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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:

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They make it fresh–no “formulas.”

They can flavor it any way you like:

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Flavors! And check out that counter!

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

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!

 

 

Valentine’s Day–again???

Good afternoon, Dear Readers from everywhere:

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

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

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

PeacockCAke

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

In other news. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chocolate-sugar-cookie-hearts-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

 

 

A Gluten-Free Birthday

Hello, Dear Readers:

My sincerest apologies for not posting over a month. I have, indeed, been messing around with the waffle maker, but, as they say, life happens. Boy, has it ever. Since October 4th, I have:

  • Lost an elderly family member
  • Nearly made a trip to New Orleans for a funeral (he was cremated with no services)
  • Lost the use of my dryer, after the washer went out two months ago, requiring me to buy another set
  • Discovered that a longtime “friend” really wasn’t
  • Changed my cell phone plan and that of the Android tablet that was a “gift” from said “friend”
  • Got my new AT&T  Internet service installed (and I’m no longer paying half the cost to someone else)
  • Bought a new headphone-attached desk phone (for the copywriting side)
  • Dealt with a long-standing plumbing problem, which took an emergency to be fixed–but it’s done.

At least now I can use that MagicJack the way I intended, as a business line. I do love my new portable desk phone. (All I need now is an income.)

As I’ll explain in the upcoming (and long-overdue) waffle post, friend of the blog ER becomes new blog taste-tester Neighbor E. There’s a lot of things we don’t agree on, but he’s a great guy, and we get on well. He’s been reading about my cooking for a while, so now he’s going to be taste-testing. Don’t worry–the GER is still around, and ER is *not* a new boyfriend. Don’t give the poor man a heart attack.

So what else is going on?

Much as I love sewing, lately, I haven’t made as much as I did before. I keep it for the weekends, and this past weekend, in addition to making a few small things, I finally, FINALLY, finished my first “real” quilt, called the Ticker Tape Quilt:

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It’s not a large quilt–it only measures 41″ x 51.5″, known as a “lap quilt.” However, what I do know is that now that it’s completed, I can take a nap under it, and turned sideways, it fits me perfect. This is the back of it:

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This quilt is found in Sunday Morning Quilts, and it’s the last one in the book. Why did I chose to make the last one? It was the easiest, in my eyes, and I had most of what I needed to create it, including the batting. The backing fabric and the binding fabric (around the edges) I bought, but I didn’t need much of either fabric. What took so long was sewing down each of those itty-bitty pieces until the top was full. I had them all pinned into place, but once I got off the edges, the pins were stabbing me, so I took out all the pins and just sewed them on one at a time to prevent blood stains on white fabric. I now see the wisdom of what’s called “quilt blocks” and will likely follow one of the other quilts in the book to use more fabric scraps for a queen-sized quilt. But at least this one’s done and ready for cold weather, and napping on the futon in front of a roaring fire.

Remember when I said I was already sick of pumpkin-flavored everything? Hostess takes the latest swing at bat:

They put pumpkin flavor in TWINKIES!!! IMG_2404[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because everyone LOVES pumpkin, right? Conservative writer, blogger and (handsome) pilot Bill Whittle posted this to Facebook a few days ago:

Because you love pumpkin THAT MUCH.

One for the petrolheads. And because you love pumpkin THAT MUCH.

Because every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man. My only question: does it come in 5W-30?

Three weeks ago, I went to Target, and discovered that I had in my coupon case a register coupon for $1 off a Pumpkin Spice Latte from a Target Starbucks. I thought, “OK, I’ll see what the big deal is about.” There are people who live their life for the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. I will not be joining that crowd. I had my first–and my last–PSL ever. Why? Well, it’s like drinking a candy bar with a LOT of excess flavoring in it. It was decaf, as usual, but it was still strong enough to make my teeth wiggle. Whipped cream did nothing to tame the intense, heavy flavor that was more sugar and calories than I needed at once. Verdict: I’d rather drink barium sulfate, which is that stuff they give you in the hospital to light up your insides for an X-Ray or MRI.

