women of a silent age: the artist

 (almost) wordless wednesday
notes from maggie's farm

Clara Bow
Louise Brooks
Lillian Gish
Gloria Swanson
Greta Garbo
Theda Bara

on building a cheese plate: Hugo

tips for tuesday
notes from maggie's farm

Building the Perfect Cheese Plate

I was thoroughly charmed by the movie, Hugo.

In celebration of my birthday last December, and the last exam of the semester having passed, I hunkered down in my theater seat, a bucket of popcorn the size of my head resting in my lap, and my uber cool 3D glasses wrapped around my own.....I was the epitome of a nerd, but without a care in the world;  it was a matinee at a small-town movie theater and I owned the entire place.  No one, NO ONE, else was there.  So I wedged my heels between the two seats in front of me, propped my sneakered-feet upon the armrests, and settled in to be delighted.  And I was not to be disappointed.

Now I want to live in a Parisian train station!
Much like our own major airports, the train stations, like Gare de Lyon are massive hubs, bustling with activity, offering all types of foods and shops  Located within Gare de Lyon, Le Train Bleu, below, serves small plates, a light bite, or a leisurely prix fixe repast to hungry travelers, or those who come just for the food, with no departure to rush towards. Please visit their website, elect to play the music, visit the photo gallery, and let your imagination take you to Paris for a brief, but lovely moment, today.

File:Train bleu 05.jpg
Le Train Bleu Restaurant courtesy of Wikipedia

I was surprised to find what I was looking for, the cheese plate(!), was one of the least expensive plates on the menu, at 16 euros.  And, though we may only have Paris in our imaginations today, we can have that cheese plate ANY day.  

Building the Perfect Cheese Plate
a few guidelines

1.  The odds:  As in decorating, the cheese plate is a great place to employ the odd number rule.  Offer 3 or 5 types, or even consider one large serving of a favorite, notable cheese.
2.  You got served: If just one of several elements of an appetizer 'buffet', serve 1-2 ounces per cheese per person.  For example, if there are 16 people to be served, build a cheese plate with one pound (16 ounces) of each cheese, whether 1 cheese, 3 cheeses, 5 cheeses, or more.  If served as a dessert plate, or as the sole appetizer, begin with 4-6 ounces per person, per cheese.
3.  Stick with a theme:  This is less a guideline as it is a help for the host or hostess in choosing among thousands of options.  Country of origin, milk types, aging processes, producer, texture, wine pairing, are all good places to start.
4. Arrange cheeses from mildest to strongest, with large sections of rinds pointed in (so cheese can be accessed for serving).
5.  Consider accompaniments carefully.  I prefer breads to crackers, and love a fruit and nut bread for some cheeses.  Crackers are perfectly acceptable, of course, but be certain to choose a cracker that doesn't interfere with flavor, while having enough body to stand up to the cheese.  Fruits, nuts, olives, chutney's, mostardo's, quince paste or fruit 'cheeses' are all popular and interesting additions, served on the plate, or on the side.
5. Serve cheese at room temperature, removing from refrigeration at least one hour prior to serving, and allow each cheese it's own serving knife or utensil.  
6.  Find a reliable cheesemonger.  This last step is one of the most important, as a helpful cheesemonger will help you with all of the steps above.  They should be well informed, and you will find them passionate about cheeses, knowledgeable about the best pairings of food and drink, and will educate you in the best ways to serve, and store, each variety.  A gourmet grocery store is a good place to start, but if you're as lucky as we are in the Austin area, you'll have a favorite and friendly neighborhood cheese shop.  The folks from Antonelli's Cheese Shop can't be beat for selection, knowledge, and service.  Whether you're a local, or simply a cheese lover, visit their website for a 'taste' of what they have to offer, and as a valuable cheese-knowledge resource.

Recommended Reading:

monday at the movies: The Help

monday at the movies
notes from maggie's farm

The morning after.  There were some regrettable decisions made, perhaps, but many memorable moments, punctuated the night.

I mean The Oscars, of course.

And though there were several good movies to watch this year, one of my favorites was The Help.  

Primarily, it was the love/hate nature of the film that kept me drawn into the story.  Small triumphs frequently won over mean-spirited moments.  And the period details--I loved them!  The aqua blue kitchens, pink bathrooms, convertible Cadillacs, slick, tall, bouffants, cinched waist cotton dresses, and more than a few doilies.  I loved the babushka-tied headscarves, the southern accents, even the crisp gray housekeeper uniforms, though they represented some questionable trends of the time.  I wanted to hunt down and beat some of those characters, and some scenes were quite difficult to watch.  They were always interspersed with lighter scenes--and quite a few were filled with foods of the time.  Who will forget the fried chicken, the deviled eggs.....the chocolate pie!  The ladies' luncheons were perfect excuses to serve the iconic foods of the time. 

