Monday, May 11, 2015

Farmers Market Favorite | Market Fresh Bruschetta

Disclaimer: I prepared this entire post on my telephone with the Blogger app. I used the Afterlight and Over apps for photo editing and text. If it looks great, let's say I'm genius. If it looks sad, let's blame the apps. M'kay? Thank you.

Bruschetta (pronounced broo- SKET-uh) is a quick and simple fresh bite, perfect for a light lunch or an appetizer, for one or a crowd, showcasing the season's very best.

I'm sure you've seen it frequently on menus, but what you might not have known is...

1. The correct pronunciation. It's BruSKETta, not BruSHETta. I know I've said it twice, now. It bears repeating. And again. 
How to Pronounce Bruschetta:

2. Bruschetta is actually the toasted or grilled bread, prepared simply with a drizzle of olive oil, a light pass of a garlic clove, and perhaps some coarse salt. The toppings served in many restaurants might run from the basic, to minor theatrical productions-- four courses on a slab. Traditionally, toppings are kept simple. The salad topping below tries to stay true to the original spirit, while letting the late vegetables of Spring show off a bit.

Market Fresh Bruschetta


1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered 
2 cloves garlic, minced 
1/2 bunch, each, fresh basil and Italian parsley, washed, dried well, and chopped 
Zest of whole small lemon
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
2T extra virgin olive oil
1T balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, above, and allow to sit for 20-30 minutes at room temperature.


1 Baguette, sliced on the diagonal 
1 clove garlic
Drizzles of extra virgin olive oil

Cover a large baking sheet with bread slices. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil, lightly, over all. Toast under broiler until golden, turn and toast opposite side. Remove from oven. 

Spear garlic clove horizontally with fork tines. "Paint" each slice with the whole clove while bread is warm, on one side.  

Note: No stove? No problem! Simply pan toast in a heavy pan (cast iron yields best results) on the stovetop (but not a pan of a nonstick variety, which would prohibit toasting). 

Traditionally, bruschetta has been grilled, so certainly utilize the barbie if you're cooking al fresco.

Mound salad atop toast. Alternately, serve toasts around a bowl of salad for diners to serve themselves.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In the Garden: May

This is the month that all your hard work in the garden begins to pay off! Dinners of spring greens and green garlic, and sweet peas with caramelized onions. Cabbage prepared every way imaginable--and home-fermented sauerkraut is this weekend's project.  

Looks as if tomatoes and peppers and squash will be showing up on my table this month, so I'll add homemade pasta to the farmers market shopping list, and making mayonnaise, pesto, fresh whole grain bread and herbed focaccias will fill the list for weekly kitchen tasks.  

It's going to get awfully sunny and steamy around these parts, every day, really soon.  

Shake out your swimsuit, air out the lawn chairs, bust out the sprinklers, unearth your straw hat.....Summer's right around the corner!

The Month of May: Gardening To-Do's

The following tips are for gardeners in Zone 8, or thereabouts. Consult the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to locate the zone in which you live and garden, and adjust the dates accordingly (usually about two weeks earlier for Zones south of Zone 8, and two weeks earlier for each Zone north of Zone 8.)

Collect seeds from spring flowers when the seed heads are brown. Clean them, dry them for a week or so, and then store in airtight containers or baggies in a cool spot.

Continue planting summer annuals like celosias, cosmos, pentas, angelonia, sunflowers, globe amaranths, and zinnias to attract butterflies and bees this summer. Pentas and Salvia coccineas brighten up partly shady areas and attract butterflies.

Lightly prune spring blooming plants to clean them up. Don’t do heavy pruning at this time.

Put out shallow bowls of water to attract toads. Small dishes filled with decomposed granite make good puddling spots for butterflies. Make your own hummingbird nectar for feeders with 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Dissolve well. Be sure to change and clean your feeders on a regular basis.
Do clean birdbaths and other water bowls every few days to fend off mosquitoes and to keep the water cool and clean for your wildlife friends.

If fire ants are a problem, use fresh spinosad-based bait and an orange oil drench directly on the mounds.