Switching gears. . . .

Longtime readers know that I’m a big fan of Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes are pretty easy, very tasty, and she’s a really nice lady. Guess what? Ina has a protege. Her name is Lidey Hueck, and I found out about her blog, called Lidey’s Table, on Delish.com. Lidey herself has a recipe for make-ahead oatmeal that’s right up my alley–cook it on Sunday, eat it all week. She has a few blog posts of her own, and does social media for Ina. And of course, Lidey has learned how to cook from the master herself. Lucky cat!

October 29th was my 3-year “anniversary” of blogging on WordPress. What started out as a fun project has become something more–but I don’t know what yet. But WordPress congratulated me when I signed on, so here I am.

That also means my birthday was last week. Woo hoo! Well, I didn’t cook at all that day. I promise, it was all gluten free. Here’s how it went.

First stop was the new Dunkin’ Donuts on Bay Area Boulevard, for my birthday reward coffee (they load it directly onto the app, and I presume, onto the plastic card as well.) I chose a decaf hazelnut macchiato:

Macchiato!

Ready to roll. . . .

Ready to roll. . . .

Dunkin’ Donuts puts graphic illustrations of their coffee drinks on a mat by the registers that shows exactly what the fancy Italian names mean. In this case, a Macchicato is a double shot of espresso, with steamed milk in the bottom and foamed milk on top. Of course, the machine that made decaf wasn’t working right that day, so it took longer. But it was my birthday, and I wasn’t in a hurry. No, they don’t have gluten-free donuts, but I wasn’t interested even if they did. It was the coffee I wanted, and I was quite happy on the way out. I also watched that large $3.69 cup ring up $0.00. It was a pattern repeated throughout the day.

Next top: the Freeman Library to pick up a Sherlock DVD I requested. I early voted the week before, so I was done, and headed to Baybrook Mall’s Denny’s for the famed Free Grand Slam On Your Birthday. Yes, you have to prove it. I got there about 11:00 am, and was served by a very nice lady named Linda. After checking my driver’s license to make sure I was telling the truth–yes, they really do ask–I was greeted with the news that Denny’s now has GLUTEN FREE ENGLISH MUFFINS!! No kidding–Linda said they have had them about 3 months, and assured me that they were good. I took a chance and ordered them, and asked for butter. Take a look:

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Yes! It really is gluten free!!

Linda was right–that gluten-free English muffin was hot and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It was heavenly with butter on it. Has to be the best one ever, and no swapping out stuff to make it “gluten free” Woo hoo!  Linda mentioned that she has a niece who has to eat gluten-free, and the stuff she has is usually like cardboard. I suggested checking out the Wheat Belly books, particularly the cookbooks, and read more about it, so she could better manage it.

But you know, I didn’t plan on making anything special this year like I normally do. With everything else going on, and the possibility of two six-hour car trips, it just wasn’t in the cards. HOWEVER–I ordered myself some dessert at Denny’s (and partly so I would be able to tip Linda, because, DUH, I forgot to bring cash again.) So, the most gluten-free and least expensive dessert was, in fact, just what I wanted–ICE CREAM.

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

And why not? Chocolate ice cream with hot fudge (marked “GF” in the menu) with whipped cream and a nut topping. I asked Linda, “Since I’m having this much chocolate before noon, does that make me a junkie?”

OK, you know I love chocolate, any time of year. The Food of the Gods.

After Denny’s, I headed into the mall for a quick stop at Sephora, who offers a free gift every year for registered participants. A couple of lovely lip pencils, which I will use. . the next time I wear lipstick, I guess. Monday was the second time I’d worn makeup in October, and that was the first time since. . .July? I don’t go many places where I need makeup. (I wore it the next day, but I’ll tell you about that in a bit.)

