That’s the question you are asked repeatedly in New Mexico. It refers to how you like your chiles. I saw plenty of chile and other red and green products on a re ent trip to the Santa Fe Farmers Market, along with splashes of orange, lavender, yellow and just about every color you can imagine.
The Santa Fe Farmer’s Market in the restored Railyard district is a colorful blend of vendors from small family farms near the Rio Grande with urban gardeners from artsy Santa Fe and Taos.
Lots of greens: Salad lettuces of mixed shades. Fresh green sugar snap peas. Sage sticks bundled and shaped like cactus or crosses. Lacy green carrot tops poking out of backpacks and tote bags.
And reds: Beets. Rhubarb. Hydroponic tomatoes– still too early for the ones grown directly in soil. Red radishes, some fat as softballs; others more like golf balls. Yellow-skinned Rainier cherries blushing with red and $8 a pound price tags. Mahogany red chokecherries, tiny cherries slightly astringent in flavor.
Fresh chiles were there in abundance and also dried powders, dried wreath pods, green chile salsa and a slew of other products. It’s the same pepper; the stage of ripeness determines the color. New Mexico is to the green chile as Louisiana is to cayenne pepper, but did you know the chile is NOT New Mexico’s #1 agricultural food product. It’s the pecan, and we were surprised to see so many lush groves as we drove throughout the state. New Mexico is second to Georgia in pecan production.
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And a rainbow of other colors were there too including blue, orange and red corn.
Since, I was traveling, I had to skip the fresh fruits and veggies the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market and hang out at the bread vendors. My favorite was the Intergalactic Bread Company. I originally thought the name came from the Mediterranean flatbreads that kind of look like flying saucers. But, the vendor corrected, “it’s because the taste is out of this world.”
I recommend the green chile cheese bread.
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I just went berry picking at Shuqualak (pronounced “sugar lock” Farms in Frierson.
There’s usually plenty of berry options at local farmers markets, but there’s something about donning the straw hat and watching the sun rise as you head to a rural berry patch to pick your own.
Broox and Judy Burris run the blueberry and blackberry operation started by Broox’s father in 1986. The land has been in Broox’s family since 1916. He’s the fourth generation owner.
During berry season, the farm is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. There are about four acres each of blueberry and blackberry bushes. Check out the Shuqualak Farms Facebook page for up-to-date status.
Since I did get up before dawn, I was the first customer that day. I got a chance to chat with Judy, a fun person and a great source of information on how to get the best berries. “A gentle touch and they fall in your hands. If you have to tug, they’re not ripe enough yet.”
Shuqualak is a town in Mississippi. Broox’s father came across the town while traveling and felt it would be a good name for the farm since he called his wife “Sug” and the Choctaw Indian name meant “hog heaven.” He asked the mayor of Shuqualak if it was OK to use it.
So it’s Shuqualak Farms, but you won’t find any hogs there, no sugar cane — just blackberries and blueberries bursting with flavor as well as antioxidants, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, manganese and a host of other nutrients that put them on many “super food” lists.
Shuqualak Farms is off Highway 175 and a 20-minute drive from the edge of Shreveport. I have ridden this route several times with bicycle groups. Just before you get to the Shuqualak Farms turn, you’ll pass Bit’s Country Store, our bicycle group’s stop for breakfast.
Whether you’re on a bicycle or not, I suggest you stop in and grab a sausage egg biscuit. The biscuits are melt-in-your-mouth fluffy.
Highway 175 intersects Harts Island Road, a popular Shreveport bicycling route. It’s about 11 miles from the LSU Pecan Station to Bit’s Country Store and less than a half mile from the store’s biscuits to Shuqualak’s blueberry and blackberry bushes.
In Louisiana I’ve always thought April was for strawberries, May was for blackberries, June for blueberries and July was the best time for peaches. But that may vary from year to year and by fruit variety. Like autumn fall color, berry season is short so you want to pick while you can.
“Mother Nature has the final say. This year we didn’t have a winter so the blueberries that normally just begin to get ripe June 1 have been early this year,” Judy said.