Fertilize: Feed all spring-blooming shrubs after they have bloomed. Feed amaryllis after they bloom. Feed and mulch iris. Feed crape myrtle with 1/2 cup/sq. yd. of 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer beneath the branch spread.

Water: Water annuals as needed. Mulch all bare soil to retain moisture.

Transplant: Container-grown plants can go into the ground now.

Lawn Care: Mow every 5-7 days, leaving the clippings on the lawn. Keep St. Augustine grass at 2 1/2" to 3" height. Apply 1/2’ to 1" of water as needed to wet soil thoroughly. Don’t water more often than every five days.

Diseases/Pests to look out for: Check for aphids and spider mites. Look for tobacco hornworms, spider mites and stink bugs, especially in vegetable gardens. Spray peach and plum trees for curculio weevils. Spray blackspot-susceptible roses with fungicide every 7-10 days.

Prune: Prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees after they bloom. Prune climbing roses and other "once bloomers" as soon as they finish flowering. Divide chrysanthemums and pinch tips for bushier growth. Pinch back leggy annuals to encourage branching. Deadhead plants to encourage blooming. Prune frost-damaged trees and shrubs. Remove sucker shoots from tomato plants to get earlier, larger fruit.

Things To Plant In May

Flower Plants:
Ageratum,  ajuga, amaranthus, balsam, begonia, blue dze, blue cardinal flower, boltonio, scarlet bouvardia, calico plant, chocolate plant, cigar plant, cockscomb, coleus, columbine, copper plant, coreopsis, cosmos, dahlia, daisy, feverfew, geranium, gomphrena, hibiscus, hollyhock, impatiens, jacobinia, lantana, marigold, nierembergia, penta, periwinkle, persian shield, plumbago, phlox, portulaca, purslane, purple coneflower ,rudbeckia, salvia, sedum, stokes' aster, sunflower, wishbone flower, yarrow, zinnia.

Flower Seeds:
Ageratum, balsam, castor bean, celosia, cleome, cockscomb, coleus, coral vine, cosmos, cypress vine, dahlia, echinacea, feverfew, four-o'clock, globe amaranth, gourd, impatiens, linaria, nasturtium marigold, moonflower, morning glory, periwinkle, petunia, pinks, portulaca, scabiosa, sinflower, sweet pea, tithonia, torenia, vinca, zinnia.

Acidanthera, amarcrinum, amaryllis, caladium, canna, giner, daylily, gladiolus, liriope, monkey grass, neomarica

Amaranth, Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke), Jicama, Malabar Spinach, Okra, Southern Pea, Peanut, Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, Tomatillo, Watermelon.

Anise, basil, bay, borage, bouncing bet, caraway, catnip, chives, comfrey, costmary, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, scented geranium, germander, horehound, horseradish, lamb's ear, lavender, lemon grass, lemon verbena, mexican mint marigold, monarda, oregano, perilla, rosemary, sage, santolina, summer savory, winter savory, sesame, sorrel, southernwood, tansy, tarragon, thyme, wormwood, yarrow

Container-grown plants can go in the ground.

Gardening information courtesy of the Garden Guide for Austin & Vicinity, published by the Travis County Master Gardener Association.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Farmers Market Favorite
Soft Shell Crab | Cheesy Polenta | Smothered Collard Greens

It's that glorious season in the sea for one of my favorites-- soft shell crab, the blue crab in its molten state, and I had the opportunity to share these succulent treasures with the Texas Farmers' Markets this weekend, courtesy of my friends, K&S Seafood. They need little more than a well-seasoned dredging, and are simple and quick to prepare. They typically come into season when they shed their winter shell, around the first full moon in May (and as I write this, I see that very moon shining brightly outside my window), and will remain in season through September, generally.Check with Scott, or your local fishmonger, for availability.

Soft shell crabs are often marketed by size, measured across the back from point to point, and vary in width from about 3 and 1/2 inches to as large as 5 inches breadth. It takes only a few hours for the shedding of their shell to occur, at which point they are removed from the water to prevent the formation of the new exoskeleton. They have a sweet, mildly tangy flavor, with a slight tooth to the emergent shell similar to tender sausage casing, with buttery meat sandwiched between. A 3 and 1/2 ounce crab contains only 83 calories, is low in fat, and high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. 