I did a bit of prowling in the mall, even getting ambushed by one of those kiosk people trying to sell me a $129 cosmetic product I don’t need for $39. I didn’t buy, but I am considering bringing a small spray bottle with me next time and filling it half with water and half with vinegar or rubbing alcohol so that the next time someone gets too close, I can let them know to back off. The smell will go away, but not the fear after they nearly assault me. I hate that. I know they have a job to do, but some of them are obnoxious.

Anyway. . .

Once I left the mall, I had a couple of quick stops to make, and I made the last stop to the Starbucks On My Street for my birthday reward. Starbucks shortened up the time window to use it, so I made sure I got it on my birthday. Instead of a coffee drink this year, I got what I really wanted–a Zesty Chicken & Black Bean Salad. YUM. . .I had it after my 90 minute bike ride. No kidding. . .I really did ride the bike on my birthday, because I enjoy the ride, and because after the ice cream Sundae, I REALLY needed it. The weather was cloudy and slightly cool after all the rain we had, so it was just perfect for riding, no sun in my eyes. I rode until I thought I felt rain, and came in. That salad tasted great after the ride.

The next day, it was time for a petrol fillup and a long drive to The Woodlands for some blood testing at Woodlands Wellness. Since I was  going up there already, I asked Neighbor R if she’d like some wine. Of course, she said yes, and I happily shopped for her beloved Pinot Grigio and got more of the stuff I use regularly, like olive oil, cocoa powder and the like. Trader Joe’s is also introducing seasonal items, such as the aforementioned pumpkin-flavored everything, and this item, which I’ve never seen before, but I believe is a seasonal item, since I was told by an employee “we just got that in.” (Aldi also treats baking chocolate as a seasonal item.)

Trader Joe's. . .chocolate?

I haven’t tried it yet, but I have to say the Aldi’s worked well for the Yeast-Free Brownies. I haven’t made those in a while, much as I love them, because the price of chocolate has doubled, and SomerSweet has been unavailable for nearly a year. I’m kind of afraid to make some until I figure out what other sweetener I can use that will be comparable. I’ll let you know if I find one.

Much as I’ve been jockeying for a Trader Joe’s down here in Clear Lake, I kind of wonder if they’ll open it up right after I move out of the area. Well, that would be irony, wouldn’t it? Or I’ll never get out of Clear Lake, and there will happily be a Trader Joe’s. It would go a long way, along with the beautiful library we have, to making it tolerable.

Anyway. . . .

I had some more of Trader Joe’s delicious Goat Milk Brie (one of my favorites) and a got a large log of goat cheese to cut in half, and use one for a Corsican Omelette the next day (and use up some of the mint out back) and freeze the other half for another day. A basic stocking up on the supplies I use the most, and like the best, until the next time I go, or I have to hit up HEB and hope I can find it.

Oh, and friend of the blog LK was enjoying her tenure at the Williams-Sonoma this time last year, until they announced that they were closing the Baybrook Mall store, saying only that it was a “corporate decision.” With the expansion of Baybrook Mall (nobody knows *why* it’s happening, they’re just doing it) she figured that there was another vendor who wanted it, probably Sur la Table. Guess what? Sometime this month, Sur la Table will indeed be opening in Baybrook Mall.  I get their catalogs, and have since I started going to the one in The Woodlands. I noticed it on the new catalog this morning: Opening In Baybrook Mall Soon. We got our answer, Sur la Table will grace Clear Lake soon.

Then Wednesday, they turned off the hot water for a while. When it came back on, it was gushing in the bathroom. . .but that’s not going to get covered here. Thankfully, it’s over, and I hope it stays fixed for a long time.

Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks, and I will do my best to help you out. If you have any questions, post them here, or send me an email. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I will find out what I can for you. I’ll also be posting some recipes, including some delicious cranberry sauce that will have you throwing out the canned stuff. However, I want to emphasize two points about Thanksgiving (and really, for Christmas too):

  • You will prepare 29 other dinners in the month of November
  • A whole turkey is, in fact, nothing more than a big chicken, so if you can roast a chicken, you can roast a turkey

I saw turkey brine mix in Fresh Market yesterday, so I’ll discuss that as well. If you’ve never brined a turkey before, it’s well worth doing, and you can find directions on Martha Stewart’s website, and Ree Drummond has one here. I’ve not tried Ree Drummond’s, but read the whole article, since she makes very good points on the subject. (And her kids are smart alecks!)