So it was with a fondness for the movie we both so enjoyed that my friend, Karen, and I, hunkered down to watch the Oscars with snacks inspired by The Help--cocktails and tea sandwiches, three ways.

  • Cucumber with Black Pepper Boursin Pecan Spread
  • Radish with Salted Herbed Butter Spread
  • Pear and Pepper Candied Bacon on Blue Cheese Thyme Spread

Black Pepper Boursin Pecan Spread 
4 oz Boursin Cheese, Black Pepper
3 T sour cream
2 T chopped pecans
Blend all ingredients together well, and spread on whole wheat baguette rounds.  Top with thin slices of cucumber.

Salted Herbed Butter Spread
1 stick unsalted butter
4 T whipped cream cheese
1 tsp fleur de sel, or Maldon salt flakes
Assorted fresh herbs--we used garlic chives, thyme, oregano, and mint.
Mince stemmed herbs.  Add to processor bowl with butter, at room temperature, and whipped cream cheese.  Process until smooth.  Spread on baguette rounds and top with thinly sliced radishes.

Blue Cheese Thyme Spread
3 T crumbled blue cheese
4 T whipped cream cheese
3 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped
a shake of seasoning salt
Stir all ingredients together until well-blended.  Spread on baguette rounds.  Top with sliced pear, and pepper candied bacon (below).

Pepper Candied Bacon
1 lb uncured, natural bacon (no nitrates or nitrites)
4 T brown sugar
smoked black pepper
Lay slices of bacon on a rimmed, lined (silicone baking sheet, foil, or parchment) baking sheet.  Sprinkle brown sugar, and smoked black pepper atop.  Bake at 400 degrees until browned and chewy/crisp.  Allow to cool, then tear, or cut, into 1 inch pieces.

We may or may not have agreed with the major award winners, but one thing we did agree upon was the most beautiful dress of the evening:

Penelope Cruz arrives for the 84th Annual Academy Awards at the Hollywood & Highland Center, CA February 26, 2012.
courtesy of oscar.go.com

Who were your best dressed winners?

And more importantly, what were your favorite Oscar party snacks?

charcuterie & the ark of taste: hog's head cheese

weekender special edition
notes from maggie's farm

Head cheese, a type of charcuterie also called souse and brawn, is a highly-seasoned jellied loaf of meat scraps, most commonly pork. It is a member of a list of somewhat 'endangered' foods called the Ark of Taste, promoted by Slow Food USA, an organization dedicated to the pleasure of wholesome, traditional food with a commitment to community and the environment..  Originally hog's head cheese was made entirely from the meaty parts of the head of a pig or calf.  This version is a tad more, shall we say, domesticated, using traditional pork cuts, and derives its gelatin from a box, rather than a head.

Hog's Head Cheese
based upon a recipe in Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt, which itself was inspired by Bailey's Andouille & Produce, LaPlace, Lousiana.

2-3 pound pork shoulder roast
3 smoked ham hocks
1 head of garlic, separated into peeled cloves
3 ribs celery, minced
2 quarts filtered water
5 pkgs unflavored gelatin (we used Knox brand)
1 cup light beer (lager, as opposed to amber)
1 T kosher salt
1 T finely ground black pepper
1 t paprika
1 t cayenne pepper

The process for the recipe is based solely on Brown's recommendations, with few modifications.

Place roast and ham hocks in a 6-quart stockpot and add garlic powder and water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Lower the heat, maintaining a low boil, and cook, uncovered until the meat is falling-apart tender, about an hour.  The water will have decreased.  Add or remove enough water to make one quart.

Remove the meat and ham hocks from the pot, allow to cool, and refrigerate.  Place cooking water, uncovered, separately, to cool in refrigerator about 3 hours, or as long as overnight.  Once cooled, remove the layer of hardened fat.  Remove rind from ham hocks, discard, and pick meat from the bones.  Chop 1/4 of pork shoulder into 1/4inch cubes, and shred remaining meat.

Place the gelatin in a small bowl and pour 1 cup of light beer over.  Set aside.

Return the meat to the cooking liquid (now congealed, likely) and add celery and remaining spices.  Stir well to combine.  Bring to a full, rolling boil, over high heat, for 6-8 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in dissolved gelatin/beer mixture.  Pour into loaf pan, terrine, or individual molds  (our loaf was molded in a 9X5 pan) and allow to harden, overnight, in refrigerator.  Slice with a sharp, serrated knife and serve, traditionally, with saltines and your favorite hot sauce (ours is Louisiana Hot Sauce) for an appetizer or light lunch.  Brown suggests melting over hot grits for breakfast for a (really rich!) hearty breakfast, too.

