taking the labor out of labor day

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

You get that call around 10 a.m.  'We're having a few friends over and we'd love for you to come!' and  'Could you bring a little something, too?'.  They ask because you are known for being at home, and at peace, in your kitchen.  And because they know you'll pull something together that delights all.  

That's just you. 

And you have a reputation to uphold, so there will be no stopping at the local supermarket for a limp and pallid vegetable tray. 

That's just not you.

You likely have a lovely platter that you'll get dressed to impressed without any outside help, and without any heavy-lifting, either, because, after all, this is your holiday, too!  You've got about 3 hours to get something together, you hope to shine, and you'd rather not blow your budget in the process.

What do you do?  What DO you do?

Well, friend, it's time like these that a well-stocked larder saves the day. And it keeps your labor out of Labor Day. So let's get to it. You're in a hurry!

We've got three luscious little bites; Polenta cakes topped 3 ways. A Crispy Caprese with pesto and a marinated mozzarella salad, a BBQ Pulled Pork with quickie slaw, and a southwestern Black Bean, Sun Dried Tomato with Bacon bite. No-cook, no-bake ('cause who wants to heat up the kitchen?) with ingredients you'll find, if not already in your pantry, no further than your closest grocery. 

Our Shopping List

  1. For Crispy Caprese Topping
    prepared polenta cake or roll, whole lemon, cherry or grape tomatoes, prepared pesto, mozzarella balls marinated in herbed oil (available in cheese department), sugar snap peas, fresh basil for garnish, optional
  2. For BBQ Pulled Pork Topping
    prepared polenta cake or roll, prepared pulled pork (available in meat section), prepared cole slaw (available in the deli case), favorite barbecue sauce, chives for garnish, optional.
  3. For Black Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato, Bacon topping, 
    prepared polenta cake or roll, sour cream, sun dried tomatoes marinated in oil, prepared crumbled bacon, refried black beans, rosemary for garnish, optional.

Prepare polenta by cutting into the shape and size you desire  (think individual bites, or even larger, serving sized cakes) with a knife or biscuit-type cutter. In a smidgen of butter, lightly brown squares (or rounds, or whatever) on each side, just until warmed.  Transfer to platter to dress.

1. Crispy Caprese Topping

Chop sugar snap peas in small dice, by slicing lengthwise in thin strips, then crosswise.  Halve tomatoes and mozzarella balls. Zest lemon. Toss all together with a little drizzle of the mozzarella marinating oil, and season to taste with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and a splash of lemon juice, if desired. Top polenta with prepared pesto, and mound salad atop. Garnish with fresh small basil leaves.

2.  BBQ Pulled Pork topping

Toss prepared pulled pork with barbecue sauce. Top polenta cake with a small spot of cole slaw, twist a chive into a loop, with tails, and top cole slaw, allowing tails to extend beyond slaw. Finish with a dollop of meat. Garnish with a bit of red cabbage and carrot from coleslaw.
3.  Black Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Bacon topping

Chop sun dried tomatoes and season with chopped rosemary, salt and pepper. Cream black beans, at room temperature, with a little sour cream, to yield a spreadable consistency. Top polenta cake with black beans, a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkling of tomato herb mixture, adding chopped bacon on top. Garnish with a small sprig of fresh rosemary.

Of course, this is just the beginning. Chopped basil with white beans, lemon zest, and sardines or tuna, Pinto beans, paper-thin slices of red onion, ground sirloin, chopped chile peppers on cabbage, Cubed chicken, capers, artichoke hearts, all ways we've dressed these same polenta squares or wedges, and all very well received among friends who've gnoshed with us.  Served with beer, wine, a spicy bloody mary--it's a party!

About Polenta:
Polenta is a coarse meal of whole grains, eaten as soft mush, or as a mush that is dried and then fried. In Italy, polenta may also be made with other ingredients (farro or chestnut flour, for example)– but to most people, polenta conjures up a dish made with coarse corn meal. While polenta and grits have some similarities, polenta is usually made with flint corn, while grits are usually made with dent corn or hominy.
The gelatinization of starches in cornmeal results in the smooth, creamy texture associated with polenta, as shown here. After it cools, polenta can be sliced in wedges or sticks, and pan-fried or oven-baked in a little olive oil, providing a lovely base to put under stews and thick sauces. --from Whole Grains Council.

stocking the larder

The ingredients we've used, above, are all items that are great to have on hand, stocked in your pantry for quick, yet accomplished, appetizing party foods, side dishes, salads, or last minute meals.  While we don't recommend prepared foods for every meal, they certainly can be useful in emergencies.