Oh, and another off-topic item: if you’re a Def Leppard fan, their brand new self-titled studio album is just out. I don’t have it yet, but I will eventually. These bad Brit boys of arena rock have been bringing it for more than 35 years, and have no intention of stopping (even though three of them live in California and two are vegans.) They’ve been working on this one for a couple of years in between touring, and refuse to compromise or capitulate. I’ve seen comments on Facebook that it’s their best yet, but I haven’t heard it so I can’t answer for it. But I do have some of their CDs, including their last three, so I’m sure it will be the same high-quality fans are accustomed to. (For the record, they’re not “heavy metal” as some tend to classify them.)

OK, OK–if your idea of good music is Glenn Miller, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, or something they play on the smooth jazz station, Def Leppard probably isn’t your cup of tea. That’s OK. I actually like all three of those in addition to Def Leppard.  I’m just passing along info for the fans.

In the meantime, I’m going to get ready for bed, since I got an extra hour of sleep and I want to get to bed early so I can get up before the sun, like I used to do.

The waffle post is almost finished, and I’m also going to make some suggestions for waffling part of your Thanksgiving if you’re up for it. But no, not a turkey. You’ll be cooking til Christmas.

Thanks for sticking with me. I will try *not* to be too much longer with the waffle post. Or any other posts.

Happy Dining!

Amy

 

 

 

Rapid Ragu and the Cafe Nervosa

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

Are you ready for fall? Or are you already sick of pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING?

The other night I was in Target, and saw the new “limited edition fall frolic” scent of cat litter that one of my writer friends posted to Facebook last week. I opened the bottle and took a sniff. Not bad, smells nice, and I wouldn’t mind it in a candle. But don’t be surprised if you change to this “fall frolic” scent and your cat starts avoiding the litter box. Their little noses don’t like scented stuff like that. I know–I had cats. I did that. They let me know about it in their own “specially scented” way.

I’ve had the old Steely Dan song Deacon Blues stuck in my head since reading the Wall Street Journal’s article the other day. (Don’t let that old “long-haired-hippie-freak” picture throw you too much–they’re old men now.)  I haven’t heard that song in a long time, and at over 7 minutes, it’s a big earworm. The song was quite complicated and layered, especially for the time, and will forever be associated with the late 1970’s. (For anyone younger than 40, that also means no Auto-Tune. They actually had to play their own instruments, and usually wrote their own music.)  However, since I hadn’t heard it in years. . .now it’s stuck in my head.

You’re welcome.

I suppose I should pull out their Two Against Nature CD and put it into iTunes so I can listen on my iPod sometime. I bought it the day it was nominated for a Grammy, but haven’t played it in a while.

After our two-day autumn tease last weekend, with Sunday morning a wonderful 62 degrees, summer is back for a while, with hot, muggy days and warm muggy nights. And lots of those annoying snails. One of my neighbors suggested today getting some deer whiz from someplace like Bass Pro Shops. (Yes, I said “whiz,” but I could have called it something else less polite.) I’ll let you know what happens if I try it.

This week I have been plagued with alimentary issues, some of which I won’t discuss, but will lead me to the yeast-free diet again. I start Monday, I think, soon as I figure out if I’ve consumed all the dairy stuff I made. I think I did. But I’ve got some Yeast Control, and I’ll be on it. Started Labor Day weekend, and I actually noticed it when I had a glass of wine with Neighbor R. It just never went away.