After you’ve filled your bucket, return to the Blueberry Barn, an old farmhouse built before the turn of the century, and sample a blueberry popsicle. You can buy some to take home or buy the syrup to make your own.
Blueberries and blackberries are $14 for five quarts if you pick your own. Blueberries also are usually available pre-picked for $20.
There’s also smaller kid’s buckets, picnic tables, harness buckets so you can pick with two hands, even canes to borrow for balance.
Even though I can’t usually load up on fruits and vegetables, I like to visit farmers markets while traveling to experience the local flavor and check out the booths and creative vendor names.
On a recent Saturday, I went to the Phoenix Public Market on the edge of downtown Phoenix.
Local tomatoes, organic herbs and oranges (orange trees are on residential lawns everywhere in Phoenix) were abundant. However, the best thing I ate came from Jerusalem Bakery. I got two outstanding borekas, sesame seed-topped phyllo dough with different fillings inside. One borek a was stuffed with feta cheese and kalamata olives and other with mushrooms, cheese and onions.
Although not a food booth, my favorite name was a shaving kit booth run by an Army veteran: “Shaving Private Ryan.”
Tuesday was the only day of the week that I wasn’t in Phoenix during a recent trip so I just had to declare every day a taco day. This is what I had.
La SantisimaGourmet Taco Shop This was the only place that I researched ahead of time. The long line at counter and poster of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives Guy Fieri gave me some assurance that this was a good pick. I’d say it qualified as a dive, a tiny spot in a Latino neighborhood. I passed on the house specialty dogfish shark taco (not an appetizing name) and went for the shrimp and marinated Arrachera steak versions. But, La Santisima must be the place for these tacos. The restaurant comes up 2nd on a Google search for dogfish shark tacos, only behind a National Public Radio story on how Europeans, yet few Americans, are eating this plentiful seafood from the U.S. East Coast.
My tacos were good, not outstanding. A favorite part of the meal was the salsa bar with a dozen or so varieties freshly made every day.
Joyride Taco House. This was, hands down, my favorite restaurant experience of the trip and probably one of my Top 10 vacation meal experiences ever. Seasonally cooler temperatures (following two consecutive triple digit days) made dining on the patio pleasant. It’s a fun atmosphere with bright yellow industrial bistro chairs, white lights and a stone fireplace. Joyride is in the middle of a five-restaurant neighborhood, all owned by the same company, Upward Projects, which restores classic buildings into restaurants with lots of al fresco dining and trendy vibes. I should have saved room for the dessert – there was a line of 20 people or so waiting at Churn, the ice cream concept across the street.
Back to the food at Joyride. The tacos were great, especially the crispy fish one. Guacamole was good, and I especially liked that it was topped with roasted corn. Another favorite was a refreshing cucumber and orange salad.
Rubio’s. It helps with the budget to include a fast food chain every so often, and I look for something we don’t have at home. Rubio’s is a fast-casual Mexican chain with 200 locations (in the West and in Florida) specializing in coastal-inspired cuisine. The founder, Ralph Rubio, is often credited with popularizing fish tacos. He started in 1983 in San Diego with a crispy beer-battered and fried wild Alaskan pollock. That’s still on the menu today along with tilapia, salmon, mahi mahi, ono and various shrimp taco options—grilled, blackened or fried and served with tangy white sauce.
I would probably eat there often, alternating with Chipotle, which seem to be as plentiful as McDonald’s and Starbucks in Phoenix.
No dogfish shark tacos yet but maybe that’s the next item to be added.
In Bienville Parish, the individual parts are greater than the sum.
It’s one of the smallest of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in population. The largest town has under 3,000 people. There is no Wal-Mart in the parish. No Kroger. No movie theater. No skating rink.
Yet the individual towns and hamlets and the places in between are rich in history, geography and character. Gibsland claims to be the Daffodil Capital of Louisiana and will celebrate that this weekend. An Arcadia restaurant claims to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. Bienville Parish has the highest point in Louisiana, Mt. Driskill. Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down in the parish nearly 83 years ago.
