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RaceTrac
Amy’s RaceTrac Experience

RaceTrac–a nice little place to stop in the South.

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

It’s Good Friday, and I’m in Starbucks today! Why? The library’s closed. It’s open on Saturday, but not Good Friday. I haven’t seen anyplace close down for Good Friday since I worked at Baylor College of Medicine–how long has that been? But that’s OK–it’s a “star dash” weekend, giving extra points for the Bacon Gouda Breakfast Sandwich. I had two, although not at once, and it bumped up my points. I now have two free things coming, which I’ll save for my next trip to New Orleans.

As you’ll see in today’s post, Starbucks isn’t the only place to get coffee when you’re out and about in the South. If you see a RaceTrac on your travels, I’ll tell you why you need to stop there.

Progress in La Casa de Rurale

BF put up my EZ-Gym, finally, seven months after I got here and four months after taking it out of my big suitcase. I’ve actually used it this week, too, while watching one of my Britcom DVDs. Since the episodes are exactly 30 minutes long, it’s a great way to time your exercise, especially on a machine like the Nordic Track. But the EZ-Gym is a neat thing to have, easy to use once you get the hang of it, and portable if you need it to be.

We don’t have a Home Depot or Lowe’s, but we do have a small Ace Hardware (where I went to visit the baby chickens a while back) and another “hometown” hardware store that BF has taken me to a few times. (There is a Lowe’s in Hammond, 30 minutes away.)  I went in for the wood screws to mount it to the wall, and came out with a canvas painter’s drop cloth, too. What the heck?

“Belgian Linen”

In the latest issue of Mary Janes’ Farm magazine, there’s an article on making “budget” linen tablecloths out of them. I’ve considered using drop cloth before (for projects from the old Martha Stewart Living magazines), but the stuff in Home Depot was too heavy and stiff. Our local place had the exact same brand and type that Mary Jane Butters used, so I grabbed one. You use the 6 ounce weight, because the 10 ounce is too heavy.

As MaryJane instructed, I washed it three times, let it dry outside the third time, then washed it a fourth to make sure it didn’t smell like a manufacturing plant. It feels pretty nice now that it’s all washed out. It’s a 9-foot by 12-foot piece, which comes out to 36 yards of fabric, for $17.99. That sounds like stuff I bought at Hancock Fabrics. I’ve got the big dining room table measured, I just haven’t made the tablecloth yet. But I can’t wait to tell people it’s “an expensive Belgian linen tablecloth.”  Pictures when I finish it.

Exercise?

BF says he needs to get back into exercising and back into shape. For some time, my “exercise routine” has consisted of moving and unpacking boxes, doing laundry and washing up, chasing a frisky 60-pound pit bull around, investigating and cleaning up cluttered corners and moving stuff either out to the rubbish pile, the burn pile or to the trash can for pickup on Thursday. Since I’ve been busy freelancing (still no million-dollar paychecks yet) I haven’t been doing that, hence, the EZ-Gym being installed on the only free wall stud in the studio. (BF had to make his silly joke about “looking for a stud? Here I am!”)  If I ever start traveling again, I’ll buy another one to keep in my suitcase. It’s not going to work setting it up on a door in BF’s place. I can see the TV from that spot, too.

He has rather muscular arms (particularly the biceps), and wants to start lifting those 15-pound hand-held weights again, as well as use his regulation punching bag and boxing gloves out in the garage. I’m using my kettle bells again, in addition to the EZ-Gym and the old Exercise TV No Sweat Yoga DVD last Saturday morning. (This morning was an hour of walking, partly with the Hounds.) I explained kettle bells to him, but he said, “yeah, we did that in the Navy.” Okay, bud. But I guess it’s time we started working out, either separately or together, or both, because he watches a lot of TV after work. And we aren’t getting any younger.

If I could just get him dancing properly. . .he grabs my left hand and doesn’t understand that it should be my right. Maybe I should find a “couples yoga” or “dance with me” DVD for us. . . .