I conquered the heartburn but yesterday found myself with horrific nausea. After a quick search of using powdered ginger (all I had handy) I came across this comment on a LifeHacker article:

I’m a huge hypochondriac, and over the years I’ve come up with the perfect concoction for whenever I feel the slightest bit sick:

  • Hot water
  • honey
  • lemon juice
  • powdered ginger (~1/2 tsp)
  • cinnamon (~1/2 tsp)

It will seriously make any ailment better.

It worked.

Who has time to run to the store when you don’t know what time the next wave will happen? Thank heavens for the Internet. If you’re not familiar with Lifehacker.com, go take a look next time you need to learn how to do, fix, or figure out something. I forget that sometimes. People share all kinds of articles there. You just might find out something you didn’t know you needed.

So, I’m going to watch the final Harry Potter film this evening, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, and then I’ll be done with them. I guess I either figure out what to borrow next, or wait for the end of Downton Abbey, which as we all know will start its final season soon in the UK,and in January here in the US. (It will also be released on DVD in late January.)

Last week I went to pick up the earlier Harry Potter DVDs and took a quick look through the library’s bookstore. You never know what you’ll find, and this particular day, I found a couple of good ones, at $1 each. Are you ready for this?

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It was a dollar. I could not resist. I always need funny. And, get this–it’s autographed by the author!

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“Husband Hunting?” It’s still a thing? Really? Guess Deanna found that man of her dreams. I’ll read it when I run out of movies to watch. Mostly as a defensive measure–if I know what to do to actually find a husband, I’ll also know what NOT to do.

It’s counterintelligence for a dollar. You just can’t get that kind of a bargain every day.

But the one I could not pass up, for $1 was. . .yet another cookbook. Yes, I know, I don’t need another one, but I could not pass up Cafe Nervosa: The Connisseur’s Cookbook. Fans of the TV show Frasier will remember the endless social interactions of the characters at Cafe Nervosa, and the two pompous brothers would occasionally drive the staff up a wall. (Am I the only one who was glad to see Kelsey Grammar rid himself of that steel wool mess on the back of his neck after the second or third season?) It’s still on in reruns on a number of cable channels. Frasier Crane is one of the longest-running TV characters on American TV, keeping Kelsey Grammar employed first through many seasons of Cheers, then on the namesake show. I used to watch it weekly when I could. . .ooh, maybe I should see if the library has those DVDS for me to binge-watch next?

The book itself was actually produced by Oxmoor House, (1996) once the publisher for Martha Stewart’s compendium books as well as other titles. On the front cover is a picture of our favorite psychos. . .I mean, psychiatrists, enjoying a cup at a table by the wall. Inside are color pictures of some of the dishes, which are quite fancy fare, some black-and-white pictures from the show, as well as bits of dialogue. The book tops out at 108 pages, including the index and two pages of metrics equivalents.

There are several recipes for biscotti, as well as breads, muffins and scones, along with paninis, sandwiches, salads, desserts (yes, Tiramisu is on page 75) and coffee drink variations, like a German and a Mexican version of Cafe au Lait. On page 98, there’s a recipe for Cafe Pontalba, which requires coffee and chicory. Do they drink coffee & chicory in Seattle? I doubt it–but since Oxmoor House is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, it’s more likely a southern recipe they added into a book about. . .Seattle.

I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but there are a few recipes I’d like to try sometime. Chicken Salad Au Vin on page 34 looks good, and Quiche for the Fine-Boned might work with some kind of gluten-free crust under it sometime this winter (or maybe no crust at all.) Lots of cheese, though, and a can of my favorite chopped green chiles. On page 66 is also a nice looking Chocolate Dessert in Creme Anglaise that might be nice to try one day. There are a couple of nice-looking ice cream desserts that might have to be attempted eventually, too.

Page 69 has this typical dialogue between Frasier and his brother Niles:

Frasier: Niles, I think you’ll find this Courvoisier is the perfect brandy to top off our evening.

Niles: It was an exquisite meal marred only by the lack of even one outstanding Cognac on their carte de digestifs.

Frasier: But think about it, Niles. What’s the one thing better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all night.

