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The Chocolate Cake Affair

Good evening:

Regular readers of this humble blog may remember the chocolate-laden, gluten free post I re-blogged last week from fellow foodie writer Sophie James, who writes a very elegant blog called Stories from the Stove. Of course, that’s where the similarity ends, because mine is. . .less elegantly written. But that’s OK, I get my point across, and that’s a nice gluten-free cake she’s got there.

I’m going to tell you about another chocolate cake in a minute, and the story that’s attached. In a minute. Because, it was my BIRTHDAY.

This week marks a number of starts. First, I have switched phone companies and now have an iPhone 4s. I really didn’t want a Smartphone, because I see how dumb it makes people. But I was missing too much important email; people and companies assume everyone has one, so it became a necessity.  I’ve loaded it up with lots of cool apps, including one from east coast grocery chain Publix, which includes a nice grocery list function. It’s free and really handy, although it can be a little fussy. And you don’t have to go to Publix to use it! My local HEB used to have a similar thing on their website, but not anymore—and the only apps HEB has are all for HEB Mexico.) There are a number of free grocery list apps available for the iPhone, but I’ve been using the Publix grocery list for a couple of years on the PC, so I decided to stick with that one.

Once in a while, I actually make a real, live phone call with my iPhone. Go figure!

I also take comfort in the fact that people who are considered geniuses have very messy desks. That’s why you’re not seeing pictures of mine. Ever.

Also this week for my music fans, Def Leppard’s CD/DVD set of their Viva Hysteria concerts in Las Vegas earlier this year was released this week. If you buy it from Amazon, they also have something called “AutoRip” where you can download the audio for free, right away, and import it directly into iTunes before your hard copy arrives. Mostly I want to see the concert video, since I couldn’t get to Vegas to see these five handsome UK males (and they didn’t come to Houston this year) so that will be next week. I also have their previous live CD Mirrorball, and kept up with their shows on Facebook, so I kind of know what to expect.  If you’re a fan—and yes, I am—you can read more on DefLeppard.com.

Yeah, I know, it’s not foodie related. But it’s new. And it’s Def Leppard. RAOW.

The current diet phase is over, and I’ve lost ten pounds. Woo hoo! Should have been more, I tell myself, but if you don’t sleep 8 hours or so a night, and you sneak some chocolate now and again, you won’t lose as much weight. I know this because I’ve seen it myself on the daily diet charts. On the mornings where I slept less than 6 or 7 hours, I either stall or gain a bit. When I sleep enough and more or less follow the program, I drop it. Mostly I sleep in on the weekends, because there is too much to do when I get home at night. My evening task lists always start with, “feed cat. Feed big cat.” You can guess which one is the big cat.

I also ordered a case of 12 cans of Somersweet two weeks ago to stock up for a while. There was a free gift with purchase, travel sizes of some of her exclusive toxin-free hair care products. The day the box arrived, I got an email from SS’s website telling me that “Somersweet is 25% off!” Had I waited a week, I would have saved about $22.50. AAAAHHH!!! But that’s kind of the way my luck goes sometimes; I didn’t know that was coming. Darnit.

Last week was the annual Bootcamp for American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI), where I’ve been for the last three years, twice on my birthday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it this year, but will try again next year. It’s like missing the family reunion to me, but I wasn’t able to go for a handful of reasons. Keep your fingers crossed for next year.  Last year they not only baked my cake, I also had 325 copywriters sing me Happy Birthday.

This year, I’m on my own. But that’s OK too.

It was also at last year’s Bootcamp that my friend Akinnyi from London, a very nice man, said to me, “well, why don’t you write a food blog?” On the way home, the ideas started to gel, and I got on WordPress a few days later. In fact, when I logged on tonight to start this blog post, WordPress had a message for me: Happy Anniversary! It was one year ago, October 29th, that I started this blog.

Foodies have been rolling their eyes ever since. Including Sophie James, I bet.

This one’s for you, Akinnyi. Thanks for the idea. I ran with it.

Since I didn’t go to Bootcamp this year, I had to bake my own birthday cake. I already knew which one it would be, because I baked it many times before. It’s the Chocolate Ganache Cake from Suzanne Somers’ original 2002 Desserts book, incorporating her newly released Somersweet in to the recipes so that delicious desserts were available to make and not give you sugar crashes or toxins from aspartame. It was a while before I tried Somersweet, but eventually I was won over, and I still buy it today, in it’s updated form.

So this cake is, indeed, gluten free, because there is absolutely no flour of any kind, no sugar, and made from basic ingredients (and Somersweet). But since Suzanne Somers Desserts was published in 2002, most people hadn’t heard the term “gluten free” unless they were suffering with celiac disease or some other reaction from wheat. In this book, it’s considered “low carb,” because that’s primarily what SS’s books were about. Sugar manifests in many forms, wheat included, since most carbs turn to sugar in your bloodstream.  That sugar then stimulates the insulin response, and that’s where things can go awry, particularly with continued intake of sugar.