Lil’ Diabeetus

I told him that if he really, REALLY wants to lose a few pounds, his Cokes would be a good thing to eliminate. In addition to all the awful things that soft drinks are, Cokes are 140 calories a can, primarily sugar. He drinks 4 a day when he’s at work, and occasionally one or two, more buying them by the case twice a week. So that’s at least 560 calories per day he could drop, and replace it with something healthier (like water, darnit.) Additionally, he could drop the L’il Debbie “fairy cakes” he likes to pack with his lunch (just my sarcastic nickname for them.) Now, calories aren’t the be-all and end-all of weight loss, otherwise we could all subsist on chocolate bars and be thin. There has to be real nutrition to keep the “machine” running. Or you can see this in your future:

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This is the picture they don’t show you. It’s what Lil’ Debbie looks like when she gets older. (Pic courtesy BF, who likely found it on Facebook.)

Anyway. . .between the EZ-Gym, the Thighmaster set (yes, I use it regularly), yoga, and kettle bell moves, I hope to get back into a better shape this summer, and beyond. Biking, well, not so much yet, since I’d be by myself, unless I decide to get myself one of those bike trainers you put your cycle on and pedal while watching TV. (Gotta rustle up more clients and money soon!)

Gardening!

The gardening still isn’t going on much, although I do have some new little tomato seedlings. The Hatch chile seeds, however, did not germinate, and there are no seedlings, darnit. I know where to order some seeds, but will keep trying with the ones I have been saving, first. GRRRR. . .I’ve only met one person here who knows what Hatch chiles are, everyone else, I have had to “school.”

The Key Lime and Meyer Lemon trees are doing well, and I see lots more buds than I did in Houston, and we’ll have a bumper crop of key limes, too. I haven’t planted the darn trees yet; maybe this weekend.  I’ve got green onions going on, and I hope I haven’t killed my little Rosemary plant. If I did, I can go back to the local Ace hardware store and get another one, while visiting the little baby chickens. (Haven’t done that in a while.)

I know, I know. . .pictures, Amy.

Miss Shirley, you will be happy to know that sitting here in Starbucks, I just discovered a place I need to go investigate.

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But do they have Hatch Chiles??

It’s probably not like the Genoa Friendship Garden (that was a fun place!) but it’s local, and it’s all about gardening. When I get there, I’ll give a full report.

Now, if they have Hatch chiles, I’ll be tap dancing on the bar!

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Longtime readers know of my affinity for coffee, and for Starbucks. But in addition to the local PJ’s, I’ve also discovered a new place to get pretty good coffee. It’s a convenience store that sells more than just Twinkies and Cokes.

When I visited BF last year, I needed petrol for my rental car to return home. Because it was right there off the freeway (or as they call it here, “th’ Innerstate”) and coffee for my soul (and the trip back to Texas) it was my first stop on the way out. I have to say it was pretty darn good coffee, and a nice clean place. But I was on my way back to Houston, and never gave it a second thought. Because. . .I was never coming back, right?

Right?

Nine months later, I’m lamenting the loss of my fabulous HEB, IKEA, and multiple Starbucks within a five mile radius, one walking distance from the front door. The Racetrac in my new ‘hood is being renovated. When they finally re-opened, it was much nicer than before, with lots of new menu options, including frozen yogurt and packaged salads.

This is a petrol station?

It sure is, and a lot more. Really, REALLY nice people work there, too.

I’ve gone in many times with my black 16-ounce stovepipe Starbucks travel mug and gone for the hot, fresh decaf on the way to the library, and shot some Hazelnut or Caramel sugar-free flavoring in before adding in half & half.

Recently RaceTrac installed a new center-island fixture that has, among other things, three kiosk screens to order yourself some food or fancy coffee drinks. On one trip, I was filling up my Starbucks mug for a 98-cent “grande” when I was asked, “Would you like to try one of our new espresso drinks for free?

Someone is offering me free coffee? Yes, please! I just say “thank you.”