We've started with prepared polenta, which is shelf stable and is available in tubes and cakes, and can occasionally be found with added seasonings.  You'll find them on your grocer's shelves, usually in the whole grains section or gourmet foods aisle. Though our gardens usually provide us fresh vegetables, most of which we enjoy in season or preserve by canning or freezing, however we often pick up some of the nicest seasonal, organic produce available in our fresh produce section, or, alternately, buy from the frozen aisles, when we're experiencing less than abundant harvests, like during these hot, hot days of late summer. 

We keep fresh herbs growing in pots and in our gardens year long (and it saves us scads of money!), but you can also find these common herbs in the produce department. We might have the cole slaw fixings already in the fridge, and tossing together the slaw takes no time with a little dressing, but of course you can pick that up already prepared, or even have someone hit the drive thru at the closest local chicken place, to simplify even further.  

We have home-canned barbecue sauce in our pantry, but some bottled sauces are quite tasty, and that goes for pesto, too. You can choose your favorite--they both keep in the fridge, the sauce is vinegar-based so it keeps for quite a long time.  Pesto can be frozen after opening if you don't plan to use it within a few weeks. The prepared bacon and pork, and marinated mozzarella cheese are all commonly available in the market; I keep a container of prepared meat in my freezer for just such occasions. 

No pantry is complete without several types of canned beans.They are lifesavers for so many quick salads, soups, stews, and other dishes. Lastly, fresh lemons can always be found by the bowlful on our counter. They smell fabulous, they are beautiful, and zested, sliced, or juiced, can dress up a dish like no other fruit. If we've been a little over zealous in their purchase, we handle the overstock thusly, and we're happy with those results, too!  And cheese?  Oh, we always have cheese.  Always.

Keeping your pantry well-stocked saves a lot of time and energy for times when you have little to spare. It'll help you keep labor out of labor day, so you can spend it doing those things you look forward to all week long, for at least one day longer than usual......

Wishing you a wonderfully relaxed no-labor, Labor Day.

words for wednesday: introduction to poetry 180

words for wednesday: poetry 180
notes from maggie's farm

Click on image to enlarge
Poetry can and should be an important part of our daily lives. Poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member of the human race. By just spending a few minutes reading a poem each day, new worlds can be revealed.--Billy Collins, Former Poet Laureate of the United States.
Poetry 180 is a Library of Congress program designed to expose high school students to poetry by having one poem read aloud in high schools across the country each school day.  Poems are curated by Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States.  

Believing in the power of life-long learning as a means of living a full and enriching life, these beginning days of the school year always encourage me to delve into something new, or something familiar, in a deeper way.  Having a passion for the written word, I'm always intrigued by others' thoughts, and use of, language.  

I'm not always able to travel as often, and as far, as I'd like, so I leave this little farm through literature, without even having to depart my comfortable porch, or abandon my steaming cup of coffee. I'm going to be following along with Poetry 180 this year, occasionally sharing my favorites with you.  I'd love to have you travel along with me!  

Learn More...

cooking with whole grains

tips for tuesday
notes from maggie's farm

The USDA Dietary Guidelines suggest consuming at least three or more one-ounce servings of whole grains every day, depending on age and gender.  For small children, 3-5 ounces, women, 5-6 ounces, and for men, 6-8 ounces are recommended.

Why whole grains?

"For starters, (baking with) whole grains gives you and your family more nutritition in every bite. A whole grain has three edible part--the endosperm, germ, and bran. Each part contributes one or more essential components of a healthy diet.The endosperm, or inner part of the kernel, is basically a carbohydrate, which we need for energy. The germ is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with B vitamins, Vitamin E, zinc, iron, copper, selenium and magnesium. The germ also contains phytochemicals, which is consumed regularly, may help reduce the risk of developing cancer or cardiovascular disease. The bran, or outer layer of the kernal, provides necessary dietary fiber."

"Whole grains can play a role in weight control, as they fill you up more than refined grains, according to a 2003 Harvard School of Public Health study. Researchers found that women who ate more whole grains consistently weighted less than those who chose refined grains. Whole grains take longer to digest, so they keep you feeling fuller, longer. If you're not hungry, you're not as tempted to nibble, and this helped women in the study maintain their weight." (Hodgson Mill Whole Grain Baking, 2007)

Taking longer for digestion to occur, conversion of starch to sugar is slowed, preventing spikes in blood sugar that can lead to insulin resistance - a major driver of obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

From Dr. Andrew Weil, Balanced Living
Cooking with Whole Grains

General tips on cooking with whole grains:

  • For most grains, rinse prior to cooking to remove any debris (rolled oats and kasha are exceptions). It's particularly important to rinse quinoa, which has soap-like components called saponins that can taste bitter and have a laxative effect. To rinse, place in a bowl of cold water and swish around with your fingers, refilling the water once or twice. Drain in a fine-meshed strainer.
  • To reduce cooking time for longer-cooking grains, pre-soak them for a few hours or overnight (with the exception of quinoa, which has a bitter coating that can be absorbed if soaked; rinse quinoa briefly instead).
  • Except where stirring or uncovering is suggested, don’t remove the lid while cooking grains, as it disrupts the steaming process.
  • If you are watching your sodium intake, feel free to cook your grains in unsalted water. Otherwise, one-fourth teaspoon of sea salt goes a long way (add salt when you combine grain and water in the pot). Alternatively, try using vegetable broth as the cooking liquid, or for a more exotic flavor, a 50/50 mixture of water and juice. You can even add a splash of wine or dried herbs.
  • It’s generally a good idea to purchase grains in bulk, except where otherwise noted. Some grains such as rice and oats are found at typical supermarkets, but you will have better luck finding more obscure grains, such as teff and amaranth, at your local natural foods store. For all grains, opt for organic varieties from the bulk bins of health food stores whenever possible - they have higher turnover rates, which improves the likelihood of freshness.
  • Store in tightly sealed containers in the pantry (or another cool, dry, dark place). Even better: store in the refrigerator if you have room. Unless otherwise noted, properly stored grains can last up to one year.

The grain-by-grain guide below offers everything you need to know about cooking with whole grains, including historical and cultural heritage, common varieties, nutritional value, storage tips, healthful recipes, and standard cooking instructions. Try these grains as part of a healthy diet plan: 

mondays in the country: a farm harvest lunch

meatless monday
notes from maggies's farm

Rather not hear me prattle on about country life?  Skip down to the bottom of the post for 'The Formula' for this happy, healthy farm harvest lunch.  No, really.  You won't hurt my feelings.  Some days, and likely, readers, are just not built for prattle.

Mondays on the farm start early, as we play catch up from our less than vigorous farm duty schedule on Sunday.

We try to keep the Sabbath.  We find it helps us keep our sanity if we spend a dedicated day not dedicated to duties we perform most every other day of the week.  We're not always successful, but if we work at all, it is usually on projects other than gardening, if for no other reason but that when we make it home from church, and maybe lunch afterwards, it's in the heat of the day, and that's not the best time to find one's self in the garden.  It's also lovely just to putter around the house together, or separately, together, sometimes, attending to the little and not so little things that don't really have a secure spot in the day-by-day weekly schedule.  Change the oil in the car.  Make out-of-town family phone calls. Wash the dogs.  Or maybe we do nothing—take a drive, stop to hike a little, go window shopping around the square.

Just so happens that this week is rush week on the University of Texas campus, and while my husband usually can be found milling about, from task to task, keeping the house of Alpha Delta Pi ship-shape year-round, this week it's all party all the time, and all hands on deck for the feeding, clean up, and care of and after the thousands of girls that will stream through the beautiful old sorority house on West Campus.  We spent all day Sunday, after church, listening to the unending chant:  "I wanna go A-D-Pi, That's Alpha Delta Pi…….".  Over and over and over at the top of their lungs.  I don't know how they do it.

So, as I said, we play catch up on Monday.  Usually one of us will get coffee, the other will soft boil an egg for each, just before hitting the chore list.  Sometimes we discuss who will do what.  Sometimes we just dive in, working with, and around each other, without really declaring the morning's to-dos.  We've been doing this a little while, and really, no words are necessary.  We just go about doing what needs to be done.

Feed the dogs and provide fresh water.  Same for the cats, the bunnies, the chickens and ducks.   Pump the duck pond into the melon bed, scrub out the 'pond', and refill with fresh water.  Ducks go crazy for the fresh water.  We'll take a minute to watch.  We gather eggs, and refresh the hay in the nesting boxes.  Rake out any muck in the poultry runs, and give a general straightening up to the housing for chickens, ducks, and rabbits.  We lead the goats out to graze, while someone rakes out their housing, cleans and refreshes their stock pond, freshens the hay.

The plants that have hung on this long are watered.  We lost a bit over the last few weeks, as we simply could not keep up with the watering demands of a heat-soaked, but rain-free climate.  Still, there's quite a bit of watering to do.  Usually takes a few hours, while we work in spurts between changing out sprinklers, swapping hoses, switching timers, etc.  One day it will all be automatic.  That day is not this day.
Besides the extra weekend clean up, this is pretty much like every morning goes.  And then we're on to the gardens.  We weed a little, revitalize an area whose crop is done with the spot, survey and plan, and harvest.  Some months of the year, this, too, can take a few hours.  Sometimes even a few hours, twice a day (Okra, why are you so labor intensive?).

