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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:

RaceTrac

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.

RaceTrac

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!

RaceTrac

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.”

RaceTrac

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:

RaceTrac

They make it fresh–no “formulas.”

They can flavor it any way you like:

RaceTrac

Flavors! And check out that counter!

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

RaceTrac

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!

 

 

Starbucks
Amy’s Starbucks Weekend

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

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Happy Monday, Dear Readers!

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

But first, some news.

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

American Quinoa?

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

Less sugar, more starch. . .right.

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

Anyway. . .

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

Crawfish Night

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

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

Working. . .in Starbucks

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

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

I really was working

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

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

Starbucks Rewards–it pays!

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

I learned to work the system

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

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

I got hungry

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

Emmy’s Organics

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

Starbucks

Chocolate cookies!

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

 

Starbucks

They even use Agave Syrup

Healthy nibbles that were definitely worth it:

Starbucks

See?

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

Chocolate!

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

Starbucks

Yum!

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

The blonde version

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

Starbucks

These are good, too

The ingredients are similar:

Starbucks

But no chocolate

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

Starbucks

Same as the chocolate one, only lighter.

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

So what else did you find?

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

Starbucks

Can they say that?

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

Starbucks

The usual starchy replacements.

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

There is also meat:

Starbucks

Meat!

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

Starbucks

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

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

All around me, things were coming up spring:

Starbucks

Spring coffees, new cups and new stuff!

And a lot of telling information here:

Starbucks

Base?

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

They also have new cups for Easter:

Starbucks

Aren’t they cute?

This is what one of them says:

Starbucks

Awww. . . .

The total

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

Starbucks

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

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

Stop Hating on Starbucks!

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

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

It started with an email

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

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

Why?

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

Still missing Texas

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Slow Cooking: Christmas Edition

Slow Cooking–great all year long!

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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:

Seriously?

Seriously. . .

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.

Sewing!

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:

The State flag of Texas

That’s right. A Texas flag.

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!

Cleaning up

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:

Who's that?

Who’s that?

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:

Lavender--good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Lavender–good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Don't these look yummy?

Don’t these look yummy?

I have no idea what

I have no idea what “African Black Soap” is, but maybe one day I’ll give it a try. Long as it doesn’t paint me.

Mango soap? Mango!!

Mango soap? Mango!!

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:

Can you see his face in this bar of soap?

It’s BF!!

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.

Say what?

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.

slow cooking

Really–just let it go.

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.

Slow cooking apples

Slow cooking apples

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.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Meatballs at Starbucks!

Good evening, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2994[1]

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

IMG_2993[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

HEB: The New Clear Lake Marketplace

Hello again, Dear Readers:

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

Now. . .on with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longer view of the store from one side.

Longer view of the store from one side.

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

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

The first set of entrance doors

The first set of entrance doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of checkout lanes!

Lots of checkout lanes!

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

Oh, yeah!

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

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

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

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

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

The new tomato and basil plants from HEB

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

We also noticed this out front:

Recycling!

Recycling!

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

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

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

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

Happy Shopping!