You may not realize this is happening until your doctor starts talking about “options for managing your diabetes.” I know this because my Dad continually ate what he was told by his doctors that would “improve his heart health,” only to later find out the hard way that none of it was true. Didn’t help his heart and didn’t prevent diabetes.

Anyway, enough of the Wheat Belly lecture.

This book was published just after Somersweet first came out in 2001, and the entire book, plus another called Chocolate, are all healthier versions of various desserts (although some may have small amounts of sugar for the times you can handle it.) This particular cake calls for a small amount, since the original Somersweet was 5x sweeter than regular sugar. Today, Somersweet is cup for cup like sugar, so I did a little reconfiguring to make it come out right.

The actual cake part is made by beating 8 eggs for several minutes with some baking soda and getting so much air into them that they bake up and come out baked as a cake. I haven’t made this one in 3 years, but it’s pretty simple to make, and works every time.

Beating eggs for 8 minutes fluffs them up for a perfect cake

Beating eggs for 8 minutes fluffs them up for a perfect cake

You bake the cake for longer than the 15 minutes in the book.  I think the new Somersweet changes that part, since it used to be just 15 minutes. But that’s OK. What you get out of the oven (using a 9 inch springform pan) looks like this:

It got a bit browner than I planned

It got a bit browner than I planned

Then you cut it into three layers, not the two I used to do:

Oops. But we can fix it

Oops. But we can fix it

This is an extremely delicate matter, because one wrong move and the whole thing falls apart. It’s heavy and dense, so you have to have a big spatula or two to move the bottom over to the cake plate.

A trick I learned from the Barefoot Contessa recently is to put a small dollop of buttercream under the bottom layer so the cake sticks to the cake plate. I did that, and later regretted it when I put squares of wax paper underneath so I could make it without a mess. Uh, right. . .

So, I grabbed my offset spatula and got busy with it:

Filling the first layer

Filling the first layer

Filling, or repairing, the top layer

Filling, or repairing, the top layer

Starting the ganache process. it didn't go well

Starting the ganache process. It didn’t go well

See the wax paper squares? That was intended to keep the ganache from dripping all down the shelves of my fridge. Unfortunately, it not only facilitated dripping chocolate, it made the ganache drip outside the confines of the baking pan I put the cake plate to to contain the mess. So it made a bigger mess than it was designed to contain. It figures.

That’s what’s known as irony, if you didn’t know that before.

After that last picture, I stuck the whole thing, plus the dishes of buttercream and ganache, in the fridge to chill and thicken up a bit, hence the drips on the top shelf.

This cake recipe includes a rich chocolate buttercream filling and a very nice ganache that is poured over the whole cake. Trust me when I tell you that I do not waste a drop of it. One of the benefits of being in your own kitchen is that YOU get to lick the beaters. If you have kids around, then you have to bake when they’re not around or are otherwise occupied.

Simple chocolate ganache. Yes, thank you.

Simple chocolate ganache. Yes, thank you.

Chocolate Buttercream. Is there anything more perfect?

The finished product, ready to eat

The finished product, ready to eat

In the end, it all worked, and while it doesn’t look quite the same as the picture in the book, it’s pretty tasty looking.

I picked up some raspberries at Kroger, and decided to up the ante a bit, because, well, I love raspberries with chocolate to begin with.

Just a little something extra to make it all mine!

Just a little something extra to make it all mine!

Four years ago I also bought that ceramic cake plate because putting it on a dinner plate wasn’t working. Of course, on this one it’s a bit, um, earthy, so the chocolate doesn’t exactly stand out. DUH. But that’s what was available at Hobby Lobby the day I went over there. It has been collecting dust, because I’ve gone to Bootcamp the last three years and didn’t bake my own cake.

Of course, the kitchen suffered and boy did I work to get that taken care of:

The remains of the cake (after filling and frosting)

The remains of the cake (after filling and frosting)

Chocolate ganache everywhere!

Chocolate ganache everywhere!

So, here’s what my favorite gluten free, sugar free, low-carb Somersweet chocolate birthday cake looks like when you cut a slice:

Rich. Thick. Chocolate. Any questions?

Rich. Thick. Chocolate. Any questions?

And to serve it:

OK, OK, so I flopped it on its side. It's edible.

OK, OK, so I flopped it on its side. It’s edible.

I did share with one of my neighbors and one of my Buddhist friends I visited the next morning. I would have shared with two of my neighbors, but the other one had surgery around her mouth and can’t chew. She got some delicious Tuscan White Bean and Garlic Soup. She didn’t want all of it, so naturally, I ate the rest this week. I gotta make me some more of that soup soon–it’s so good, and takes just about 20 minutes.