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Well, I did ask if they could make it decaf–yes, we can! So we were off. After handing me a coupon to take to the register later, we walked over to the kiosk screen and I tapped it in. Cappuccino, French Vanilla flavoring, whipped cream, extra shot of espresso. . .POOF! Off it went to their ordering system behind the coffee counter, where the nice lady made it fresh on this machine:

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They make it fresh–no “formulas.”

They can flavor it any way you like:

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Flavors! And check out that counter!

They can also make the iced coffee drinks for you, too:

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You can make nearly anything with a Vitamix!

Those machines, of course, are designed for heavy industrial use–every day.

I paid for the regular coffee and the cashier rang up a $3.75 coffee drink for free. Of course, I said “thank you” many times–I’m no slouch! I took that and my *regular* coffee with me to the library, sipping the cappuccino first on a clear, cold Louisiana day. Suddenly, the day was a little bit better.

There have been other times

Occasionally, randomly, I have poured some hot decaf, fixed the way *I* want it, got to the counter and was asked, “is that all you have?” Yes. The cashier’s response has been, “have a nice day,” or “OK, you’re good.” In other words, your coffee is free today! It’s a random thing, or maybe I should download the RaceTrac app and know when they have “free coffee” days. While I have spent a fair amount of money on 98-cent coffee over the last few months, especially when it’s cold, I’m heading over to pay the water bill for BF, or I have a few minutes before BF gets out of work, I have also been randomly offered free coffee, too.

I just say “thank you.”

It’s a Southern thing

RaceTrack is headquartered in Atlanta, and operates facilities in 12 southern states. While the stores here aren’t as big as Buc-ee’s, the folks are every bit as friendly, and darnit, the coffee’s good, too. They have a full breakfast menu–even croissants!–and breakfast wraps that look pretty good (although I haven’t tried them yet.) I’ve seen those packaged salads, but not bought any yet. With three kiosk screens, they make up some of the food on demand, as well as the espresso drinks.

An Epic Discovery

And what do they have mixed in with the candy bars, small bottles of liquor and little packets of cake? Epic Bars! No kidding–in semi-rural Louisiana, they have my beloved Epic bars, but only one kind–the Bison with Cranberry.  Nobody else here has them, except RaceTrac. Sometimes they’re on sale, 2 for $5, and I’ve bought a pair and taken them to my “work place” at the Tangi Library many times. (Can’t do that too often, though.) I can get a full line of them on Epic’s website, of course. I can also find them locally at Whole Foods in Mandeville, Baton Rouge and New Orleans (not sure about Hammond, but I haven’t looked, either.) But here? Even the cashiers don’t know what they are! I think I’m the only one who buys them, but of course, I’m happy to have them available.

BF has less than polite things to say about Epic Bars, but, well, maybe that’s one too many MRE’s in his past, too. Guess I shouldn’t have given him the turkey one to try first.

Your Southern Summer Stop

If you’re traveling this year to see friends, family, or just going somewhere in the South, RaceTrac is a good place to stop. Starbucks has forced everyone to up their game, so better coffee is more available, even in decaf.

Like I said, Racetrac isn’t Buc-ee’s (which is a Texas thing), but it’s a pretty nice place. You can find RaceTrac locations on their website, and you can also go to their Facebook page and read more about them. RaceTrac also has an app you can download to find out about new stuff and get points or something. If ever I do download it (whenever I upgrade my rather aged iPhone, of course) I’ll let you know how it works.

It’s not Buckingham Palace, OK?  Not even Buc-ee’s. But RaceTrac is a good place to stop if you’re driving through the South this summer.

Made a new friend this week

Speaking of Atlanta, I met a lady in the library the other day who moved here with her adult daughter and husband temporarily. It was great to talk with someone. . .who knows what it’s like to have that culture shock! She said there is a company in Atlanta that’s similar to RaceTrac, where she moved from, called QuickWay. Apparently, RaceTrac goes head-to-head in the Georgia Market.