As you see, no hog's head was used in the preparation of this Hog's Head Cheese.  Traditionally, the dish was prepared by boiling a hog's head (um, 'cleaned' and hollowed out, nose down) in a (head-sized) pot of boiling water, then allowing it to cook down until the meat began to fall from the, um, skull, and most of the, um, connective tissue dissolved.  You remove the, um, stuff that doesn't, like the skull, add the seasonings, remove and chop up the meat, reduce the liquid concentrating the gelatin (no Knox, back in the day), then mold and allow to set.  Some home cooks still use this traditional method, along with adding pig's feet and other, um, assorted items (truly the first waste-not-want-not cooks of recent history) to lend an even more gelatin-concentrated flavor, but by law, no modern commercial preparation involves cooking in the hog's head, in the United States.

The French have a similar product, named fromage de tete a l'ancienne, which Google translates to English as Cheese Head to the Old,.  I think I may be a cheese head to the old.  Or just an old cheese head.

Read more:
Slow Food USA: Ark of Taste, Southern Louisiana Hog's Head Cheese

Lenten Fridays: Creole Seafood Gumbo

freestyle fridays
notes from maggie's farm

We share a combination of cultural and religious traditions around here, and that means that on Fridays during the Lenten season we abstain from red meat, pork, and poultry.  We eat fish. Catfish, redfish, tuna fish...you name it.  This Friday, we're revisiting Mardi Gras with the best leftovers, EVER--Seafood Gumbo, 'cause everyone knows that Gumbo's better the next day(s).

Every well-seasoned cook of South Louisiana, it seems, has their own perfect recipe for gumbo.  Some add okra, others swear it off.  Some add tomatoes, some scoff.  Some serve it over rice, some over potato salad (Yes.  You read that right.  Potato Salad!).  Some demand a dark roux, some a tad lighter, and thinner. Some with garlic bread, some with crackers. And there are as many eater requirements as there are recipes.

Below, is just ONE version of Seafood Gumbo, and, in fact, it's one of several versions we prepare, and enjoy. I have a few personal preferences:  dark roux, no okra, no tomatoes, file powder (only on individual bowls), rice-but just a little, lots of dark stock, and it's just not right if it doesn't have oysters.  But, I repeat, these are just MY preferences.  Feel free to add, delete, substitute to make this your own.  You'll be on your way to a simmering pot of magic.

I find the secret to successful preparation of gumbo is the in the mise en place.  Chop, press, crush, peel, shuck, and mince all ingredients prior to beginning anything.  Collect seasonings, stocks, and other ingredients, and pre-measure.  Have cooking utensils you'll need at the ready. Be completely prepared before you even step foot up to the stove.  And, by all means, don't try to do anything while you're stirring that roux!  Well, okay, you can sing, dance, count your blessings or pray.  But that's about it.

So, prepare the following:  (refer to Tuesday's post, here, for hints and helps.)

2 chopped onions
5 ribs celery, chopped
1 large bell pepper, seeded and chopped (I use a red sweet bell pepper.  Green one's don't really 'agree' with me. This will be my first diversion from the norm.  There will be a few more before the gumbo's done, rest assured.)
1 head of garlic, loose papery skin removed, top sliced off, left whole (see below.  This is diversion #2.)
Approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pounds (before shelling, peeling,), each of
small shrimp, peeled and deveined
boiled crawfish tails, peeled
2 dozen oysters, scrubbed, shucked, and juices reserved, or one pint of shucked oysters with juice (reserved)
4-6 blue gumbo crabs, shelled, cleaned of gills, legs and claws removed (reserve legs for stock, and claws for da gumbo), and bodies broken in half.  (Note: the website referenced suggests only preparing live crab.  I just don't have the heart.  I buy quick frozen, half-cleaned gumbo crabs, which have been cleaned of carapace (outer top shell), the 'face', and often the gills, removed.  And they are dead.  If all of this sounds like more trouble than you want to go to, pick up a pint of lump crab meat and add it at the end of cooking.  You'll lose some of the slow-cooking crabby goodness, but, yes, you'll save mess and time.  And forevermore, don't use krab (artificial crab meat usually made of pollock, or another similar fish).  Just skip crab altogether before you go and do something considered absolutely vulgar in proper gumbo circles.

(Yet Another Note: Save all peels, shells, and heads to make seafood stock for future use.)

1 pound andouille, if not abstaining from meat, sliced 1/4-1/2" thick, on the diagonal.  (or if a good andouille is unavailable, try a well-seasoned beef smoked sausage, diversion #3)

And gather:
2 quarts seafood stock (I used home-prepared shrimp stock), or chicken, beef, vegetable stocks, or water, or any combination of all, in a pinch.
3T butter
1/4 c lard (or butter)
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Seasonings, suggested measurements with which to begin.  Adjust, to taste, in last thirty minutes of cooking:
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1T dried basil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt

one bunch scallions, green ends sliced, divided
one bunch parsley, chopped, divided
gumbo file' powder
prepared rice, or potato salad (see below)

In 3T butter, brown onion, celery and bell pepper over medium heat until limp, and liquid has been reabsorbed.  Remove from heat.