Niles: Quite right. Let’s savor it.

The jazzy closing theme song was not like other shows, with “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs.” There’s an explanation for it along with the complete lyrics here.

If you’re a Frasier fan, you might just enjoy this book.

Now. . .what did I make last weekend? Oh, I was prowling through The Fresh Market week before last and decided that I would make some of Nigella Lawson’s Rapid Ragu from Nigella Express. (Nigella’s newest book, Simply Nigella, comes out November 3rd, along with a raft of books from Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten, and I forget who else.)  I have only made Rapid Ragu once, and the reason I don’t make it more often is because of two things: ground lamb and sweet onion confit from France, bought once from Central Market. However, I decided to go for it, and instead of the French stuff, I got some of this, which I’d considered trying for some time:

A close substitute.

A close substitute.

I actually contacted Stonewall Kitchen (when I was contacting catalog companies as a copywriter) and decided to ask them about it. The comment came back as, yes, it would work, so I got some. To this day I hate the fact that I’d missed this product when Fresh Market sold it “buy one, get one free.” Darnit. They haven’t done it since. But at half the price of French sweet onion confit, I’ll deal with it. I’m sure Nigella wouldn’t mind.

Next up was the ground lamb, which I bought as two big seasoned burgers.

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There were two, and when checked out, it was enough for the recipe, as well as less expensive than going to Kroger for some:

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So here’s the rest of it:

The setup

The setup

Another exception to this recipe was the use of bacon instead of pancetta, because, after all, pancetta is Italian bacon, and I didn’t feel like springing for it. Target sells half-cup containers of cubed pancetta, and this recipe calls for a full cup–so that’s a good $10 or $15 for pancetta.

  1. The good stuff from Fresh Market.

    The good stuff from Fresh Market.

Bacon definitely works here, and I chopped it accordingly, with the kitchen scissors until I had a cup of the little darlings:

Yum.

Yum. I only cut half the package, just like that.

Then we cook: heat the oil up and fry that delicious bacon (or pancetta) in it until it’s crispy:

Bacon. Fried. In garlic oil.

Bacon. Fried. In garlic oil.

Then you get busy with the lamb.

See? Burgers!

See? Burgers!

Add that to the pan and break them up to brown, just like you would for sausage or ground beef for spaghetti sauce:

IMG_2772

Remember that these were burgers bought as-is, with parsley and rosemary already added in.

Add in the can of tomatoes, water, Marsala wine, lentils, and the onion jam (or carmelized onion confit, if you’re willing to splurge for it) and bring to a boil.

MMmmmm. . . . getting there.

MMmmmm. . . . getting there.

And let it cook for 20 minutes.

IMG_2774

Stir occasionally. It won’t be long now.

I wasn’t sure how much Cheddar cheese I had at home.  The recipe calls for either Cheddar or “grated red Leicester,” and I have no idea what that is, but I bet it would be expensive if The Fresh Market had some. So I got some Cheddar while I was there:

I don't normally buy anything "baby," but this was just what I needed.

I don’t normally buy anything “baby,” but this was just what I needed.

And grated it right up:

So glad I bought this blender/food processor combo when I did.

So glad I bought this blender/food processor combo when I did.

After grating up cheese and adding things to the dishwasher for the eventual washing up, IT was ready. I split it up into four of those food storage bowls I use, and added some of the grated cheese on top of each of them:

Lunch for three more days!

Lunch for three more days!

It was as delicious as I remember, and I’m glad I made it. I have more of the onion jam in the fridge, so I can make it again one day soon, should I find ground lamb on sale.

Dig in!

Dig in!

I guess I should mention that it happens to be gluten-free, but really, it was already, since there’s no flour or anything in it, right? But with the wine and the onion jam, it’s NOT low-carb.

But it sure is good.

You can find a printable version of this on the recipe page, if you’re interested, along with a number of others I’ve put to paper. Ragu is to Europe what chili is to Texas, I think, and although it has lentils in it, I don’t think the word “chili” would occur to anyone eating this delicious, meaty dish.