But these are the days when the summer's harvest begins to dwindle, and some days, the harvest is small.  Even when we've skipped a day of picking and pruning, we'll yield a small handbasket-full, rather than the bushels of early summer.  Still, what a joy to simply go to the garden for the day's meals, which we so often do.

By about 11, we begin to get hungry, so I take that day's bounty (or less than bountiful bounty, like in August), escape to the cool kitchen, and plug our daily bread (and vegetables, and herbs, and eggs…..) into a surefire formula for a healthy and wholesome farmers' lunch.

The Formula

Grain.  Preferably whole grains like barley, whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, oats, wheat berries—whatever you've got in your pantry.  We make sure we've got ours stocked well.  Other options include rice noodles, plain pasta, gluten-free options, even day old bread cubes.  Sky's the limit, really. 
Protein.  Cheese, meat, seafood, shellfish, egg, tofu, tempeh, or beans
Vegetables.  Fresh, preferably.  Whatever you've got growing. 
Herbs and Seasonings.  Fresh or dried.  
Saucy Things. Lemon Juice, Vinegars, Oils, Butters, Milk or Cream, Stocks-seafood, chicken, vegetable.  Pesto.

We've gone meatless this Monday by tossing a handful of homemade ricotta with whole-grain penne pasta as it was strained.  While still warm, we tossed that with chopped, fresh gold and red tomatoes, sliced yellow and green sweet bell peppers,  a sprinkling of roasted lemon powder and cracked red pepper for a much needed little pep in our step, and a dollop or two of basil-mint pesto—equal small bunches of fresh mint and basil leaves, thrown together in the processor with another handful of whole almonds and parmesan cheese, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper, and as the motor runs, streaming in about a quarter cup of good quality olive oil.  (You'll have plenty left for other meals.  Refrigerate for no longer than a week, or freeze in ice cube trays for single-serving portions to use for as long as 6 months.) Tossed all together, add garnished with a little lemon zest, we had a wholesome, fresh-flavored lunch in little more than the time it took to boil the pasta.  

Come by tomorrow when we learn more about whole grains, and their importance in a healthy diet, along with more fresh-fare ideas using this handy formula, on Tips for Tuesday, Notes From Maggie's Farm.

Now we've got to get back to catching up.  Will this Monday ever be done?

There's No Place Like Home: Texas Persimmons

saturday simplicity
notes from maggie's farm

Well, I... I think that it... that it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em... and it's that if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.--Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
I've always wanted to forage for wild edibles, kind of like the Ingalls sisters, or Swiss Family Robinson, but I've never seemed to be able to gather anything I was confident was safe to eat.  Envious of those who collect wild morels and ramps and elderberries and the like, I'd pretty much resigned myself to the thought that foraging, unless I could get myself out to the northwest coast, for me, meant coming upon a new farmers market.

When I lived in Louisiana, we used to pick scads of dewberries and muscadine grapes, but I haven't been able to find them here. Mustang grapes grow wild in our area, but I'm always a day late and a dollar short upon searching out my friends' hidden troves. Prickly pear cactus fruit is fairly abundant on the roadsides here, but YOW. It's a very sticky situation.

Recently, I've seen a few local friends posting pictures of the prettiest handfuls of dark, plump berries they called Texas Persimmons. I'd never seen them, had no idea where to get them, and as social media is most effectively wont to do, I was a tad jealous of what my friends had.....and I didn't.

Skip ahead a few days ago.  Much barking and commotion was afoot in the front of the property and I set out to discover about which all the fuss was. One dog accompanied me on my walk to the front, which seemed odd, because usually all available paws are encouraging me on my route.  "Where are your running buddies, Rudy?", I asked, my question met with much tongue and tail wagging.  I could hear two other barks, and as I got closer to the fence, I saw what the party was all about.  There were Scout and Annie, racing up and down the fence line, greeting me happily, from the wrong side.

Apparently it was easier to figure out how to get out, than how to get back in, and it took a little wrangling to get, first, wriggly Annie, and secondly, big, furry Scout, back on the right side of the law.

As I built a sophisticated system (Okay, yeah. A pile of rocks.) for keeping the dogs from making the same mistake again, at least in THAT spot, I struggled against the branches of this darned bushy tree that kept scratching me and dropping big purple soft berry-like fruit......

WAIT!  Wait just a minute!  These are Texas Persimmons!! Branches heavy, hanging low, pregnant with hundreds of globes. FREE food. FORAGED food. Right in my own front yard. Seriously.  Popped one in my mouth and, yep, that's exactly what they were--tasted just like the big orange persimmons of my past.

We've been farming here for almost 5 years and this is the first I've noticed them.

