You might never have to set foot in an H-E-B again.
For many Texans, not shopping at H-E-B is like not watching the Longhorns or not eating breakfast tacos, but as the grocery delivery industry ramps us, the grocers themselves are coming up with ways to save customers time and money on delivery fees. That means trying to compete with them.
With its H-E-B Curbside service, rather than deliver the groceries all the way to your house, H-E-B is betting that you’re OK with spending a flat $4.95 fee to swing by the store on the way home and pick up your food. You can’t use coupons or in-store discounts, but the prices are otherwise the same as in the store. UDPATE: From an H-E-B rep: “On some items H-E-B Curbside adds a nominal price increase to an item to underwrite this service, but not more than 3% on average.”
H-E-B now offers curbside grocery pick-up at 17 of more than 40 stores in the Austin area, and to encourage new users this fall, the company is offering four free curbside pick-ups, no matter how large the order.
I tried the service for the first time on Sunday, and it was seamless. It was nice to see familiar prices and packages online, and the set fee makes it easy to understand what I’m paying for. Any extra prices I paid weren’t high enough for me to notice. I picked out the groceries online at lunchtime on Friday, but all the pickup times for that afternoon were taken, so I picked one on Sunday. It took longer than I thought to click my way to a decent grocery cart, but I was relying on my memory of the store and my fridge back home. I know this step will be faster once my order history is set and many of the items I buy week after week will be easy to reorder.
When I went to pick up the groceries at the Oltorf and Congress H-E-B, I parked in one of the spots outside the mural-covered trailer they’ve converted into a curbside building. A sign instructs you to text a code to a number, and then you get a message saying someone will be out to load the groceries into your car. A few minutes later, a store employee came to my window, where I signed for the groceries and then he loaded them in the trunk. I didn’t even get out of the car.
He wouldn’t take a tip. The store’s service saved me about half an hour. That’s worth $5, especially when I’m swamped, but there’s no way I’d give up the pleasure of pushing a cart through a store, looking at the groceries and thinking about what I’m going to be eating the week ahead. I can do that at a computer using my imagination to walk through the store’s colorful, tactile inventory, but where’s the fun in that?
The company has been working on this convenience feature at stores throughout Texas, and by the end of the year, 100 stores will offer it. As they expand and invest into each curbside pickup locations, there’s no doubt that many customers will find it helpful now and then and some who will find it indispensable for everyday shopping.
The world lost a great goulash-maker two weeks ago.
My dear grandmother died after a long summer of falls and failing health. She lived to be 87 years old, and for 60 of those years, she was the comfort-food-maker-in-chief of Aurora, Mo. She made lemon cakes for people who needed a little sunshine in their day and goulash — a casserole of ground beef, canned tomatoes and dried macaroni — if they were in mourning.
My family and so many people in her tight-knit community back home have been in mourning, but we’ve also been celebrating a woman who wasn’t a stranger to this food section a few states away.
In these pages and in real life, I called her Gaga, and I first told you about her in 2008 in my second column as a food writer. I wrote about how she always used to make peach pie when I traveled to Missouri for a visit to my hometown and the resiliency she showed when the pie she made for our photo shoot didn’t turn out exactly right.
I would always ask her for her favorite recipes, ostensibly for research on a column, but really I just knew that it was a gateway into getting her to tell stories about when she used to make a certain dish, where she got the recipe or the lives of the people she was feeding.
I complained once that I couldn’t find a lemon bar recipe that I liked online. She went straight to her pile of clipped recipes and pulled out one she’d cut from Guideposts. “This is Gaga’s internet,” she said as she handed me the recipe. It was exactly the one I’d been hoping to find.
Until just a few months ago, Gaga was still showing up every Saturday morning to make sack lunches at church. Her weekly effort to feed the community inspired me to pick up a Meals on Wheels route five years ago.
As her health declined over the past few years, I wrote about the changing roles in their home, where my parents were her caregivers and I was the one who would show up to surprise her with an upside-down peach cake.