Oh, and since “bowls” are now a thing (as are “toasts,”) this will fit the bill perfectly for a day where dinner needs to be a dump-and-stir proposition. And with winter coming, this is a good one to keep in your back pocket for a cold night and a quick meal.

Enjoy!

 

Happy New Year!!

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Did you have a great holiday period? Even good? Did you eat some good food? Great food? Of course I did! But I hope everyone enjoyed everything, even if you’re groaning about it now. It was delicious, but we move on to better eating and exercise, at least for a while.

The big holiday is over, and now everyone is trying to figure out how the heck to get back into their clothes that are suddenly tight. Well, you’ve got options: yoga, walking/running, weight training, Pilates, take your pick.

I am in pain. My feet hurt, my elbows hurt, my shoulder hurts, my back hurts, and yes, my butt hurts. For the last two weeks I have been doing what most people call “spring cleaning.” I figured that nobody was doing anything in the corporate world (including marketing departments) so I took the two week holiday period and cleaned the closets, my desk, all of it. The process of cleaning started because Neighbor K was worried about all the fabric and the possibility of another mouse in ‘da house. Well, all the fabric scraps are now sealed into huge Ziploc bags, patterns all went into huge plastic containers with click-to-seal tops, and then. . .the closets needed cleaning. The bathroom needed a cleaning and re-arranging. The kitchen, with the exception of the pantry, also got a once-over. Then the desk area, including the filing cabinet. The living room, the bedroom, and then finally, carpet cleaning. I also had to clean dog and cat hair from the carpet cleaner, since Neighbor K uses it occasionally and buys the soap for us to use. (That’s nice of her!)

I made five trips to the Salvation Army on NASA Road 1, the last one being today. After the third trip, just for fun, I did a bit of shopping and found a fabulous pair of knee-high boots with heels on them that actually FIT. My calves are large from years of walking and driving a 5-speed manual transmission, so most knee-high boots don’t fit me, much less with jeans on. They were not expensive, either, and look like they were never worn. The no-slip rubber soles make them safe. A dose of shoe polish made them look fantastic. I’m going to town tomorrow, and I think I’ll wear them with that new Guy Larouche jacket I finally finished New Year’s Eve.

Finally--3 years later!!

Finally–3 years later!!

Yes, it’s supposed to look like that. Check out the pattern if you don’t believe me.

It’ll be cold enough.

I also went to Half Price Books twice, returned an old cell phone to Verizon for recycling, and put out several extra bags of trash, including two huge bags of shredding. I can’t believe I still had old stuff that should have been discarded and/or shredded a long time ago, but I keep finding stuff to get rid of. Friend of the blog ND has also been going through boxes that she hasn’t looked through in years. She said it was the track of her life, then realized that if she didn’t make it home one day, her family would find all that stuff. I reminded her that if there’s anything she doesn’t want anyone to find, now is the time to get rid of it–while she still can!

So now the whole HeatCageKitchen headquarters is neat and organized for 2015. Soon I’ll be working in the garden, which, surprisingly, is now free of weeds since my August experiment with non-toxic weed killer. I just noticed it the other day–a little grass, but NO WEEDS. Hot DAWG!!

I have a confession: I did indeed make the biscotti I blogged about right before Christmas. I got up Christmas morning and made them first, carefully dipping them into the chocolate and carefully sprinkling on some French grey sea salt just like in the picture.

I told you I made some.

The exalted biscotti

Guess what? They were AWFUL! No joke–they were OK before the chocolate dip, but once I finished them off, yuck. They just did NOT entertain my palette. So, my apologies. I had planned to give some to Neighbor K, but that idea tanked quick. I ate them, but mostly to get rid of them. K says they are awful because they are gluten free. Oh, well.

On a recent trip to a local go-to grocery, I saw this sign:

Seriously?

Seriously?