My husband grew up in Ringgold, and we’ve been driving around the parish a lot lately tending to business. Here are some of Bienville Parish’s interesting spots.
Arcadia Pit Stops
Arcadia, the parish seat, is the largest town. My favorite stops are just off I-20’s Exit #69.
On one side is Gap Farms Travel Center . It’s rural Louisiana’s scaled-down version of the massive Buc-ee’s truck stop chain in Texas. You’ll find North Louisiana-made fish fryers, rocking chairs, icebox pies, country signage, gifts. And food–breakfast, barbecue and Friday night’s Big Hoss Challenge–you finish the 78-ounce steak within an hour and it’s on the house. For lighter appetites, there’s a 24-hour Burger King.
South of I-20 is Country Cottage, which looks anything but with its location in a former bar. It’s sort of a rural Louisiana Cracker Barrel with better food. Their’s a retail section, including lots of country lace, hair bows and children’s toys. I found a few collectibles with a distinct Louisiana flair–Louisiana Tech yearbooks from the 1960s when it was known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and a paper fan advertising O’Jay’s Beauty Lotion, a Shreveport product. Never mind the early 1990s decor with touches of mauve, this place is perhaps the best eatery along I-20 in Louisiana.
Country Cottage makes a valid, yet undermarketed, claim to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. These fried pies are more than wonderful, better than the more famous ones you find in Texas and Oklahoma. They were out of their sugar-free flavors (I tried) when I stopped and had a Snickers fried pie. A week later, I had the coconut one. They have all sorts of flavors, even the “0h-So-North-Louisiana” deer meat pie.
There’s more than pies–breakfast, a buffet, great country cooking, including the much-praised hot water cornbread.
Exit #69 is becoming a pit stop mecca. Recently, a new gas station/convenience store/ wine & liquor store called Super Save opened on the north side of the interstate. On the south side, there’s the new red Bonnie & Clyde Beer Barn complete with drive-thru daiquiris (It’s a Louisiana thing).
Bonnie & Clyde
Had the beer barn been around in May 1934, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow may have driven their stolen Ford through for refreshments. Instead, they stopped for a sandwich at a cafe, eight miles away in Gibsland. Minutes later, they were ambushed on rural Highway 154 south of town.
That cafe is now the spot for the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum, which was until his recent death, directed by the son of Ted Hinton, one of the posse that gunned down the infamous pair. Admission is $7.
The museum has artifacts from that fateful day, a lot of newspaper clippings and a replica of the Ford used in the landmark Bonnie & Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The actual movie car is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The death car is now in a Nevada casino.
(There is another museum in town– the Authentic Museum of Bonnie & Clyde, which has been described as a “friendly rival.”).
The exact spot where Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down is on Highway 154 near the settlement of Sailes. Each year, on the weekend nearest the May 23 anniversary date, there’s a Bonnie & Clyde Festival complete with an ambush re-enactment and look alike contests.
Gibsland’s other claim to fame is Daffodil Capital of Louisiana, which is celebrated the first weekend in March with a Jonquil Jubilee. (The term “daffodil” refers to a broader group of flowers, but “jonquil” and “daffodil” are commonly used interchangeably). They’ll be lots of events around town this Saturday. Tickets are $10, which includes a driving map, entrance to some of the homes and exhibits along the route.
While in Gibsland, check out the Gibsland Grill, a popular lunch spot, and arts and crafts. A morning program by the Master Gardeners will feature garden talks and a daffodil show at Louisiana Tech, 30 minutes away. Other events include pancake breakfast, quilt show and tablescapes featuring daffodils.
While driving around, you may want to explore the tiny village of Mt. Lebanon, the oldest settlement in the parish and birthplace of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. One of the organizers was the great grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, organized in 1837, is still in use. The sanctuary is separated down the middle–one side for men and the other for women. After the end of the Civil War, the former slaves formed their own new church, Springfield Baptist Church nearby.
You have to drive farther south to experience some of the real flavor of the parish. You don’t want to miss eating breakfast or perhaps a ribeye steak at Mom & Pop’s, a restaurant attached to the “Bryceland Mall,” a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 517 and 9.