And as this simple little place continues to do, I was taught a very obvious and tangible lesson that day.  The treasures you seek, and often think are out of reach, may just be buried right under your nose.

There really is no place like home.

Be sure to drop in next week.  We'll learn more about these Texas Persimmons, and make a fancy little jam with them, if things work out (which means if we don't eat them all, first).  

roasted hatch chile & smoked cheddar blue corn grits with bacon

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

Earlier this week, we got busy roasting our Hatch chiles for our favorite chile-enhanced dishes. Today, a family favorite.

Although Hatch chile season coincides with the hottest days of summer, their roasty, toasty flavor always reminds me of Christmas.  Christmas? Yep, Christmas.

Every Christmas morning, from the holidays of my grown girls' early childhood to the sweet ceremony of just two, through changes in casts of characters and scenery, from Louisiana to Texas, from huge white-flocked trees to smaller, woods-chopped versions, from surroundings of boxes upon boxes, gifts upon gifts, wrapping paper strewn about to small and simple celebrations, one thing has remained constant.  Cheese grits.

They began, in those early days, much like my mother's cheese grits.  A tube of processed garlic cheese, a tube of processed pepper cheese, butter, and grits.  They morphed into grand sausage-laden, garlicy, oniony casseroles. They made their way through, meatless,  vegan cheese and field roast versions. They were transported to Christmases in Oklahoma and Texas. They were sent along in various containers, for those who wouldn't be with us some seasons. Those years when we, amazingly, had a few dollars left over after the grand gift-giving, they were accompanied by shrimp, and occasionally, grillades--veal medallions with red eye gravy--both regional traditions of the South. 

For the past few years, we've settled on a favorite.  

We celebrate the memory of summer, on cool Christmas mornings, by pulling out our frozen stash of roasted Hatch chiles, and combine them with superior ingredients: eggs from our own flock, the very best smoked cheddar cheese we can get our hands on, home-cured bacon (or, perhaps, cured in another's home, like what we'll find at the farmers market), and stone ground grits.  Our favorite is the organic stone ground blue corn grits we find at the mill of Homestead Heritage in Elm Mott, Texas.  We'll talk more about grits after the recipe.

First, a reminder about roasting Hatch chiles.  You'll find various methods at this link, from earlier in the week.  Today, we've used the broiler to make quick work of a small batch.

  1. Wash and dry peppers.  Lay them flat on a silicone pad-lined baking sheet pan.  (Alternatively, foil-lined, or even silicone sprayed or lightly oiled sheet pan will do.) 
  2. Preheat oven broiler and adjust grate to just under the heating element.  Place peppers under broiler, utilizing exhaust fan, because the aroma can be overpowering, and, sometimes, irritating to eyes and nose. 
  3. Broil for about 8-10 minutes, or until skin is blistering and blackened.  Remove from heat.  
  4. Turn peppers, handling carefully to avoid burns, and return to broiler.  Char peppers on opposite side.  
  5. When fully-toasted, remove from oven, and carefully transfer all to a large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam and 'sweat', for about 30 minutes.  
  6. After steaming, skin will be easy to remove simply by 'pinching' the charred skin, and pulling away.  (While many suggest running peppers under a stream of water to easily remove skin, we recommend not using this method, as it washes away precious flavor.) 
  7. Remove stems, stringy pith inside, and seeds, if you like your peppers mild.  We retained some of the seeds, 'cause that's how we roll.  
  8. Peppers may remain whole, sliced, or chopped for freezing.  Slice into thin strips, then slice crosswise for uniform pieces for this dish.

Creamy, cheesy, smoky grits, infused with our precious bits of roasted Hatch chiles is comfort food at its finest.  You can make these vegetarian by skipping the bacon, and vegan by substituting vegan versions of milk, cheese, and eggs.  We're not either, so it's full-on bacon and dairy, along with the superior stone ground blue corn grit, for our favorite holiday tradition.  

But, hey! Grits aren't just for breakfast, and they aren't just for our holiday tradition.  We eat them all day long, and all year round, too!  In fact, they'll be making an appearance at our next fellowship dinner at church. This recipe will yield 8 healthy breakfast main servings, and perhaps as many as 10-12 as a side.


2 cups cooked stone ground blue corn grits, prepared according to package directions with 4 cups of water, 4 cups of whole milk, and 2 tsp of salt (we used stone ground grits for the health benefits of whole grains, as well as their superior texture and taste.  Feel free to substitute prepared stone ground yellow or white corn grits, hominy grits, quick-cooking grits, or instant grits, as well, cooking according to package directions.)