Now, it was indeed my birthday, so I headed out first to Starbucks for my free birthday drink. Want to guess what that was? Well, if you read my blog earlier this year, you’ll probably figure it was a Hazelnut Macchiato, and you’d be right. And because it was a splurge, it was my free one, and it was my birthday, I got a big one, and it went on my Starbucks card. I watched someone ring up a $4.65 cup of coffee and it went to “no charge.” However, I only do that once a year, when it’s offered. And check out the artwork on my coffee cup:

Coffee Cup art

Isn’t that cool?

I then went to Denny’s for a free gluten-free Grand Slam. Well, almost free:

IMG_0028[1]

OK, so there’s the seasonal fruit cup off-camera that was 49 cents, and then the blueberries for the oatmeal was another 49 cents, and one more thing, I think, for a total of $1.61. Maybe it was the milk for the oatmeal; but still, it was pretty darn good.

Now for dinner, I decided on pizza–home made, gluten free pizza. I took out the Wheat Belly Cookbook and got to work. However, I also used a canned pizza sauce without sugar in it, as well as some delish sausages bought on sale at Cost Plus World Market. (Because it was my birthday, I had a $10 off coupon, plus they allowed me to use a 10% off purchase coupon I got in the mail. Cool!) Not bad, not bad, and I had plenty left for breakfast.

Pizza!

Pizza! (And half the Mango Mojito with Somersweet)

Overall, it was a pretty good day, and I even got a new shirt nearly completed too. The weather was good, the sun was out, the sky was a beautiful blue, and fortunately, everything was pretty good.

Sunday brought an old friend for dinner, and he was wowed with not only the cake but a delicious salad from Giada de Laurentiis and one of Nigella’s delicious dishes from her last book. More on that later.

Of course Monday came along, and I now live for next weekend, where I am promising myself I will not drive anywhere for anything and stay home for 48 hours. I hope so.

Enjoy!

Beef–raising the bar

Good Evening, Dear Readers:

This blog post is dedicated to my friend BigJoel, who passed away last Sunday afternoon (9/8/2013) at the age of 89. He was a friend, a cheerleader, an ally and an all around nice man. I found another soul who loved and appreciated British comedy, while most folks watch whatever is on. He read every one of my humble blog posts here and enjoyed them, and I sent him video emails nearly every day for the last few years. I told him about the content of this post a few days before he passed, but unfortunately, he won’t get to read it.

BigJoel belonged to Mensa, an organization of people who make mistakes faster than everyone else. That’s what he told me. He also had a sly sense of humor. I always told him he ought to eat healthier and take some vitamins, but I think he didn’t take me too seriously. But at 89, well, maybe you don’t take anyone too seriously. BigJoel’s input and humor will be missed by a great swath of folks, including me.

When he visited Texas I tried very hard to make a delicious and Martha Stewart-esque dinner, complete with a healthy, delicious dessert. He was a sweetie, and enjoyed all of it. At least, I hope he did. I’d hoped to get him some gluten-free baked goods recently, but connections were missed, and it didn’t happen; they wouldn’t have lasted the shipment in the warm southern May weather we had. But I did send him some Larabars a couple of times, which he enjoyed. The first time, I had to shop all over town to get the variety I wanted to send; the second time, the company introduced the variety packs, so it was much easier then, and they were fresh from the factory, too.

This one’s for you, BigJoel, and I hope to get to cook for you when I see you again.

Now. . . .

I have long told people that I’m a cat. A Human Feline. When you’ve had the same cats for long periods of time, (in my case,19 years) your DNA is altered. You knew that, right?

OK, seriously–my blood type indicates that I should avoid grains and stick with protein, so my doctor tells me. So, see? CARNIVORE=CAT. That’s me. I love tigers, too–but not parked on my living room futon.

So the news comes a few weeks ago that something akin to “beef” was grown in a lab and pan-fried at a press conference in London a few weeks ago. Yes, they added (ugh) beet juice and saffron to make it look like the real thing. Grown from a beef muscle cell using gene-splicing and other freakish GMO procedures, it’s a start on a highly experimental method of growing beef without using cows. Vegetarians like the idea of not having to raise cows in order to make beef. (Vegetarian: old Indian word meaning “Bad Hunter.”) The “climate change” crowd believes it will feed the masses without excessive methane gas (read: cow farts) in the atmosphere. No, I don’t believe them, but they have some lobbying power, so people listen to them.

Ok, let’s get real.

At a cost of $334,450.60 for a single 4 ounce patty, or $1,337,802.4 per pound, this “vegetarian beef” muck is currently more expensive than organic grass-fed beef and Japanese Waygu beef, so most people aren’t going to shell out for it. The inconvenient truth is that it really does *not* taste like beef, chicken, or anything else you’re accustomed to eating, despite what they said at the press conference. There was a lot of money invested in this ridiculous experiment, so they had to say nice things about it. Of course, they had to doctor it up to make it taste similar to real beef, and nobody would admit it to what really it tasted like. In some media outlets, the taste was praised; in others, told for what it really was.