Please explain to me how bananas are “no gas.” Bananas are high in starch/sugar, which is the best way to get gas. A bit like “cancer cures smoking,” isn’t it? But I’m sure a number of folks believed that one, considering what store it was in.

So, let’s start with Christmas lunch, which I enjoyed by myself while the all-day Doctor Who marathon was on. The recipe was Gingery-Hot Duck Salad from Nigella Lawson’s book Nigella Bites. It was partly exotic and partly to use up this duck I bought months and months ago and has been bouncing around in my freezer until I figured out what to do with it. Quack:

IMG_1622[1]

Yes, from American raised duckies.

The instructions on the duck breast call for scoring the fat, so I did as I was told:

It's about the size of a chicken breast, really.

It’s about the size of a chicken breast, really.

And put that baby in a fry pan, skin side down:

IMG_1627[1]

Now it gets interesting, doesn’t it?

While that’s going on, you get on with the salad part. You can find the link to the recipe here, but I will tell you that the American version of the book calls for “one small red chili, finely chopped.” Well, I couldn’t seem to find me a red chile, so this is what I ended up with:

The infamous Scotch bonnet, which is one of the hottest peppers available.

The infamous Scotch bonnet, which is one of the hottest peppers available.

Chop that baby up good:

I even used a knife like Nigella uses! (But that's not one from her collection.)

I even used a knife like Nigella uses! (But that’s not one from her collection.)

Here’s a tip: after handling hot peppers, don’t touch your eyes for any reason. If you do. . .get an eyedropper with milk, and use it. No kidding. If you’re not alone, get help–an eyedropper full of any kind of dairy milk, and drop it in your affected eyes. How do I know this? I had to look it up on a mobile device while my eyes were burning. I did it once with contacts in my eyes, too–and saved the contacts, thank heavens.

Well, anyway. . .you get on with the dressing and the salad part:

Salad!! My favorite!!

Salad!! My favorite!!

The pepper is well chopped, so it’s distributed into the citrus-based dressing. I actually bought some Thai fish sauce just for this recipe; it’s not expensive, and I found it in HEB so I didn’t have to go to Hong Kong Market. Woo hoo!

Duck is not like chicken. Blander, with a slightly gamey taste. I’ve long wanted to cook duck for Christmas, and a whole one was a bit on the high side for me. No matter, I’ll do it one day–just not in a Suzy Homemaker oven.

No, I didn’t get any more Suzy Homemaker appliances, but I look at them every day. I bid on an absolutely pristine Super Grill last weekend but didn’t win it. RATS! Sold for $20 plus shipping. Next time. . . .

I asked Neighbor K if she’d like to have some Christmas lunch, but she declined. (The GER was also invited and declined, he wasn’t feeling terribly festive. Then again, he rarely is without beer.)

So what was for Christmas dinner?

That will be the next blog post, possibly tomorrow. But I’ll leave you with a preview, one of the finished Cafe Gelatins I made just because I wanted it again. Sugar-free and delicious, but a LOT of trouble. I’ll tell you about it next time, too. Take a look:

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I don’t have the fancy $130 per stem wine glasses Martha Stewart used for the photo shoot. Mine are $9.50 a dozen from IKEA. But no matter, they worked just as well. I did offer Neighbor K one, and she accepted. She ate it a day or so later, and texted me that it was “excellente, chica!” Something like that. In other words, she loved it. Me too. Neighbor R was gone for a week, so I sorta finished them off before she got back. YUMMMmm. . . .

I did talk to my sainted aunt a day or so after Christmas, and tried to describe this to her over the phone. She has no computer, so emailing a picture is not an option. She said, “well, I have some sugar-free Jello I can make!” No. . . as I’ve said before, I don’t *DO* Jello. But Auntie doesn’t read this blog, either.

Oh, and dinner was also roast chicken, but not just any chicken. But you’ll have to wait for the next blog to hear all about the Cafe Gelatin and the roast chicken.

Happy New Year!

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