1 cup (about 8 large peppers) chopped roasted Hatch chiles (Can't find Hatch chiles?  Substitute Anaheim, or New Mexico green chiles, instead. Don't have time for roasting chiles?  Use canned--there are even roasted green chiles in cans available these days.)

8 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, grated (Want these really cheesy-gooey fabulous?  It would not ruin them to as much as double the cheese suggested here.  We love cheese, too!)  Reserve a little for garnish.  Or double the amount and use a lot for garnish. C'mon.  It's Christmas! It's August!

8 slices thick-sliced bacon, prepared by broiling 5 minutes on one side, flipping, then 2 minutes on the additional side (see note, above, on the bacon, too.  We fried the whole pound, reserved some for garnish, then nibbled as we cooked, because that is also how we roll.)

4 whole eggs

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a lightly oiled casserole dish, combine eggs, cheese, bacon, and green chiles.  Stir in hot, prepared grits, (being careful not to come in contact with grits, which will be the approximate temperature of molten lava) and combine well.  Correct seasonings.  Cover, and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.  Remove cover, (add additional cheese, if using), and cook additional 10 minutes, or until top is bubbly and browned.  Allow to cool before serving.  Garnish with reserved crumbled bacon, and, heck, maybe even more cheese.  Chives are a nice, healthier touch, too.

About Grits

Grits are cooked, milled corn, made into a porridge or cereal product, much like oatmeal. Part of the beauty of grits is the variability in texture, color and taste. The final taste of grits is unique to the corn variety and farm where the corn was grown, the milling process, and the unique cooking process and ingredients the cook uses to impart flavor. 

Grits are made from yellow, blue and white corn; blue and white being preferable to yellow, as they are less starchy. The corn is dried and processed with lye or ash. Whole processed corn is often referred to as hominy, ground hominy as grits.

Instant grits, available everywhere, have had the germ removed to speed up cooking time. Stone ground grits remain whole grains, thus healthier, and can be eaten as one of the three recommended daily whole grain servings

Expect stone-ground grits, available at small mills, health food stores and some supermarkets, to simmer about 40 minutes.  One cup of stone ground grits should be cooked in 4 cups of liquid; the addition of whole milk as part of all of liquid yields a creamier result.  Add additional liquid at end of simmering time if grits are too thick or dry.  Consistency should be about that of oatmeal, or thin mashed potatoes.

Learn more about grits:
Video: What's So Great About Grits?
Grits: This Southern Staple Isn't Just For Breakfast
World Grits Festival 

back to school

(almost) wordless wednesday
notes from maggie's farm

The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.  ~Ralph W. Sockman

Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress.

roasting chiles: hatch!

tips for tuesday
notes from maggie's farm

We're getting busy today, roasting our case of Hatch chiles, which are in stores now.  

Hatch chiles, grown in the valleys around the small town of Hatch, New Mexico, are 3-5 inch, bright green commas, mild, with a heat profile between the mildest bell pepper, and the more fiery jalapeno. Chiles that are left on the vine eventually turn red. They have a unique smoky, sweet flavor that complements the many sweet and savory preparations that boast them, especially popular this time of year.

Hatches are harvested for about four weeks, culminating in the Labor Day, Hatch Chile Festival, in New Mexico.  Read more about Hatch Chiles, the Hatch Chile Valley, and the Hatch Chile Festival, here.

Hatch chiles can be used fresh off the vine in any dish, but their unique flavor is especially complemented by roasting.  Below, a quick video teaching how to roast any type of pepper, in the oven, on a gas stovetop, or on the grill.

We'll be stirring up all types of Hatch later in the week, so be sure to check back in and see what we're up to.  Have a great week!

Read More:
Hatch Valley Chile Festival

make me an instrument of your peace

notes from maggie's farm

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

thanks madbetty! (a day at the spa)

sweltering saturday
notes from maggie's farm

It was a scorcher that Austin afternoon, and I simply could not bear the thought of running errands in Friday-we've-got-to-get-anywhere-but-HERE-traffic. But I had a few hours to kill. And a gift card in my pocketbook!  

Called, secured an appointment, and was on my way to Mecca within an hour.  

A few weeks before, I'd won a gift card worth an hour plus massage from Madbetty.  I really needed it!  

I love Madbetty. 

Naturally, given the opportunity, (and being the total sucker that I am) I upgraded even further.  And the glass of Prosecco I was offered turned into 2, and another 14 bucks.  And while farmers don't always have the funds for such extravagance, my gift card meant that I had a little extra cash.  For drinks and a tip, and AROMATHERAPY.  So I succumbed to the charming receptionist's temptations.
He showed me the way to the dressing room, where I traded my civvies for a big fluffy robe and signature flipflops.  And then I peeked into all the nooks in crannies in this very well-appointed dressing room. 