Prepare roux by whisking flour into 1/4 cup lard (or butter) and 1/4 cup vegetable oil, in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven (preferably cast iron) a little at a time, until all has been assimilated and is smooth.  Continue whisking or stirring, constantly, over medium heat, until roux is the color of dark chocolate.  Make sure to keep the temperature at medium, to avoid scorching.  This can take from 40 minutes to over an hour of stirring.  Get yourself a stool, put on some music, and hunker down.  If you get impatient and turn up the heat, it will likely burn the roux, and then it's ruined.  Throw it out and start over.  Never use scorched roux.  It's a waste of product and effort.  When color is achieved, remove from heat and add cooked vegetables, stirring well.  Return to medium low heat, and add stock and whole head of garlic (do not separate into cloves).  Increase heat to bring to a low, rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  Add crab (along with claws) and andouille, if using, cook for 15 minutes.  Add oyster liquid, parsley, and green onions, cook 15 minutes longer.  Add shrimp, cooking an additional 15 minutes, or until pink and fully opaque.  Add crawfish tails, oysters and remove from heat.  Allow to sit, covered, thirty minutes, and stir well just before plating.  Serve over rice or potato salad with a few pinches of gumbo file stirred in well, and garnish with parsley and green onions.

In some areas of Southern Louisiana, Cajun's often eat gumbo over potato salad, instead, or even in addition to, rice.  It's a unique flavor combination, and on occasion, we eat it that way, ourselves.  A quick and simple potato salad is best, and we prefer it without the sweet pickle, yellow mustard base of which many southern potato salads consist.  For this potato salad, we boiled 2 pounds of small red potatoes in water, to cover, seasoned with 1 tablespoon liquid crab boil, 1 T salt, and one half of a whole lemon.  Boil until tender, transfer potatoes to a bowl and mash.  Add 1/4 cup mayonnaise, or until your desired consistency, 2T chopped parsley, 2T chopped scallions, black pepper to taste.  Correct seasonings and serve warm, under gumbo.

As we discussed earlier in the week, creole and cajun foods differ in ingredients, cooking methods, and presentation.  Here, the creole style, served over rice, with toasted garlic bread is popular in the more urban, urbane areas (la-ti-da), while the cajun style, served over potato salad, with crackers, is popular among Cajuns in the more rural settings.  These, naturally, are generalizations, and in reality, trying to pin down, exactly, either of the styles is a lesson in futility. They each borrow, peacefully, from the other.  

digestive penance: daikon carrot cooler

thirsty thursday
notes from maggie's farm


I think I ate too much gumbo

And hog's head cheese.  And creole barbecue shrimp.  And beef daube glace.  And shrimp remoulade.  I ate it all. And copious amounts of rich, dark coffee, and maybe a little something more.  It was Mardi Gras!  And it was goooooood.  But now, as Lent is to spiritual repentance, so it shall be for digestive penance.  

We're going to scale back.  Way back.

Upon a recent visit with the doc, daikon was suggested to aid with digestive issues I was experiencing.  Armed with nature's prescription, I took to the books to find ways to incorporate the daikon, a rather mild, crispy member of the radish family, into my diet.

I ran across stir fries, and salads, and several variations of a daikon carrot tonic, based on a vegan, macrobiotic recipe and featured in The Kind Diet, by Alicia Silverstone.  (You can find a review of that diet by Web M.D. here, and information and review of a macrobiotic diet, here.)

Further, I discovered that daikon was popularly used to ease symptoms of many digestive disorders.  From popular website, Web M.D., (Daikon) Radish is used for stomach and intestinal disorders, bile duct problems, loss of appetite, pain and swelling (inflammation) of the mouth and throat, tendency towards infections, inflammation or excessive mucus of the respiratory tract, bronchitis, fever, colds, and cough.  How does it work?  Radish root may stimulate digestive juices and bile flow. Radish root may also be able to fight bacteria and other microorganisms.

It was a bit like preaching to the choir, because I already liked daikon, even before realizing it was good for me. And when I read some variations called 'weight-loss tea', well, now, that can't be bad at all.  Now, I'm not a doctor, (but I play one on the farm sometimes,) and, naturally, I can't vouch for any weight loss properties of this drink, nor any health benefits of recipes I discovered or created.  That said, although I'm not ready for a complete vegan diet, there is no doubt that a move towards a greater plant-based diet is the healthy way to go, so I'm happy to include this vegan refresher in my nutritional medicine cabinet.

I combined several elements of the recipes I saw, added a few of my own, and came up with a surprisingly refreshing tonic I'll be drinking every morning during lent.