Know what else my new friend misses? The awesome east-coast grocery chain Publix. Just like I miss my HEB! However, she has married an African man. No, I mean, African from Africa; she’s a black American woman, she’s from here, too. Her husband is from West Africa, and they are getting ready to relocate overseas. No kidding. The wars are over, and they are going to Liberia to help re-build the country (he’s in construction.) She’s been there before, of course.  I can’t blame her for being excited–it’s a big adventure, and of course, her relatives in Louisiana are not happy about her going all the way to West Africa. I can certainly empathize–my parents didn’t want me moving six hours away to Houston at the age of 34, and they don’t even like me!

Anyway. . . .

Winn-Dixie’s new Plenti

Winn-Dixie is changing their rewards program, and the new one is called “Plenti.” Whatever. The cashiers all have new shirts, and the bags are now a bright robins-egg blue. They nag you until you agree to changing it all over. The black cards are going away. I have so many cards from all over the US, I just didn’t need another. My new friend and I were discussing that too. Big, fat hairy deal. Still no place to put your coffee in their baskets.

Here’s a tip: put them all on a separate key ring. Just don’t punch a hole in any magnetic strips. Keeps your key ring from getting too heavy and damaging your ignition.

Until next time

Here’s hoping everyone has an enjoyable Easter Sunday with a great holiday dinner. As I’ve long said, there’s nothing wrong with spending holidays alone, if that’s what your only option is. You make and have a good dinner, wine if you want it, and a tasty dessert. Enjoy a day off to do something enjoyable, whatever that is (unless you’re lucky enough to have a job and are working.)

I don’t yet know what we’re doing, but it won’t be the big thing I did at Thanksgiving. No, BF wants “simpler,” so, if we’re having The Kids, it’ll be a lot of what *he* can cook up quickly.   I think my days of big gourmet adventures are about over, long as I live here. (Unless the GER asks.) Heck, I might end up at RaceTrac, I dunno.

Easter is another Sunday to me, with chocolate. I want a steak salad, and the DVDs I got from the library, with the sewing machine on full tilt. I hope the cat can handle it.

Happy Easter!

 

 

The Cappuccino Conundrum

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

Do you like coffee? How about cappuccino? You know, with the frothy milk and all that. This one’s for you.

I have officially been blogging for two years now. No kidding, October 29th was when I set this site up. Woo hoo!! I’ll drink to that. Wine would be nice, but more likely coffee.

Houston and much of the south is COLD this week–no kidding, we’ve had a freeze warning. VERY unusual to be this cold this early in the season, but I’m happy. I think the cat’s happy, but I’m not sure.

What a great time to make some coffee, tea, or hot chocolate! Let’s concentrate on coffee this time.

Last year my decade-old cappuccino machine finally died, and I bought another one. As I mentioned in a recent post, I went through the process of finding replacement parts for an old Bialetti stovetop espresso maker the GER gave me many years ago when we were dating. However, Nick Usborne at Coffee Detective talking about how to make it quickly and easily on top the stove with a Bialetti. I just never knew it was this easy, so. . .I’m doing it.

Anybody want a Krups cappuccino maker? Hardly used, a year old. . . .

Nick also talks about something that many of my copywriter friends are hooked on, Bulletproof Coffee. I’ve also seen it called “Butter Coffee.” While I’m not a doctor, nurse or other scientific/medical professional, I don’t believe you will be able to repel bullets like Superman when you drink it. Just a thought. Friend of the blog AK (who made my recent birthday quite happy) swears by it, talking about brain power and amazing feats of thinking. I think it’s the caffeine, to be honest, but she’s a terrific lady, so I don’t say nothin’. You can read more about it on Facebook, and their official site is here.

No, I’m not interested. Sounds really weird, even for me. Fortunately, Nick The Coffee Detective has tried it too. He wasn’t exactly tap-dancing, either. Maybe another day. That Octane stuff is more expensive than butter.