I get that it’s scientists using science to do new things that were not possible before, stretching their expertise and really using their skills. But couldn’t they use this technology for something more useful, like say, cancer treatment or preventing birth defects?

My professional gourmet blogger’s opinion: Yuck.

Listen, y’all, most folks are going to stick with what they get now, which in my case is the occasional packet of 4 patties from Target with a red markdown sticker on it. Wal-Mart has bags of frozen burger patties for a good price. Cows run wild in India; ship them over here and we’ll eat those cows, fight “climate change” and make the streets of Mumbai safe again. (Nevermind that the seasons come around quarterly.)

And just this week, word of a plant-based egg substitute. WHAT? Do we REALLY need this new thing? OK, admittedly, I have a friend who is highly allergic to eggs, so this would be great for him, since he could use mayo made from it. Maybe folks allergic to eggs like my friend can benefit from this creation. But in my everyday life? NO.

If you’re like me, the whole idea of lab-made food—like the GMO wheat before it—brings one word to mind. Say it with me, will you?

EEEEEEWWWWWW!!!

And that’s enough of that.

So, I bring that up, mostly to amuse, but also to point out the lengths that some people will go to make a point. I think there is more to it than just scientific advancement, but I won’t say anything beyond that. What I will say is:

EEEEEEWWWWWW!!!

Just say NO to lab grown beef, OK? Lab grown chicken and eggs, too. Heck, lab grown anything. How are these artificially created frankenfoods any different than chemical-filled processed foods like evaporated milk and Velveeta cheese?

REAL food rocks. Eat real food.

Speaking of real food, I recently discovered something new and tasty. (Well, it was new to me.). I was doing my usual Sunday errands and stopped in a place that, well, let’s just say it’s not a place one would normally stop for a quick nibble, but I found one. I was REALLY hungry, and after I finished in this establishment I was going to the SuperTarget across the parking lot. An iced decaf coffee at Starbucks and maybe a couple of Larabars and I would be fine, right?

Oh, no. I FOUND something. And it was delicious enough to write about.

Whilst waiting my turn, I noticed a box next to some candy. Epic Bars, they’re called. About the size of a candy bar, but completely different. They’re designed for outdoor activities, to toss in your bag with a couple of bottles of water and hold you over until you can get some lunch. Sound familiar? There have been many incarnations of “meal replacement bars” over the years, but most are sweet, and loaded with sugar and other toxic rubbish. Have you looked at a can of Ultra Slim Fast? (Yes, they still make that stuff.)

You MUST drink plenty of water with Epic Bars. Why? Keep reading.

The difference with Epic is that they are made with meat. Yes, MEAT. No kidding. But like Larabars, they do have some nuts, although not as many. The first time I went I found beef and turkey. The second time, all they had was turkey. No complaints outta me! Both are equally delicious, although I was told by one of the owners that everyone loves the beef bar. Really, they are both equally good, but I guess the guys want beef. (And every time I go back, all they have is turkey.) They also have bison, but keep reading.

The meat is dried, and similar to Larabars, they have nuts and some dried cranberries in them—but they are not sweet like a Larabar. The beef has a bit of chipotle in it, so there is also a slight touch of heat. I don’t like burning hot food myself, but this was just fine with me. Since it’s dried beef, the water makes it swell in your stomach, giving you a full feeling during a long stretch. That’s why you gotta drink the water.

When the man told me that, I didn’t believe him. I bit into the beef, and later went to Starbucks for the iced coffee. And you know what? I really didn’t think about food for a good 3 or 4 hours. I really wasn’t hungry at all. Cool, huh?

That made me think about dieters—would they work? It’s got me thinking, and I’ll let you know if I decide to try doing that.  Admittedly, I’ve bought more and keep them tucked into my lunch bag. See, if I get on the bus on an empty stomach, I get really nauseated. Houston Metro has some great buses, built a little like a Boeing 737, but the buses do not have a) lavatories and b) barf bags. So I gotta nibble something before I leave the office so I don’t test the sensibilities of my fellow commuters. Epic Bars have been fitting that bill for a couple of weeks now.

Epic comes in turkey, beef, and, um, bison. Yes, BISON. I think I’ve had bison once or twice, but not regularly. Epic Bars are made from vegetarian fed animals, are gluten free and, thank you, FREE OF SOY. They even come with a little freshness packet so they’re good longer term. If you see these, consider it:

Epic Bars--if you see one, treat yourself, but drink plenty of water!

Epic Bars–if you see one, treat yourself, but drink plenty of water!

They are about $3 each—not cheap like a candy bar, but healthier than what you can get at fast food, and fits in a pocket, purse or bag.