Per serving:

1/2 cup grated (or processed) carrot and daikon
1 1/2 cup filtered water
1/2 tsp umeboshi plum vinegar
1 sheet toasted nori
2 large leaves of spearmint
fresh lemon, to taste  (meyer lemon gave this a unique flavor that was a particularly well-suited partner to the umeboshi plum)
agave nectar, to taste

Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil over medium high heat, reduce heat, simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Strain juice through cheesecloth, squeezing solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  Serve as is, at room temperature, or chilled, or sweeten with lemon and/or agave nectar, if desired.  

I tried it both plain, and 'gussied up' and I loved them both.  The umeboshi plum vinegar is for flavor, and the toasted nori is added for an additional macrobiotic-inspired shot of minerals.  I reserved the pulp and tossed it into a few cups of vegetable stock for soup at lunch.  Waste not, want not, as my grandmother would say. 

From upper left, clockwise, Grate or process carrot and daikon, add nori and remaining seasonings, strain through cheesecloth, squeeze to get every bit of goodness.


A little healthy-eating info:

There are several varieties of radishes, the most common being oval-shaped and red-skinned. Daikon is an oriental radish that resembles a fat, white carrot. Look for radishes with unblemished and brightly colored skin (in the case of red ones), a firm and compact texture, and short, bright green leaves.

Radishes will not keep as well with their tops left on, so remove the tops before storing. They will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Radishes are most often used in salads or as a garnish. Daikon radish is also often used in sushi rolls, and is delicious braised in a bit of sesame oil.

Nutrition Information
Red radishes are a great source of vitamin C and are rich in minerals like sulphur, iron and iodine. Daikon is even better with vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and folate, as well as sulphur, iron and iodine.

Carrots should be bright, firm and smooth skinned. Avoid carrots that feel rubbery or have cracks or small rootlets. Carrots vary in size depending on the variety, and any type can be harvested early as a more tender baby carrot, though some types are bred specifically to have smaller roots. The “baby” carrots typically found in supermarkets are larger carrots (usually varieties bred for consistent color and sweeter taste) that have been machine cut to achieve their tiny size and uniform shape.

Carrots will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Store them in plastic bags, or cut carrots can also be stored immersed in water in a plastic container (some experts recommend changing the water every few days). Do not store them near apples, bananas or melons as the ethylene gas those fruits produce will increase the bitter tasting compounds in the carrots called isocoumarins.

Carrots should be thoroughly washed and scrubbed. It is not necessary to peel them, although many cooks prefer to do so because it will change their surface texture and also will remove the outer layer that may contain more pesticide residue than the inside of the carrot.

Nutrition Information
Carrots are loaded with vitamin A. Look for red or purple colored varieties, which are packed with anthocyanins.

Also read:
The Health Benefits of Mint
The Health Benefits of Lemon
Natural Cures for Digestive Problems

like a well-watered garden: ash wednesday

(almost) wordless wednesday
notes from maggie's farm

"...Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."
Isaiah 58:9-11

laissez les bon temps rouler, cher!: making gumbo

mardi gras!
tips for tuesday
notes from maggie's farm

Mais Cher, we're going to learn how to make seafood gumbo!

We (that means you!) are going to learn how to make a gumbo of which you'll be proud this weekend, and a few preparatory pointers will give you the tools you'll need to become a gumbo master.  Or gumbo mistress, if you prefer.  On this edition of Tips for Tuesday, we've collected some links and videos to get you started.

Tips for Shucking an Oyster

(unless, of course, you buy them shucked, by the pint.  But good to know, naturally)

Tips for Peeling Crawfish

(unless you buy them peeled, and packed.  But, still, good to know.)

Tips for Peeling Shrimp
(unless you buy them peeled.  But, ....you know.)

Alton Brown Breaks Down a Roux, and more...
 and get's pretty technical, but that's Alton, you know.

And John Besh and James Carville, native sons, just do what they do...
...talk, mostly.

Other important things to know:
How to Make a Seafood Stock
Tips for Preparing Seafood Video Series
And, from one of my favorite cookbooks for cajun and creole cuisine, a neat interactive site, the hi-tech alternative to the book-in-hand, River Road Recipes Interactive Cookbook.  It's not free, it's not imperative, but it might make a nice little treat for yourself, and packed with several books-worth of notable regional recipes.

Join us this weekend, when you've recovered from the revelry, and we'll stir together all these tips into a fine pot of what can only properly be referred to as........magic.

Happy Mardi Gras, Y'all!

"STORE HOURS: OPEN most days about 9 or 10, occasionally as early as 7. But SOMEDAYS as late as 12 or 1. WE CLOSE about 5:30 or 6, occasionally about 4 or 5, but sometimes as late as 11 or 12. SOMEDAYS or afternoons we aren't here at all, and lately I've been here just about all the time, except when I'm someplace else. -- Bobby D."  Daigle's neighborhood grocery store, Algiers Point, New Orleans

creole vs. cajun: vive la difference!

lundi gras!
notes from maggie's farm

So, while we're one the subject of Lundi Gras, and by natural extension, Louisiana cuisine, what's the deal with Creole vs. Cajun cuisine?  Aren't they one in the same?