Speaking of coffee, I also got my Bialetti issues straightened out. The one with blue roses is a 6-cupper, and I’ve returned all the spare parts to their sellers. Done. I’ve used it as well as a very small one now that I have sources for decaf espresso. Can you believe it? Starbucks and HEB. No kidding, get it anytime. DUH.

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Starbucks, as I’ve mentioned, offers a free treat on your birthday with a registered Starbucks card (and app, if you want.)  Also offered was 15% off (I think) on anything ordered from the Starbucks store. So. . .I took advantage of it. While they have a wide range of great drinkware, that 16-ounce travel tumbler was also on sale, and I’m really glad I got it–I’ve put both coffee and tea in it this week and it stays warm a few hours. Not bad, and would work great on a long commute. . .I’m sure someone already figured that one out.

This is what I use for everyday coffee, since discovering the French Press many years ago. (I have five because I used to have a boyfriend who did not drink decaf.)

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You can put these in the dishwasher, but the glass can break. However, you can re-order the beakers at Bodum’s website.

Yes, I know, more spare parts.

Now, I like cappuccino better–who wouldn’t?–but it’s more expensive to buy and a bit more trouble to make. But since reading Nick’s article, well, I wanted to, so I did. However, I had two of those ubiquitous Bialettis in my possession–a cute little red one cup and the retrofitted antique six cup. Armed with a coupon, I made my way to Bed Bad, & Beyond and got a 3-cup model.

Disassembled, this is what it looks like out of the box:

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No kidding, made in Italy:

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Now, like everything else, I’ve got multiples. Any wonder why I need a bigger place?

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The little red one was just so cute. Also purchased with the 3-cup pot is a butter warmer to heat the milk. Just like Nick!

I haven’t made much cappuccino because of the issue of getting the decaf stuff. Now that I’ve found it hiding right under my nose, I can have it anytime I want. (Which is daily, with whole milk steamed and frothed.)

So I now I do it in my own kitchen, just like Nick! Ready to do this on your own?

As you’ve seen, it unscrews into two halves, and a funnel that fits exactly into the bottom chamber. The bottom chamber is filled with fresh water to just under the little nozzle. Add the funnel, and fill it with the fine-ground espresso:

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Screw the top back on and turn on the heat.

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Now, if you’re going to heat milk like this, be aware that if it boils over, your coffee will be cold by the time you finish cleaning that up. No kidding. Don’t go talking on the phone and turn your back. Boiled-over milk or cream is a huge mess you do not want on your hands. (Yes, I have, thanks for asking.)

How do you know it’s hot enough? Stick your (clean) finger in it periodically. When it’s hot enough, you’ll know. But get it off the stove quick and start the frothing action. The pot I have has a heavy bottom, so it will hold the heat (and double as a projectile or blunt object in an emergency.)

Then start frothing with a little $3 tool from Cost Plus World Market:

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Now, while this is going on, the espresso is still bubbling up through the funnel:
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My suggestion is to have a cork trivet or some other place to put hot pots down in between stages.

Put your sugar/sweetener/flavorings in the bottom of the cup first. Using a big spoon to hold back the froth, pour the liquid milk into the cup first, then the espresso, then dump the froth on top. Since I only have two hands, I can’t show you that part!

When it’s all done, this is what you end up with:

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Yes, this is what you pay upwards of $5 a cup for in coffee shops like Starbucks. Look, there’s labor involved, plus it costs money to set up those great locations, so understand that part. But if you really, really like the frothy milk and all that, or the smooth tastes of lattes, it’s nice to be able to do it at home and enjoy it whenever you want.

Let me reiterate that decaf coffee is great in the modern age. If you’re being told to cut down the caffeine, or you realize you have a problem, don’t think your future is with Sanka. Lots of great decaf is there for the sampling, so go find your favorites. Mine are Sumatra, Kenya AA, and. . .anything with chocolate and raspberry in it.

So get brewing, and bake something delicious to go with your cappuccino or latte while it’s cold enough to put on the oven, too.

Happy Dining!

 

 

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