I also got three different explanations of what these bars are for from three different sellers when I was out and about on my recent Sunday adventure trip with my debit card.

The first place I found them is called The Arms Room, an upscale gun store and indoor shooting range in League City, Texas (a Houston suburb close to Galveston) with, ironically, a SuperTarget across the car park. Really, do you go in a place like that for a bite to eat? It was a lucky find, and that’s not listed on the Epic website, either. The second place was Snap Kitchen, where I stopped in and ended up getting some lunch. But they only had turkey and bison, so I headed to my third place, Whole Earth Provision Company, next to Trader Joe’s on South Shepherd.

The Arms Room guy said that they were for people who go out shooting and don’t want to stop for lunch or leave and go back out. Toss one in your backpack with a couple of bottles of water, and go. You’ll be good until you’re done, and you go home or go get a bite somewhere.  Can’t complain about the iced coffee with one, either—it really hit the spot.

The Snap Kitchen folks I talked to were horrified that I went into a place like The Arms Room, but hey—I’m over 21, I’ll shop where I like. They don’t sell the beef bars because “their customers don’t eat red meat.” Something like that. I’m sure there are at least a few tofu-scarfing folks that will down a burger or fried chicken if they’re far enough away from anyone who will recognize them, but I left that part unsaid.

The dude in Whole Earth Provision said that they were designed for outdoor sportsmen like campers and hikers who wanted something grain free and Paleo. He, too, was horrified that I bought some in The Arms Room. (I enjoyed that part twice.)

So, three different explanations for these bars, but they really are good, healthy and convenient. I’ve got one left.

You can find a place to buy these lovely items at their website, and you can buy them online if you can’t find them locally. And because they are made in Austin, TX, you know they are the best! (My opinion, of course.) The company also makes something called Thunderbird Energetica, the fruit-based kinds of energy bars that are gluten free but sweet. I’ve sampled them in my local HEB, and they’re good and sticky, but since it’s dried fruit, they’re higher in sugar, making them a little higher in calories (and diabetics need to pay attention to that part.)

One of my writer friends tells me that there is another company that makes much the same thing, called Tanka Bars. I’ve never seen them, but if I find some I’ll try them and report back to you on it.

So, if you’re in need of something to eat on the go, you’re in luck–healthy food is available, even for us carnivores, real food, in bar form.

BigJoel would have enjoyed one, too.

Good night, Dear Readers.

Yin and The Yang

Hello, Dear Readers:

Faithful reader Aunt Kathy sent me this comic a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot to add it to last weekend’s blog post. She knows that I’m always looking for gluten-free stuff (Twinkies notwithstanding) and passes these things along. In this case, of course, she was right:

crrub130626

The comic strip is called Rubes, and it offers a slice of the absurdities of everyday life. And now we have gluten free cartoons. Cool!

Remember about a month ago I became infatuated with McDonald’s Pomegranate Blueberry Smoothie?  Since it’s been so hot–well, it is Houston–I got really tired of eggs and decided to make a smoothie at home. Granted, it hasn’t been the same as the McCafe, but they’re passable. I bought a book on smoothies, and I’ll tell you more as I get through it.

Now onto a more important subject that affects us all: grocery shopping.

Last week’s Wall Street Journal featured an article on the Elf Electric Pedal Car. Now, alternative forms of transport are great. Many, like this one, are just so darn cute. But it begs the question: is there room to bring home your groceries in it? Well, if you want one, that’s for you to consider. At $5K, it’s an investment, and about as much as a good used car with a petrol engine on Craigslist.

Speaking of grocery shopping. . . .

One of the best parts of being a foodie is that you can find an adventure in places most people wouldn’t think about. Sure–white water rafting, rock climbing, hiking, motorcycle road trips and other endeavors are adventurous, but I’m less likely to get badly hurt in a grocery store. Not to say I wouldn’t consider doing them, but I don’t have health insurance right now, so I’m not inclined to climb anything more than a stepladder.

Some years ago, when I lived in town (known locally as “Houston proper”), I had an Avon lady who lived on the west side, and she introduced me to this funky little store in the inner corner of a strip center called Phoenicia Foods. It was an import grocery store that you might just miss if you weren’t either looking for it or paying attention. She said they had great prices on olive oil, and that’s true, but that was just one reason to go in there. They carried coffees, teas, spices, and my favorite—cookies—from all over the world, and things like Turkish coffee sets that were just gorgeous. I loved going in there, even though I had no idea what a third of it was or what it was for.  I bought olive oil there as well as occasional other things, too, like nuts from Jordan, chocolate from Italy, or big jars of capers from Italy. You never know what you’ll find in there. Those cookies from Poland are simple but incredibly delicious.  They were $1.29 a packet (likely a little more now) and they had orange, raspberry, apple and other filings with a thin layer of chocolate on the inside. No American cookie comes close to this one. I brought them to the office sometimes after a trip, and everyone loved them.