The lightly dredged and pan-fried crabs were served along side cheesy, creamy polenta, prepared with OrganicareFarms coarse-grind organic cornmeal, who also provided finer-ground cornmeal for dredging the crabs, as well as cured ham steaks which seasoned Smothered Collard Greens, prepared with spring garlic, and spring onions, all from the fields of JBG Organics. Additional market vendor products used were Dos Lunas cheese, and Texas Hill Country Olive Co. Balsamic Vinegar. 

For helpful instructional videos on cleaning soft shell crabs, cooking polenta, and cleaning and preparing collard greens, please visit last week's preparatory post on Notes from Maggie's Farm.

Soft Shell Crab on Cheesy Polenta with Smothered Collard Greens

Soft Shell Crab
Allow 1 large, or 2 small crabs per serving

Soft shell crabs, cleaned and trimmed (see note, below)
2 cups finely ground cornmeal
2t salt
½t cayenne pepper
1t coarse ground black pepper
¼ cup neutral-flavored cooking oil for frying such as grapeseed oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper, mixing well.

In a heavy skillet, heat oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Drop a pinch of cornmeal mix into skillet—oil is hot enough when cornmeal sizzles. Adjust heat as necessary. Add dredged crabs, top side down, leaving enough space to move the crabs around freely, about 3 at a time, according to size. Fry about 4 minutes per side, turning midway through, or until blue “shells” turn red, and cornmeal is golden brown. Remove from heat and drain on paper toweling.

Note: Find instructional video for cleaning soft shell crabs here.

Cheesy Polenta
Allow 1 cup prepared polenta per serving. For 8 servings, use

1 cup coarse grind cornmeal
2 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 cups water
1T coarse grind salt
2t white pepper
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (or finely grated hard cheese of your choice)
¼ c extra virgin olive oil (or butter, if you're indulgent)

In a Dutch oven, bring stock, water, salt and white pepper to a boil. Slowly pour cornmeal into water, whisking briskly to avoid clumps. Cover and cook for approximately 45 minutes at a low boil, stirring occasionally.  Add liquid as necessary, to maintain creamy texture. When cornmeal is tender and creamy and has lost its “grit”, stir in cheese and olive oil, whisking until smooth.

Note:  For helpful hints in preparing polenta, see instructional video here.

Smothered Collard Greens
For 6-8 one cup servings, gather

2 bunches of collard greens, rinsed well, trimmed from stems and separated, leaves thinly shredded and stems sliced thinly (see note, below)
1 small cured ham steak, cut in large dice, to yield 1-2 cups
4T grapeseed oil, divided
1 small bulb spring garlic, peeled and minced finely
6 spring onions (roughly golf to tennis ball-sized), peeled and sliced thinly
2t salt
1t cracked red pepper flakes
1T balsamic vinegar 
1c stock or water

Pat cleaned and trimmed collard greens dry and set aside.

In a heavy bottomed pan, cook chopped ham slowly, rendering fat over medium low heat. When firm, add grapeseed oil to rendered fat to make approximately 2 tablespoons. Add minced garlic and sauté with ham, stirring frequently over medium heat, until golden. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Add enough grapeseed oil to pan to yield approximately 2 tablespoons. Sauté sliced onions with sliced collard green stems until wilted. Add shredded leaves to pan, and return ham and garlic mixture, combining all well. Season with salt, red pepper flakes, and balsamic vinegar, stirring well. 

Add stock or water to pan, bring to a healthy simmer, cover, and cook until wilted, about 20 minutes or to desired tenderness. Correct seasonings.

Note: For instructional video on cleaning and trimming collard greens, visit this link.

To serve, mound polenta on plate or rimmed soup bowl, spoon collard greens in the center, and top with freshly-fried soft shell crabs. Enjoy.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Season's Best
Soft Shell Crab | Cheesy Polenta | Smothered Collards

Hey friends!

