will be soon. Priority is getting all of my things out of E’s place, immediately, and getting unpacked and organized. Somehow. On his paycheck, at least for a while.
Because he’s such a manly man, he makes occasional furniture pieces from wooden pallets. You know, the stuff they use for shipping. I’m trying to get him into the mindset that we could pretty much rebuild the house with pallets, but he doesn’t see it that way yet. I helped my father when I was a kid in his workshop, so I’m not completely green on woodworking (oh, look, a pun!) I’m working on it. . .because I’d love to have a patio set, another kitchen rack, and lots of other lovely things that I see on Pinterest made from pallets. One thing at a time, of course.
So what does a food blogger write about once everything has changed? Well, restaurants–I’ve been treated to breakfast at a local place called Master Chef, a local fast-food place run by a very nice man named Tony. I’ve also been in a Waffle House–no kidding, again, for breakfast. I don’t think I’ve been in a Waffle House since the 1980’s, but last week, that’s where he took me to breakfast on our way to visit his cousin in nearby Mississippi. Know what? Some of the best scrambled eggs ever–they use American cheese. And it was gluten free–because I told them to give him my toast, ha, ha. Our waitress had no idea that some Waffle Houses take reservations for Valentine’s Day. She’d just moved to that location from a New Orleans store, and had never heard that. In some very remote areas, Waffle House is the only place in town, and they serve steaks, so, yes, they do. (I wrote about that a couple of years ago but can’t find it now.)
I’ll also be trying out more new recipes as I can, and bringing them to you as fast as I can get to the library. We don’t yet have Internet in the house, and as soon as I can pay for it, we’ll have it! Meantime, I have to find Wifi somewhere, and the local library is pretty nice too. Not nearly as big as my beloved Freeman Library on Diana Lane in Clear Lake, and certainly no gardening lectures that I’ve seen yet, but they’re every bit as helpful and nice.
There’s no Starbucks here (the closest is in Hammond), but there is one PJ’s Coffee, a New Orleans based coffee chain that was my first introduction into gourmet coffee shops with a fellow SGI member who now lives in Boston. (They also have Wifi.) So, if I’m working in Baton Rouge or Hammond, there will be trips to PJ’s or CC’s Coffee, the retail arm of Baton Rouge-based Community Coffee. Community is donating to help with flood relief here in Louisiana, so if you’re of a mind to do so, pick up a bag or two of your favorite Community blend next trip, please.
Hey–maybe I can take a ride and go visit Community Coffee sometime. I’m a food blogger, right? DUH. I did ask BF if we could, on his occasional Saturday off, take a ride one day down to Avery Island and visit Tabasco. He didn’t seem enthused about the idea.
I have not been well, for a long time, but I’m getting better, bit by bit, and I have the great support of BF. Even though he doesn’t read my humble blog.
Not long before I knew I was leaving, AC asked me to give her some help with her home computer, and uploading some videos of her work to YouTube for a job interview. I took care of everything, and I also installed an antivirus program and did a few other things to make it run better. When I got there, I smelled some deliciousness going on. You see, AC, too, has a new BF, and was cooking some pinto beans in the slow cooker for dinner that night. “You want to try some?” (GIRLFRIEND–You have to ask?) Oh, my GAWD, they were the best beans I’ve ever had! I told her that too–no joke, they really were delicious, I wasn’t just telling her that to be nice. She texted me the stuff she uses to make it, and the only thing that’s holding me back is a bottle of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. I can’t find it here, so I’ll try to get it either in Baton Rouge or on my next trip to Houston. I can’t wait to make them for my BF, and show you how to make them, too.
My biggest challenge as a home cook and blogger is going to be reconciling BF’s love for junk food and processed stuff containing wheat and toxic chemicals with making healthy, tasty food that he’ll enjoy and not turn up his nose at. I haven’t yet made him the Pea & Pesto Soup, but I plan to. . .soon as I can find the blender. (I managed to bring five containers of my beloved pesto with me, and will have more land to grow more basil, tomatoes and anything else I want.) The other issue is that he’s quick to purchase things that are loaded with wheat and other rubbish, which I mentioned already that I won’t consume. I also warned him about the “no beans in chili or you can get shot” thing, but he doesn’t believe me.
So. . .that’s where I’ve been, where I am and where I think I’m going. I hope that I’ll at least be able to visit Texas occasionally if I don’t move back to it, and write about more new recipes and things as I get settled in and unpacked.
I am now the The Dislocated Texan. I’m working on it, and making the best of it. Fortunately, BF has my back, and reminds me frequently that he’s there for me. I hope to be doing things like baking fresh bread for him soon, and since I found the Hatch Apple Pie Filling, making that fabulous cake that Neighbor E and I had in HEB recently. I’ll do that when he has a day off.
Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope to be bringing more new things to you soon.