A few years ago Phoenicia expanded to a 55,000 square foot store across the street, with a newly designed logo, an on-site bakery, and a deli with cheeses literally from all over the world. (They have several different kinds of feta, both foreign and domestic.) They also have the best price in town that I’ve seen for delicious Manchego cheese, my favorite. In addition to meat, produce and frozen foods, they also bottle their own spices and package their own nuts (raw and roasted.)  It’s a fantastic place if you’re looking for an unusual ingredient, and for any foodie who wants more.

In addition to their flagship store on the west side, Phoenicia has also opened up a downtown market store for the folks who live and work downtown. Near the George R. Brown Convention Center on Austin Street, there is parking on the street and in a garage across the street. It’s also accessible by downtown’s new Greenlink bus, the LNG powered shuttles that take you around for free.  One of my former coworkers gave me a gift card from Phoenicia, and I just never got around to going back to the flagship store. But a few weeks ago, I embarked on what I called a “Friday adventure,” and went over to the downtown Phoenicia.

Smaller than the original, they carry much of the same thing as the large store, just less of it. There is a deli with takeout, such as sandwiches and spaghetti and meatballs, and even stuffed grape leaves.  There is a wine selection upstairs, as well as a selection of olive oils and vinegars from all over the world. This gorgeous creation a real temptation in the bakery:

Oh, that is a temptation beyond belief. . . .

Oh, that is a temptation beyond belief. . . .

No, I didn’t touch it. I even sent that picture that to my neighbor. But I thought about it a lot. I mean, how could you not? That’s not a huge cake, BTW.

This is how far I go for my friends—I texted said neighbor that I would be going, and be home an hour later than usual—do you need anything? She texted back, “Lacy would like you to pick up a can of Greek olive oil; I’ve got cash, and I’ll pay you when you get home.” This is the neighbor who jumped my battery recently when I left my lights on one morning at the park & ride, so I’m definitely saying yes. And she graciously fed the step-kitty when she got home, so I didn’t need to worry about that part. I just needed to know what brand of olive oil she wanted. Lacy sent directions to find it, but I wasn’t 100% sure I was looking at the correct one, so I sent a picture of what I was looking at to my neighbor, and about 15 minutes later, Lacy sent back the picture of what she wanted. It was to the right, not the left—either they moved it Lacy’s been there last, or she’s dyslexic, but I’d bet on they moved it. With the picture, I was able to quickly identify the correct brand; I grabbed that can and walked out the door. (Yes, I paid for it all first.)

I’m usually carrying a purse and my commuter bag, and on this day, I’ve added a grocery bag with the can of olive oil and some stuff I bought for myself. First on the Greenlink, then on the regular bus home, then in my vehicle and finally to home. On the way, I texted my neighbor, “Tell Lacy her olive oil is on its way!” Kitty was fine, since she’d been fed, a good time was had by all, and Lacy didn’t need to make a trip into town. I was already there, so I didn’t mind—and the bags weren’t grossly heavy, either.

ADVENTURE! Foodie Style. I’m sure the Barefoot Contessa would agree.

Now if you want a REAL food adventure, there’s another kind of grocery store–the Yang–you can check out, but you definitely need a strong sense of adventure for it. And maybe a friend with the same sense.

What you see in your regular grocery store, whether it’s a local mom-and-pop place, a regional one like HEB, Winn-Dixie or Publix, or a nationwide one like Wal-Mart or SuperTarget, is what makes it there through the shipping process. Sometimes. . .they don’t. Cans are dented from an impact. Delays happen, and sometimes things don’t arrive when they should.

Enter the salvage grocery store.

Salvage grocery stores are places that buy up these imperfect items and sell them at a deep discount. However, there isn’t a consistent flow of goods, it’s just whatever they get that’s available. Some may have day old bread; most will have canned and frozen goods; you may find out-of-date coffee, tea, or other packaged goods whose sell-by date doesn’t mean it’s bad; some stores may have meat from auction. It’s similar to a bakery outlet store, but with more.

That’s why it’s a real foodie adventure, folks. You never know what you’ll find. You may get lucky, and it may be a bust. But that’s the fun in finding out!

Admittedly, I haven’t been in one in some time; there aren’t any salvage grocery stores in my neighborhood, but when I lived in town, there was one across the street where my ex-husband and I shopped occasionally. However, there’s a famous one in New Orleans that, unfortunately, closed 3 years ago from what I found online—and everyone knew about Suda Salvage.

Suda was just this funky old warehouse tucked away in and industrial area back in the 1970’s. They carried railroad salvage of all kinds, including building materials, which is what attracted my father to it. Although we didn’t go in it too often, I do remember it being quite interesting. Then again, I was about nine, so it didn’t take much for me to be fascinated. (It was a simpler time before things like voice mail, texting and YouTube.) Many years later, they moved to another funky, run down building on Jefferson Highway, so you could stop right in, no need to go out of your way. You could even take the bus if you were so inclined, since the Jeff Highway bus passed right in front of it.