If you're in the Austin area this weekend, come join me at the Chef Demo tent, Texas Farmers' Markets, on Saturday at the Lakeline location from 10am-12noon, and Sunday at the Mueller location from 11am-1pm, for what promises to be a delicious dish.

Softshell crab, one of my favorite things in THE WORLD, is in season right now, and K&S Seafood will have plenty on hand. They're giving a few up for lucky market-goers to taste and learn how to select, clean, and prepare these tasty treasures.

They'll be served with creamy, cheesy, cornmeal polenta, courtesy of Organicare Farms, who will also share their delectable cured pork for the accompanying smothered collard greens, also from the market.

You'll be able to select all of these ingredients from market vendors to duplicate your own meal at home.

Look for these recipes on Notes from Maggie's Farm next week. If you'd like to get a head start, and learn a little more about each component of the dish, check out these handy videos, below.

I hope to see you at the markets!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shape Up or Ship Out
Wake Up Call

Well.......I had a little health scare a few weeks ago. An almost literal 'come to Jesus' meeting with doctors followed. And the skinny of the experience (isn't that term ironic?) was that if I don't SHAPE UP, I'm going to SHIP OUT.... in a pine box. It almost scared the life out of me.

Almost. BUT NOT SO FAST, life. Because I don't plan to go silently into that good night. I've got plans for the next 30 years or so.

I'll share the experience in bits and pieces, probably. It's likely boring to most people who haven't had the everloving S&@T scared out of them in the same way. The take-away from the experience is this:

  • I need to put my money where my mouth is. I need to eat right, and not just a few meals per week-- it's got to be pretty much EVERY meal. And that's no easy task for a food writer.
  • I've got to get moving. Disappointed with myself after a spectacular personal fitness failure last year, I fell off the wagon. I'd get going for hikes, but my daily practice went by the wayside. And the physically active jobs I had gave way to sedentary work. NO MORE EXCUSES.
  • I've got to be nicer to myself. I, like so many of us, create a lot of anxiety for myself by worrying what everyone BESIDES me thinks of me, my life, my decisions, my hair.... and I'm only joking a little bit there. I give all kinds of weight to those vocal critics. Worse, it's what I tell myself about those thoughts--I wouldn't even associate with a person who speaks to me like my own inner critic does. Life is short. It's time to grow up and drop that dead weight, literally and figuratively.  

Bottom Line: I'm going to make better choices. All around. 

I've got to tell you, even this vague reference to my private life makes me nervous. I'm not sure if it is appropriate. It's difficult to share my perceived faults and failures. What if I look like an idiot? What if I look like a fraud? What if I look.... HUMAN?  It's just so very personal.

And probably the same types of personal fears that many people struggle with daily. Not just me. Maybe you. Or maybe someone you know. It's scary to be so open. It's either brave, or foolish, or both. Like me.

It's bound to be hysterical from time to time. So, I'm going to learn to laugh at my mistakes, my foibles, my weaknesses, my HUMANITY...... and MOVE ON.

I'm. Moving. On.
"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space." Johnny Cash

So for a brief recap, a few years ago (it's been that long?!) I embarked on a fitness project to lose 50 pounds. In a year. By my 50th birthday. I called it Spring into Fitness: 50 by 50. I succeeded. And I kept that entire 50 off for, oh, say 3 days. Maybe a few weeks. Not long.

At first, my weight fluctuated only a pound or two. And then a lot of anxiety, and a lot of upheaval, and a lot of self indulgence helped 10 pounds creep back on. In retrospect, not a dismal failure, especially for one whose world revolves around delicious food, but if that 10 pounds a year becomes the norm, well, you can see it just can't.

So what does this mean for Notes from Maggie's Farm? Well, there really won't be much of a change. I've concentrated on wholesome, fresh, seasonal foods, primarily, and that will continue. I might share some of my path back to more robust health, occasionally, if that's interesting to you. I'll still offer a few culinary indulgences from time to time. I'll be focused on balance. Creating, and maintaining balance in the many avenues of life that combine at the crossroads of wellness.

Occasionally that might mean I'll be away for a while. Living life. Then returning to share it all when the time is available. Who knows? Like life, we'll just see how the path unfolds, taking it one precious day at a time.

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