You expected overalls, didn't you?  Well even farmers have going-to-the-city duds for just such occasions.

After two glasses of Prosecco, 80 minutes of massage, cedarwood, grapefruit, and lavender oils wafting through the room, and Zamfir-the-flute-player-going-at-it-with-crickets-and-frogs-next-to-the-creek coming from well-placed speakers, I was absolute putty.

I returned to the den of secrets, also known as the ladies dressing room, took a brief shower, then played Kim Kardashian in the mirror.  Yeah, no one else was there.  You know you'd have done it, too!

I have trouble with the duck lips thing.
Surely, I was in a dream state, looking back on it now.  

Because, if just for this one afternoon, instead of spitting and snorting and snarling in Austin traffic...

I blew kisses.



red grape, bacon & kale salad with balsamic goat cheese vinaigrette

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

Before I could stomach collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, swiss chard, and all those other healthy green things, kale was my first love.

You might call it my gateway green.

The word is out, now, and kale is everywhere!  Kale chips, especially, seem to be the snack of the moment.  The last few moments, in fact.  Kale has been finding its way into soups and stews for a while. Doctors love it, eat it, cook it, give it the hard sell.
Kale is among the most nutrient-dense commonly eaten vegetables. One cup provides 1,327 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin K, 192 percent of DV for vitamin A, and 88 percent for vitamin C.-- Dr. Andrew Weil
And in hot, dry Texas, gardeners love it, too!  It's ironclad in my garden. Behaving much like it's cousin, the collard green, kale is at its best during the cooler season, but, in my gardens, grows all year long, never going to seed. I grow several varieties, and we love them all.  Even my notoriously picky family requests kale, fresh from my garden.  

Commonly, you will find me sauteing kale in a little oil, with garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Sometimes I toss in some grated parmesan cheese.  It's a traditional Italian preparation of the green. I may toss it with some seasoned homemade bread crumbs--I've taken to stuffing all manners of vegetables with it, too. 

Kale, the firmest of the greens, stands up well to heat, however is often a little too stiff to eat raw. If you show it a little attention, it will soften up a little, just like we all do.  

So give kale a massage.  You heard me right.  Massage your kale.  Maybe it's had a rough day.

A quick massage, of the leafy, destemmed green will soften, and sweeten kale, making it perfectly delightful in raw salads.  For this dish, I've destemmed what would be the equivalent of two market-sized bunches, and sliced, crosswise, in 1/4 to 1/2" ribbons.  In a large bowl, I tossed and massaged the greens with about 2-4T olive oil and 1/2t kosher salt.  Letting the greens 'marinate' in the olive oil for a while will yield the same effect.  The massage, or marination, breaks down kale's cellulose structure, thus 'wilting' the green.

While kale marinates (massage for a few minutes, then let sit for about 5, before proceeding), Destem and slice 2 cups of red table grapes.  Pan fry or bake 1/2# bacon.  (Okay, you don't need that much.  But bacon..c'mon....it's so good. And you know you're going to steal a slice from that batch.  Do it.  Live a little!).  Drain bacon on paper toweling, cool, and crumble. Crumble, and set aside, about 4-6 oz firm goat cheese.

In a small  bowl, whisk together the remainder of the 4T of olive oil, above, that didn't go into the massage session, 4T good quality balsamic vinegar, 2tsp brown sugar, and 2t dijon mustard.  Season, to taste, with kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  Stir in goat cheese and bacon.

Toss halved grapes and prepared vinaigrette with kale. You may choose to add the kale stems, sliced thinly, for a little added texture.  Correct seasonings. 

This salad will keep, refrigerated, for several days, thanks to our firm, green friend; Kale.

cherry lime moscato granita

thirsty thursday
notes from maggie's farm

It's probably getting tiresome, the talk about heatwaves and droughts, huh?  I mean, if we're experiencing them, we don't need to be reminded, and if we aren't, we don't want to hear the whining.

So, okay. I won't.  I won't say a word about it.  

But if, for instance, someone I knew found themself in similar circumstances, I'd recommend cooling off with some of this stuff.  

I like this Cherry Lime Moscato granita for it's grown-up flavors.  Not too sweet, crisp, the occasional tartness.  It makes a great afternoon pick-yourself-up-from-the-melted-pile-of-heat-exhausted-you, if, of course, you find yourself in that state.  But not sure why I even mentioned it.

It's also a perfect palate cleanser, between courses (because nothing says summer supper on the porch better than a 6 course dinner), or maybe just a light dessert.  That's how we enjoy it.  The man with the sweet tooth around here drizzles honey on his.  I eat mine straight.  Well, kinda straight.  Because there's that Moscato wine in it, so, in fact, it would not be straight, would it?  