Suda indeed carried day old bread and pastries, canned/packaged goods of all different kinds, some dairy, and they even had a section of drugstore kinds of things, like bandages and medicine. They were not always the brands you know and love, but they were the same thing, and they were CHEAP.

I went in a few years ago on one of my last ventures to the Crescent City (about 2008) and found bottles of Central Market Organics brand Herbes de Provence for about 69 or 79 cents a bottle. Now, to someone in NOLA, that likely means nothing; it’s some kind of cheap herb blend. Bt since I shop at Central Market, I know it’s a good price. You see, that same bottle of dried herbs sells for about $7 or $8 in Central Market—and yes, they’re unopened bottles. Now do you see why it can be a good thing?

Of course, as in any grocery shopping, you must pay attention to what you’re picking up to make sure it’s not bad. But everything I’ve ever bought from Suda was in sealed packages. I even have a container of holiday print paper muffin cups I bought in Suda, with the tag still on it. Oh, maybe in 1995? (It’s not like they go bad or anything.)

PIctures of Suda are on Flickr where some devoted soul has immortalized this magical foodie heaven for all to see. I don’t know why those ships are there, they’re not parked nearby. Hilarious reviews have been posted at Yelp, and one serious review at CitySearch for all to enjoy.

This evening I called a friend of mine, a faithful Suda customer, to get the full scoop. Turns out that the owners retired a few years ago and sold the business to a distribution company called Marque’s Foods. Marque’s in the same location, but a completely different business, although it is open to the public. Here is also a story with more information, if you’re so inclined to know more.  (Haven’t been in Smilie’s since the late 80’s.) If ever I go back for a visit, maybe I’ll stop in.

If you’re interested in checking out new, cheap places, you can find out about these salvage stores at Frugal Village, and a number of other sites. Do a search to see if there’s one in your area. There are some in Houston, but none close to me that I’ve found. Yet. And even if I do find one, again, it’s an adventure to find out what’s available (and the limit of your tolerance, if it’s the right place.)

Grocery shopping can, indeed, be an adventure.

Enjoy!

 

Tastes like chicken

Good evening, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2062

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DUH!

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

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

Don’t forget:

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

Happy Dining!

Wheat Belly Biscuits with Puns

Hello, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry–I’m stuck in a rut and I can’t stop PUNNING. Please forgive me. I’ll try to do better in the next post.

Well, as promised, I’m here to report on my first recipe from the Wheat Belly Cookbook by Dr. William Davis. No, I haven’t finished reading either one, but since this is primarily a FOOD blog, I thought y’all might be interested to know about this tasty morsel.

Get it? Tasty Morsel!

I did a pun. Or is that a groaner? Well, anyway. . . .

The reason I really wanted that cookbook was simple: while sitting at the conference a couple of weeks ago, I asked one of my table mates if I could look at it. Nice people being what they are, she obliged. Everything looked really good (even the ones without pictures) and I just , um, ate it up. (Punned again!)  Having done the low-carb thing for many years, I get the idea of living without wheat; but this book offers new recipes that are interesting and give more options than the meat-and-veg variety.

The Basic Biscuit (Wheat Belly Cookbook, page 245) recipe is what made me buy it. Seriously. Biscuits, wheat free, and you can make breakfast biscuits with them just like, well, McDonald’s! (There is also a sweet variation.) I was intrigued, and this morning, I had one. Sorta. I actually MADE the biscuits this morning, finally, and when they came out of the oven, I had three, one by one, hot, with butter and salt. They are SO good.

I have to point out that they do not taste like wheat (or canned) biscuits, nor are they “light and fluffy,” since there’s no wheat or gluten in them. They are delicious, chewy and substantial without being too heavy. Remember, it’s turning one type of ingredients into something completely different (or as a lawyer would say, into something for which it was not originally intended.)

So what’s the story? OK, the ingredients are:

1 cup fine-ground almond flour/meal

1 cup ground golden flax seeds

4 teaspoons baking powder

4 tablespoons butter, cut into small squares (diced)

4 egg whites

OPTION: 1/4 cup grated Swiss Cheese (book suggestion, I just had some grated Swiss in the freezer at the time)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and heat the oven to 350F.

Mix the almond flour, ground flax seeds and baking powder. Cut the butter in with a pastry cutter until combined.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites on high until soft peaks from. Gently fold the egg whites into the flour/butter mixture until well combined.

Spoon the dough int 8 rounds onto the baking sheet. Flatten to approximately 3/4″ thickness. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Yeah, baby. Take a look:

WheatFreeBiscuit

Looks pretty much like any other biscuit, doesn’t it? (Plain looking sitting on my handmade potholder.)  I put them in a fridge storage container while they were still a bit warm. Know what? They didn’t get soft and mushy. I’ve had that happen with other wheat-free recipes, and I guess it’s the golden flaxseed that did it. No complaints.