Last year, my sister and I traveled to Sweden because we wanted her to get to see us go back to the ancestral homeland. We ate cinnamon buns and texted her selfies from the small island village where her grandmother was born. Last Christmas, I surprised Gaga with a Skype call with Swedish cousins she never knew existed.
All of my uncles, aunts and cousins gathered a few weeks ago to remember stories like this for her memorial service. We ate barbecue and potato salad, quiche and, at the funeral luncheon, not one but two kinds of cheesy potatoes, plus more chocolate cake and cookies than we could have eaten all week.
I’m grateful for the many years we had together, especially when food became an opportunity for us to deepen our conversations and our relationship. Ever since she and I made that imperfect pie together, I often channel her when I’m cooking something that feels like it’s gone awry. That moment when she just pieced together the cracked pie crust and didn’t throw her hands up in despair when things fell apart stuck with me. She fixed what she could, without apology, and moved on.
Gaga’s warmth, humor and good nature stuck with her until the end. For decades, she would quietly send newspaper clippings and birthday cards (and St. Patrick’s Day cards and Valentine’s Day cards) to a long list of relatives and friends.
She was the only person I knew who used the word “larapin” to describe delicious food, and she had this quirk of collecting hundreds of dachshund figurines, which she wanted given away at her funeral. (Her wish was fulfilled, including the one wearing the cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.)
Once, I stopped by the dentist office she’d worked at for years as a dental assistant to get fitted for a guard so I wouldn’t grind my teeth at night. The dentist, one of the countless friends in town who might as well have been family, wouldn’t let me pay him. “Tell your grandma she can just send one of her lemon cakes.”
Lemon Poppy Seed Bread (Moosebread)
This poppy seed loaf, which half of our family calls moosebread and the other half calls moose food, is easily one of the most treasured treats in my grandmother’s recipe box. Her recipe calls for butter extract and oil instead of butter, which gives you an idea of when the recipe was likely developed in some unknown Midwestern kitchen. To honor that legacy, I’ve kept them in this modified version. The only real change in my version is swapping out orange juice in the glaze for lemon juice. You’ll need two loaf pans for the batter.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine baking powder, flour, salt and poppy seeds. In another bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, milk, oil, extracts and zest. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for about 1 hour until middle of the bread has set.
During the last 10 minutes of baking, make the glaze by heating the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for a few minutes, and then turn off heat.
Right after you remove the loaves from the oven, slowly pour the glaze on top of each loaf. Once the loaves have cooled, remove from pan and wrap in plastic wrap. Serve slices of bread at room temperature or warmed slightly. Makes two loaves.
The Florida-based LaCroix is the bestselling domestically made sparkling water in the country, and it’s recent boom in popularity is causing even the Coca-Colas of the world to reinvent their sparkling water game, and an Austin company is now in on it.
First off, a few weeks ago, we tried some of those new LaCroix flavors, as well as the Dasani- and H-E-B-made knock-offs, in a Facebook livestream.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I find out about a locally made drink that might as well go after the LaCroix market.
Two years ago, Sway Water hit the market with a line of bottled water that had been infused with various fruits and even some vegetables. That bottled water is unsweetened and naturally low in calories, and this year, they are launching a similar product, but with bubbles. Lots and lots of bubbles.
In this week’s Facebook livestream, we tried three new Sway sparkling flavors: mango, strawberry and grapefruit peach. (There’s another flavor, lemon ginger, that I didn’t include.)
The carbonated water comes in four flavors: mango, strawberry, grapefruit peach and lemon ginger. The drinks, which cost about $1.69 each, are like a mix of Topo Chico and La Croix but locally made, and each had a mild taste with very little sweetness and lots of bubbles.
You can find them at People’s Rx, Royal Blue Grocery, Central Market, Ingredients, Arlan’s Market, Fresh Plus, Snap Kitchen, Wheatsville and Daily Juice.
More than 100 Austin schools carry Sway’s still water products, so the sparkling water could soon be available for purchase there, too. You can find out more about the brand at swaywater.com.