Well, we're just getting picky now. Go make yourself some of this--it'll be ready by supper. On the porch.

IN THIS UNBEARABLE HEAT! (I just couldn't help myself.)

Gettin' juiced up

There are a few ways you could go about this.  You could use your juicer to juice pitted cherries. No juicer?  You could puree pitted cherries in a blender and have an almost-all-juice granita with a few solid pieces of cherry.  That wouldn't be bad.  Or you could take that puree, and transfer to a pan, and cook down under low heat to extract more juice.  All fine options.

Or you could go buy a bottle of cherry juice concentrate.  That's what I did.  I was short on time, money, and patience.  I just skipped to the chase.   

To the quart of cherry juice concentrate, I added one pint Moscato wine.  Any sweetened wine will work here, and should you have another favorite, by all means, use it. And play around with the proportions, to taste.  You may want more wine. You know who you are, you wino, you.

I added the juice and zest of 4 key limes.  Key limes are much smaller than regular limes.  If you just can't find the key lime, add the juice and zest of 1/2 regular limes, and a little bit of simple syrup or honey to sweeten the deal.  

I poured the mix in a small metal pan.  Conducts the chill well, and weathers the in and out and scraping to and fro that this requires.

And then, the most difficult part of the entire process.  Clearing a spot in your freezer for a metal pan of this elixir.

When you do manage to clear that level spot, slide it, carefully, into the freezer.  Don't mess with it for 2 hours.

Then, take the pan out, and scrape it with a fork to break it into crystals.  It won't be frozen solid yet.  You'll just scrape the entire pan like this, once an hour, until it's a frozen batch of crystaline fabulousness. You won't want to just leave it there the whole time and try to scrape it at the end of it's freeze-time, because it will be a block of ice, that won't take kindly to your fork pawing away at it.  It's quite a bit more agreeable if you check in on it every hour.  With a fork.  Then back into the frozen fray.  

It took about 5 hours for ours to be ready to serve.

All that's left after that is a healthy scoop-up, and maybe a garnish, if you wanna get fancy.  Maybe a slice of lime, a few cherries, a mint leaf or three, maybe even a jaunty little cap of whipped cream. Whatever delights your senses.  You just want, at all cost, to keep your mind off of..............

HOW UNBEARABLY.....well, you know.

happy 100th, julia!

there aren't enough words, this wednesday
notes from maggie's farm

Dear Julia,

Because that's what you'd have us call you, I imagine.  You came into our kitchens, and our lives, and our hearts, and made yourself at home.  Made us feel as if we were buddies, sitting around our kitchen table with a cup of coffee, perhaps seasoned with a little nip of brandy. All these generations of us.

You were called a 'late bloomer' but really, what you were, was an explorer.  An explorer who happened to find herself, at the end of her seeking, in a kitchen in France.  And boy, are we lucky you did.  From one 'late bloomer' to another, thank you for inspiring us all to follow our passion until we find ourselves right in the thick of it.

And thank you for being a bit awkward.  Somewhat gangly.  Not exactly an ingenue.  Because most of us aren't, either. We don't really look like the celebrity chefs of today. We mostly look pretty average, with some imagined flaw we'd like to hide, but we don't, because women like you, so few and far between, unapologetically embraced their uniqueness, and in so doing, helped us to do the same.  You taught us to shine from the inside.

Thank you for not taking yourself too seriously. Thank you for laughing at yourself. Thank you for making mistakes, and sharing them with the rest of us.  We make lots of mistakes, too. Even the best of cooks do.  You showed us that. And you make us feel absolutely normal when we do. Normal, and capable, still.

Thank you for embracing life, living, and loving fully, and sharing your passion for food.  You've raised up some knowledgeable cooks who wish they could invite you into their kitchen to show you what they've made of your instruction.  If you happen to be looking down on us, how about this roasted chicken I whipped up? The tarte aux poireaux et chevre?  The potage parmentier, the roti de porc .... or simply the finest eggs any breakfast ever boasted?  While it may be a tiny bit your fault that I can't button my jeans today, I can't hold it against you.  You taught me to eat well. And feed the people I love well. They thank you, too.

Happy Birthday,  Julia.


Read More: 

And for more neat images, visit
The Julia Child Photo Collection, The Coop; The Harvard/M.I.T. Cooperative Society Store.

Photo Credits: 
Top Photo, Clockwise, from top left:
Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, Amazon, Vanity Fair
Photo 2, Clockwise, from top left:
History Channel, Relish, Yahoo Shine, Splendid Table, Smithsonian Magazine
Photo 3, Clockwise, from top left:
The Kitchn,  Smithsonian Magazine, Food Republic, New York Times
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