Well, actually, no.

In a nutshell, Cajun food originates in the river parishes, based primarily on foods that are easily trapped; wild game, crawfish, poultry, and a favorite of Cajun chefs in all it's forms: pork. It is hearty and heavily seasoned, though not always peppery-hot as has been over-simplified by the chain restaurant masses.  It is not unusual to find families gathered around huge communal pots of something, deliciously simmering all day long. Louisiana chef John Folse says,
Cajun cuisine is a "table in the wilderness," a creative adaptation of indigenous Louisiana foods. It is a cuisine forged out of a land that opened its arms to a weary traveler, the Acadian.
Further, Folse describes the Creole culture, and their cuisine,
The Creoles were the offspring born in New Orleans of the European aristocrats, wooed by the Spanish to establish New Orleans in the early 1690s.... Today, the term Creole in New Orleans represents the native born children of the intermarriage of the early cultures settling the city.These include the Native American, French, Spanish, English, African, German and Italian and further defines the cuisine that came from this intermarriage. 
Creole food is the more genteel product of New Orleans kitchens, historically, and utilizes cream sauces, shrimp, oysters and crab, and is more delicately spiced.  The differences are further delineated , quite thoroughly, in the article, French Quarter: Dining: Creole, Cajun, or Somewhere in Between?, and Folse is fond of summing the issue up, succinctly, by saying,
"Cajuns eat in the kitchen. Creoles eat in the dining room."

Even among natives of Louisiana, the differences are muddied, and you'll get a feel for the confusion, and fierce loyalties, in this lively discourse.

Today, the differences in the two cuisines can be illuminated by comparison of two very similar dishes-- *Creole Beef Daube Glace, and it's Cajun cousin, **Hog's Head Cheese.  Both are members of Slow Food's USA's Ark of Taste, a list, by region, of 'endangered' foods that are worthy of preservation.

For purpose of illustration, imagine two men at lunchtime, today, or 80 years ago, it's much the same.  Baptiste is our gentleman friend in New Orleans.  He's taking a break from a case he's been working on; he's the attorney on record for an unnamed politician, and his legal wranglings have left him with little time, but quite an appetite.  He decides a quick repast is in order, so he puts in a call to the house to have lunch delivered.  Something light, he requests.  Thirty minutes past, he answers the knock at the door, delighted to find his sweetheart, Evangeline, with a picnic basket.  He pulls the napkin from the top to spy the goodies she's packed for him.  Service will be on bone china, a pearl-handled knife to spread european-style butter upon his crisp, still warm baguette.  He's having a favorite snack, beef daube glace, served with cornichon.  Evangeline has thought of every last detail--she's packed the cruet of vinegar he'll sprinkle on his bread, a small carafe of Bordeaux and his favorite crystal goblet, even the condiments in their sterling carousel.  He's delighted to find the creme fraiche she prepared last night, and, naturally, a silver spoon.  He knows--this is the life.

Under the window of his office, on the sidewalk,below, Rene and Jacques brush the mortar and dust from their hands against the bib of their overalls, the closest thing to a clean spot they can find.  They've worked since sunrise, and although Rene's wife, Jolene, has packed a lunch for them both, they are eager to complete the stonemason's project for which they've been hired, in order to earn a small bonus for their efficiency.  Today, they are eager for the feast sure to be set before them, because they know it's Thursday, the day after Rene's sister makes the head cheese from pork scraps she's saved, and sends over a pan for his family.  Rene and Jacques are treated like kings--theirs are always the first slices of the loaf.  Jolene has thought of everything--a bottle of hot sauce, a tube of saltines for each, and in a small metal box, she's packed ice around two bottles of beer.  No bottle opener, but Jacques makes quick work of using the edge of the cement windowsill and a firm tap with his fist.  He pulls the hand towel from his belt loop and lays it out on the ground, Rene takes the utility knife from his toolbox, slices the head cheese into cracker-sized pieces, and they both relax for the first time that day.  Jacques takes a swig of cold beer, tops a first saltine with a slab of head cheese and hands it to his friend who shares this meal with him every Thursday.  Leaning back against the brick wall, they both know--this is the life.

Different food, different cultures, different lives, but yet all quite the same, in many ways.  Creole or Cajun, in food and in cultures--I think we can come to a consensus that it's all good, Cher!

Vive la difference!

*with modifications, we used the Creole Beef Daube Glace, page 166, found in Cooking Up a Storm, a post-Katrina recipe collection from the Times-Picayune newspaper, and identically here.
**with modifications, we used the Hog's Head Cheese recipe, page 40, inspired by a visit to Bailey's Andouille and Produce, in LaPlace, Louisiana, found in Feasting on Asphalt, by Alton Brown.