Even farther south is the Castor General Store, also affectionately known as the “Castor Wal-Mart.” It does have numbered aisles and sells groceries, hardware supplies and other necessities. In the summertime, go a little farther east of Castor on Highway 4 and buy watermelons at Plunkett Farms.
I also hiked Mt. Driskill in Bienville Parish, the highest point in Louisiana, a few weeks ago. I’ll save that story for next week.
All I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a trip to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to visit The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile, a 107-year-old building that the Food Network star has handsomely restored into a restaurant, bakery, deli, retail shop and ranch office.
We made the six and a half hour trip from Shreveport last week. The drive’s not bad when places like Paris, Texas and Okmulgee, Oklahoma have Starbucks!
Hubby and his brother were good sports as my sister-in-law and I made our way around the store. We did come away with a few purchases, but my main goal was to look around, sample the food and hopefully run into Ree, aka Pioneer Woman, or one of the Drummond clan.
The shop was as beautiful as pictured on her the blog. There are some pricey items — a cast iron skillet in the shape of the United States for $125, metal butterflies sculpted into a horse for $250 but fun lower-end items such as $3 bacon lip balm, $6 finger puppets of historic and literary figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Sherlock Holmes. And lots of dinnerware in bright colors and florals.
Originally, I thought we’d eat a late breakfast/brunch there, shop, tour the town, drive out to the ranch and return for a late afternoon meal. But on further reflection, I felt one big PW meal was about all my diet could stand.
The menu isn’t extensive because I have a feeling Ree Drummond only wants to serve things that can scale perfectly to feed a large restaurant crowd. I did a rough count one day and figured I have made more than 60 of her recipes so I wanted to order some things I hadn’t tried.
Hubby got the Marlboro Man sandwich, strips of tenderized ribeye sauteed with onions and served on a soft hoagie bun with homemade potato chips. He shared some with me, so I got the salad with steak added. For an appetizer, we had creamy olive cheese bread. They were all what you would expect from Pioneer Woman–delicious!
I wanted to get prune cake just to see if it lived up to its menu billing– “Don’t get hung up on the name. This just might be the best thing you have ever eaten.” But I didn’t have room and will have to save it for another visit or make it myself. Did I mention we split a pecan sticky bun beforelunch?
I didn’t see any calorie counts or “on the lighter side” on the menu. Only those marked “bring a hearty appetite.”
We had to wait about 40 minutes for a lunch table — it will be longer on weekends and during holidays, shorter during breakfast. Todd, the youngest Drummond child, was bussing our table. Sister Paige, 17, was on duty as barista, and Ladd, Marlboro Man himself, was working the crowd.
I guess Ree was home blogging, making lasagna or gathering cattle.
We ended our time in Pawhuska by driving eight miles out on U.S. Highway 60 to the Drummond Ranch entrance sign and continuing on County Road 4461, a gravel road, until we could see her house in the distance. We wanted to see if she really does live “on a ranch in the middle of nowhere”
And the wind was sweeping down the plain that day.
A trip to Pawhuska would be a terrific paired with a trip to Tulsa (an hour away with beautiful Art Deco architecture) or Oklahoma City (two hours away with National Memorial commemorating 1995 bombing and National Cowboy Museum).
With rare exceptions, I love going to the grocery store. Others may think it mundane, even a chore. But it’s this weekly ritual that makes me feel alive, sustains me, feeds me.
I’ve been going through Shauna Niequist’s Savor devotional book for the past few months, and anyone familiar with her writing knows she values food and the dinner table. She writes that everyday life, is an exquisite gift, and I would include going to the grocery store as part of that.
In my Shreveport neighborhood, both a new Whole Foods and Kroger Marketplace opened during the past two months. (Read my blog post Are You Whole Foods or Piggly Wiggly?) I only occasionally visit Whole Foods, but Kroger, in some form or another, has been a part of my life since growing up in small town Mississippi. Although the Kroger of my childhood bears no resemblance to the expansive Marketplace, where you also buy clothes, cookware and coffee tables.