I split up the mixture into 8 parts by pushing the mixture gently into the bottom of the bowl, dividing it four ways (much like Rachael Ray does with ground meat) scooping out a quarter, then dividing that in half. This “dough” works easy; just don’t manhandle it too much.  I bought a round cookie cutter today to try making them rounded easier, as well as cooking my eggs in a circle to fit onto the biscuit. Neat, huh?

I promise, I was GONNA make an egg/sausage sandwich out of it. I really was. I tasted one, and it was all over at that point. I ate a second, and a third. Then I finally quit. They are that good.

However. . .

I use unsalted butter all the time (as one should when baking) but I found that the finished biscuit needed a bit of salt. So after the butter melted, I sprinkled a bit of kosher salt on it. Because EVERYTHING I eat now needs some salt on it, darnit.

WAY. TOO. GOOD.

Next for breakfast will be on page 164, the Good Morning Souffle that I can make and eat all week long. I definitely want to try the Raspberry Chocolate Cheesecake on page 256 one day. Trust me when I tell you I will not be sharing any of that one, either. Now look–I told you about this. I will knock over Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal AND Magic Johnson–at the same time–for anything combining chocolate and raspberries in one place. So make your own if you wanna try it.

Now the back story: ground almond meal/flour is more expensive. Since wheat and wheat products have become relatively cheap because of modern agribusiness, healthier, non-GMO non-standard ingredients tend to be pricier. That’s the price you pay for trying to be healthy, or if it’s a child, keeping that child healthy and well, and not on drugs that can make them sick with something else. We don’t want that. Generally, diet is cheaper to change than drug therapy, anyway.

My dad used to field comments from his spinster aunts when they would tut-tut about how much his kids ate by replying, “It’s cheaper than doctor bills.”  That was a long time ago, but it’s still very true. Healthy food is cheaper in the long run by the absence of illness produced by the unhealthy foods, as well as the subsequent treatments. If you don’t believe me, walk around your local Wal-Mart and observe. Healthy food is not always the most expensive; it takes learning more about what you’re buying before you shop.

I keep almond flour around for another favorite recipe that only uses a tablespoon of it. Recently I found it on sale at my local Target, and I bought extra. Over the holidays, my health food store was out of almond flour, so I got hazelnut, which was sitting right next to it. It was more, but it worked, and while I like both nuts, I can’t say one affects the taste all that much when used in the same manner.

Now, I’m by myself, so I don’t have to worry about other people complaining about the food (which is reason #9,753 of why I’m not married/attached anymore.) If I make something that’s not suitable for a royal luncheon, well, it’s my fault, I gotta eat it (unless it’s inedible.)  But if you have someone in your household who is allergic, this is important to know about, and how to work with. You need to know what they are allergic to so you don’t sicken them with something they shouldn’t have, and be able to feed them so that they don’t feel left out. Like the Babycakes books series, these recipes were designed for people who are either allergic to wheat or, like me, want to avoid it anyway without missing out on anything.

And in many cases, when entire families change their diet because of one member, the entire family benefits. Just an FYI.

And, BTW, wheat/gluten sensitivities, like its evil cousin, yeast overgrowth (Candida albicans) in the gut, can also cause behavioral issues and mood swings in both adults and kids. Not a joke. In the extremely sensitive, elimination of wheat can bring drastic results–but you don’t know that until you try it, particularly on children.

Remember, too, as I reported to you earlier–today’s wheat strains are NOT what they had in Biblical times, nor is it what your grandmothers and maiden aunts used to bake with. Today’s available “wheat” is the accumulated result of continual genetic modification for a) increased production, b) disease resistance, and c) saleability. Nobody bothered to check to see if consumption was harmful, and now, nobody will admit to it.

Anyway. . . .

You gotta admit, these people have worked hard on wheat-free, and have done a stellar job in their own way–Dr. Davis being the medical side, and Erin McKinney on the “end user” side. That’s what America is all about, believe it or not. Some people still like to do something new, something different, something great for their fellow man.

And as a grateful, hungry nation, we eat it up.

I did it again! Get it? We eat it up!! I’m on a roll today.

Oh NO! On a roll! But I haven’t baked any yet. . . .

Enough with the puns! This is good food for you and yours, and nobody has to miss out on much just because they’re allergic to wheat/gluten. You can, literally, have your cake and eat it too.

Help! I can’t stop the puns!!

I’ve got work to do folks, so off I go. Try something new this week, whether it’s a locally-made wine, or new fruit at your local Farmer’s Market, something wheat-free, something more natural, or just something you’ve seen but never considered trying before (like my favorite treat, Larabars.) You might find a new favorite you’ve been missing out on.

Happy Dining!

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