More on those recipes, with modifications, this Saturday, on the weekend edition of notes from maggie's farm, when we're doing our part to save these rare dishes from extinction.  Perhaps you'll pitch in on the effort by trying them out yourself.

Read More:
About.Com: Creole and Cajun Cookery
Coastal Living: Cajun vs. Creole
Factoidz: Differences between Cajun and Creole Cuisines
Are Cajun and Creole the Same?

around the farm: morning ritual

notes from maggie's farm

Weekends around here are often dedicated to 'real writing', (of course all writing is real writing) that is, writing that involves NO FOOD.  It's upon occasions like this one, and this one, I will write entire 'posts', or opinion pieces, or lifestyle pieces that have little to do with food, but much to do with one farm keeper's life, or life beyond.  Concentrating solely on the word, without having to make them dance around a specific food topic is liberating.  This blissfully damp morning is such a morning.

Poultry, chickens and ducks and turkeys and guineas and the like, get a bad wrap. People often call them dumb, or stupid, and for the life of me, and them, I can't understand why.  They fascinate me.  I could watch them for hours.  I'm so happy to have a spot from which to spy on my flock from inside my warm and dry home on days like these.

I looked out the kitchen window this morning, waiting for my coffee to cool from it's scalding-like-asphalt-fresh-from-the-pot temp, and watched one of our ducks, Click, partner to Clack, giving herself her sacred morning bath. This is no perfunctory get-ready-for-work shower.  Click revels in the bath, especially when her pond has been topped off with fresh water, whether from the tap, or, as is the case this morning, a rainfall, most awesome. Perched firmly at the edge, she ducks her head into the water, and then, emerging, tosses it from her bill, back onto her body.  Vigorously.  Over and over.  I mean, she gets a real kick out of this.  She strains her neck around and burrows her bill between feathers, shaking dust loose, unearthing any tiny insects that may have taken up nest since yesterday's bath.  She shakes off droplets, and preens about, inviting admiration from her fellow ducks, and grudging curiosity from the chickens with whom she shares the yard.  Click is the diva of the duck bath.

When she feels she's ready to put her best webbed-foot forward, she's off to the coop.  She's taken to laying her morning egg in the hen's nesting boxes.  Housing is no longer segregated; she insists upon equal sitting conditions.  She takes her own sweet time to deliver what she deems the finest egg among the morning's offerings--it's set apart from the pile of baby blues, khaki's, and peaches, this fine, large, thick-shelled alabaster-toned egg.  It really is a beauty.

Afterwards, she will dismount, descend the stairway, snag a spot of feed, have a little 'me time'.  She's not ready to join the ranks just yet.  Most of her day will be spent unearthing grubs and seeds and following, mostly, in line with her fellow ducks, but this moment is all her own, as if recharging after her morning duties. Perhaps a duck devotional, if you will. Like the morning coffee, bath, meditation and writing that prepares, for the day, the human that keeps her, she has her ritual, and is most at peace when able to keep it faithfully.

And then she's ready for demands of the day.

We are so grateful for you, the kind readers who stop by, give encouragement, keep us motivated.  Steph, at The Chickpea Chickadee and Rambling Wren (both great blogs, how impressive to keep up TWO!) is one such reader who often takes time to leave a little note, and in so doing, buoys the spirit of those of us who blog away, never really knowing, except by the inhuman 'stats' we consult, sometimes occasionally, sometimes obsessively, if what we go on about has any real value.

So it was with delight that we discovered Steph had graciously nominated us for a Liebster Blog Award.  Accolades!  We love accolades!
The origins of the Liebster Blog award are somewhat unclear but the general consensus is that it originated in Germany, Liebster meaning favorite or dearest, to showcase bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. Upon accepting the award the recipient must then pass it on to five more blogs of note.
The idea of the Liebster Award is to recognize up and coming bloggers who's work is among those that inform, delight, and reward us, regularly.  There are many in our blogroll who qualify!  To help narrow that field, the Liebster is intended for the newest of blogs, those with less than two hundred followers (yet).  The blogs that follow are all well on their way, and some may have arrived at that or more; I'm not certain how many followers each has, but how fun it is to capture them before the huge growth spurts they will all inevitably enjoy.

Secondly, to link back to the blogger from whom you were awarded, post your award, by saving the image, below, to your blog, and nominate five of YOUR favorite young blogs, as below.

With those guidelines in mind, I delight in sharing with you, in addition to Steph's blogs, The Chickpea Chickadee and Rambling Wren, five of my favorites:

Life at Cobble Hill Farm
Into the Domesticated
Girl Gone Grits
Alphabet Salad
and SouthAustinFoodie Adventures.