There is satisfaction into checking the pantry, planning menus, making a list, perusing the sale paper, and, now, downloading coupons on the store’s app.
One of my favorite sounds of childhood was when my mother returned from the grocery store. I’d hear the carport screen door open, the brown bag rustling and the clanking of Coke bottles in their carton as she sat them on the counter.
I even like making a grocery budget, saving the receipts and monitoring spending monthly. There’s a lot of fat in the food budget!
Problem is at our house my husband loves to go to the grocery store too. That is a blessing (he cooks a lot and buys things like yogurt covered almonds that I love but am too cheap to buy) and a curse (he doesn’t look at prices).
We’re mainly Kroger shoppers but end up frequenting just about every grocery store–Brookshire’s for Conecuh sausage and Julio’s salsa, Target for their store brand blue corn tortilla chips with flaxseed, Wal-Mart for Caribou Obsidian coffee pods, Whole Foods because it’s the new place in town, and Albertson’s when we just don’t want to get out on Shreveport’s busy Youree Drive.
Looking at the sale papers. Making a list. Going to the grocery store. Running into a friend, someone from church, one of your children’s former teachers. And then returning for something we forgot. The joy of everyday life.
As Shauna writes in one of Savor‘s January devotionals:
“This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by … This pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of us will ever experience. ”
I’m not normally a cold weather gardener, but a couple of years ago I planted some butter crunch lettuce and it did well. Last year, I tried arugula. It did well too so I planted it again this year.
I like the peppery bite of arugula–added to other salad greens or eaten on its own with a simple mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and a little parmesan cheese.
My husband and I have different tastes in greens. He loves collards. and planted a beautiful winter crop s a couple of years ago. I don’t like them and wouldn’t eat them. (He ended up eating very little as his low-carb diet didn’t allow for the cornbread to accompany them).
At least we had a pretty view out the back window on dreary winter days.
I don’t like like mustard greens or turnip greens either. Hubby accuses me of being snooty with my greens because I do eat spinach and arugula.
But I counter by reminding him that I do not eat kale, despite its trendiness.
I’ve liked arugula ever since it started appearing in restaurants everywhere and was glad to discover how easy it is to grow. I just planted a packet of seeds in the garden in late September, thinned the plants after a few weeks and started harvesting in early December.
I wish I had covered them during recent cold snap with temperatures dipping to 19 in our area. I lost a few plants. I may try to get another crop in for spring before it gets too warm. Arugula does best in cool weather.
Hubby doesn’t eat arugula–not even in salads. And he certainly doesn’t think it’s a suitable pizza topping as it has become at those upscale pizzerias
So I eat my arugula alone. My favorite way is the method pictured in the header photo for this blog: top naan bread with fresh mozzarella and red grapes and bake until the mozzarella browns. Remove, add arugula and freshly cracked black pepper.
I used to think pound cakes were for old people, in the category with congealed salads. Or in another of my labeling systems, a layer cake with icing was like watermelon. A pound cake was like cantaloupe.
You had to be about 50 to prefer them. I figured now that I am pushing 60, it’s time to get out the Bundt pan.
Growing up, pound cake was something I ate when the other Christmas goodies were gone. (Well, before the fruit cake.) It was great for Christmas breakfast.
However, since my mother died in 2011, pound cakes are among what I miss at Christmas. They were always moist and sometimes indulgent, even though I don’t remember her putting a glaze on one. Coconut pound cake. German chocolate pound cake. Sour cream pound cake. Those would always be on the holiday rotation.
My mother wasn’t a big Christmas person and often complained when she thought people were overdecorating for the holidays, but she enjoyed baking. Not only would she make pound cakes and banana nut bread, chess squares and magic cookie bars–and all types of balls–bourbon balls, sausage balls, orange coconut balls.
But today I’m remembering pound cakes, which are making a comeback. A good part of it is the growth of Nothing Bundt Cakes, which has 175 locations in the United States and Canada. Nothing Bundt Cakes has elevated the pound cake with generous frosting, a variety of sizes and flavors such as “pecan praline” and “white white chocolate.”