Some are new, some are new to me, I just know you'll enjoy them all.

Thank you for sharing your gifts with me, blogger friend.  My days are blessed by your words.

Party Gras!
Creole-Style Barbecue Shrimp

Barbecue shrimp, (or barbecued shrimp, or bbq shrimp, can't ever pin anyone down on this, or anything else of a Cajun nature, for that matter) neither cooked on a 'barbie', nor slathered with sauce of the same name, is a drippy, garlic-y, herbal-ly, buttery, delightful mess of a dish, adored by one and most, and certainly, yours truly.

I remember, long ago, when they were first offered to me.  It went something like 'Go ahead, order THAT.'  And I thought...First, um, Barbecue Shrimp?  Huh? Barbecue sauce on shrimp? Yuck.  When I was corrected and educated about the whole affair, I acquiesced, and ordered THAT.  Once served said dish, I was horrified to find the heads still on the shrimp, crazy-long feelers all poking out of the bowl,  little beady eyes looking up at me.  And then I realized that all that buttery, shrimp-heady sauce was going to get all over my hands when I peeled (and de-headed!) them.  Ewe!  (and I bet more than a few of you are thinking the same thing.)

Well, just as the late Justin Wilson, famous cajun cook and humorist, might say, I'ma tole you, its worth dat mess.  Dey going give you some oh dem wet nackins to clean you's hans, and you's gonna see dat dees babies is some good, cher.  You gots to pick you up sum of deez jumbo shrimps, maybe tree or two pounds,  and make dis stuff fo youself, and you will see it taste much mo betta than it looks.

See?  Not so easy to pin down Cajun matters, as I said.

The dish is not easy to find outside of Louisiana, or, for that matter, inside Louisiana, either.  Folklore suggests it originated at Pascal's Manale, in Uptown New Orleans, but history, and availability, is spotty.  So, after studying my favorite Creole cookbooks, and reminiscing upon the versions I'd been served, I took to the kitchen.  After testing about 15 pounds of shrimp's-worth of recipes (oh that was not so hard at all) as I am wont to do, I tweaked this sauce so that it tasted just like I remembered, plus a tad bit 'mo betta'.

Seriously, it's good, cher.

barbecue shrimp
serves 2 for an entrée,alone, 4 for main dish with grits, or 6 -8 appetizer servings

2 lbs jumbo shrimp, head's on  (I'm always going to use gulf shrimp, fresh almost always, and when I can afford a day-long road trip, straight from the boats)
2 small lemons, sliced
1 small onion, minced
1 head garlic, broken into cloves, but left unpeeled
 2 sticks butter, melted
1 small lemon, juiced
2 T crushed dried rosemary
1T from maggie's farm farmstand seasoning, or (all purpose seasoning of your choice, but omit salt added below)
1 t , or more to taste, crushed red pepper flakes
1 T schezuan peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 cup dark beer (Abita Beer, Turbo Dog is the dark beer of choice in South Louisiana)
Worcestershire Powder—I used 2 T of powdered Worcestershire, which lends a concentrated flavor, but doesn’t thin the buttery broth too much, however, if powdered Worcestershire isn’t handy, ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce may be substituted.
kosher salt, freshly-ground black pepper, hot pepper sauce (Louisiana (brand) Hot Sauce is our favorite, here) to taste

Layer shrimp, sliced lemons, and chopped onion in a baking dish.  Toss in the garlic cloves.  Combine broth ingredients and cover shrimp.  Bake, covered in a 375 degree oven, for 20-25 minutes, turning shrimp halfway, or until shrimp are pink and opaque.  (note: overcooking the shrimp will make them tough and hard to peel.)  Uncover, and let set until cool enough to handle.  Serve with a some warm damp cloth napkins (a dozen or so'll do you) and a baguette for 'sopping' the broth. This is not optional.  This is mandatory.  This is gooooood.

Photographer gets the leftovers.  Yay, me!
(Okay, if you must, you can serve these, optionally, over creamy grits.  But maybe you should still save some broth for at least a tiny piece of baguette.  Cause, really.  It's that good.)  
Pinch the garlic cloves and they will pop out of their skins.  We love to eat them, and the minced onion, on the chunks of 'dunked' bread, along with the shrimp. Peel shrimp by grasping the body firmly and twisting the head off. Turn the shrimp over and pull off its legs and peel away its shell, working from the top to the tail, then simply pull on it until comes away.

Why keep the shrimp heads (ewe!) on? 

The fat in the head melts, and lends it's flavor to the broth.  Believe me, it's not anywhere near as good if one uses heads-off shrimp.  Promise you, when you gently pull the heads away from the body, nothing gooky happens.
Y'all, it's sooooo worth the mess.

Read more:
Cajun English Dialect
Cajun French Glossary, Louisiana State University
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