And since I’m mixing food with business stories, let’s explore the Bundt pan. The pan was developed by Minnesota-based Nordic Ware during the 1950s. It really didn’t sell well and Nordic Ware considered discontinuing it. Then, in 1966, a woman used the pan to make the Tunnel of Fudge cake, which won second (not first) place in the Pillsbury Cook-Off.
Sales exploded. Nordic Ware trademarked the Bundt pan. Now there are castle and vaulted cathedral Bundt pans and dozens of variations on the classic fluted shape with the hole in the center.
I don’t remember my mother ever making a “Tunnel of Fudge” cake as she was a scratch cook and didn’t use cake mixes. But she did use her Bundt pan,
Some large pound cakes call for a tube pan (straight edges rather than fluted but still with the hole in the center). If you want some tips on whether or not to use a Bundt or a tube pan, check this website.
Call it growing older or refusing the extravagance of those over-the-top multi-layer cakes gracing these covers of December food magazines, I’m craving the simple goodness of a moist slice of pound cake this Christmas.
Here’s a link to a recipe my mother used for German chocolate pound cake. I believe it originally was on the package of Baker’s chocolate. I particularly like it because it calls for three items I don’t typically stock in my pantry–shortening, baking chocolate and Swan’s Down cake flour (recipe doesn’t specify the latter, but I always use on the rare occasions that I bake cakes).
Going to the store to get them brings back warm memories of my mother’s baking.
A recent vacation taught me an unexpected lesson on gratitude.
The vacation itinerary that I drew up for a recent trip that I took with my daughter included a morning drive along the Hood River County Fruit Loop, a 35-mile route dotted with 30 farm stands in Oregon between the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood.
It was prime harvesting season when I was there in October so I envisioned lots of apple picking on a crisp, sun-splashed fall day. Then we’d have lunch at a local winery and enjoy an afternoon of bicycling on America’s original scenic byway. Perhaps we would hike a little of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The only question was how could we choose among those 30 points of interest–fruit stands and berry farms, wineries and cider houses, u-pick apple and pear orchards, lavender farms, an alpaca farm and even a chestnut farm.
The Fruit Loop brochure had me excited as I looked at the farms pictured with blue skies, dahlias in the foreground and snow-capped Mt. Hood in the background. Likewise, the historic Columbia Gorge Highway site had postcard-worthy photos of bicycle trails. I packed a few of the new almond butter-filled Clif bars just to create a photo similar to the one of a cyclist on the package.
But it was not to be. It rained miserably all day. So we didn’t get to bicycle or hike at all. We didn’t ride the Fruit Loop with our windows down and sun roof open as we had hoped. We should have peeked through the sun roof with our umbrella for a amusing photo op, but frankly I was too bummed out.
We did drive along Highway 35 and the side roads that make up the Fruit Loop. We stopped at a few farm stands — Packer Orchards, Apple Valley Country Store & Bakery and Draper Girls Country Farm. We found the best variety at Draper Girls — Pacific Rose, Spice and Pink Pearl to name a few. The latter had a bit of pink in the flesh.
Our adventure for the day: Returning to the Airbnb to watch Reese Witherspoon in “Wild.” And eating some of those apples.
So what was the gratitude lesson?
It took me a while upon returning home, but I reflected on past vacations. On one trip to the beach, rain was forecast every day of the week–we almost cancelled our condo. But as it turned out, it rained none of the days we were there.
We did experience a downpour three years ago during one of the vacation days in New York City, but that was one day of rain, four days of sunshine. (And can you really whine on a rainy day in New York when that means spending it in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?)
On my rough scorecard of vacations past, I’m averaging about 9 out of 10 sunny days. Was I as grateful for those as I was complaining about my rainy October trip to Washington and Oregon?
From now on, I’m going to start vacations with less of an entitlement mindset about the weather. Then, when a vacation day is wrapped in sunshine, maybe I’ll treat it like a gift.
And be more thankful.
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way