Saturday, May 30, 2020

Jim & Dodie's Big Adventure



                             You know that full-tilt author-artist-guitarist-cook-famer-talker Jim LaBove and his equally engaging wife, Dodie?
                             Hopefully you’ve read his books, including “Cotton’s Seafood” about his family living off the land and from the waters of Sabine Pass.
                             They’re organically growing English cucumbers, string beans and cherry tomatoes in such stunning fashion that you’ll probably want to take a selfie with them. That’s a “thing” at Jim & Dodie’s Big Adventure. After that, you have fresh veggies, a great memory and a desire to tell everyone you know to call them up and visit their Beaumont spread just off the Eastex Freeway.
                             I finally got to visit the pair and went back to show my husband. A neighbor followed us to get in on the action. Current crops are cucumbers, “Purple” heirloom string beans, mustard and turnip greens, turnips, cherry tomatoes and sweet banana peppers. Corn is on the way.
                             I got to see lacy asparagus sprouting from its bed and get a whiff of chocolate mint. A pot of ruffled, hairy Cuban oregano came home with me, too. Jim can even give interesting lessons on his various piles of compost, a sure sign of a smooth talker.
                             I love that beans in my favorite color, purple, are ready to eat right off the vine with a pleasant crunch. If you stir fry them in olive oil, they’ll get green.
                             Here is what the LaBoves say about their goods: “All of our produce is organically grown without the use of any chemical fertilizers and especially NO chemical pesticides ever. The only things that you will get from eating Jim & Dodie’s famous English cucumbers is a full complement of vitamins, minerals and flavor that nature intended for you to have…. Often, both my wife and I will eat cucumbers right off of the vine as we are harvesting them – without being concerned about Nature’s coating or anything else.”
          Lagnaippe is also a “thing” with these two, so you may go home with printed papers on how to enjoy your purchase, like this: “We recommend lightly rubbing each cucumber under cool tap water and then chopping into sticks or slices or any other way you might decide. Mainly, don’t forget to always eat the skin on Jim & Dodie’s famous English cucumbers. This variety is bred especially for a good tasting skin – it’s never bitter so you don’t ever have to peel them. Try dipping cucumber sticks in your favorite dressing for a healthy treat. Our favorite way to eat them is sliced with extra virgin olive oil and organic vinegar (like Bragg’s). I like to add freshly chopped dill to mine and Dodie likes freshly chopped basil leaves to hers.”
                             Jim has illustrated his books with drawings of the crab, birds, shrimp and wildlife of our area. He’s created a line of Cajun-themed cards and gift tags that will make you feel warm all over.
            Jim & Dodie’s Big Adventure has a Facebook page. When you drive up, you see a big gray business building, not the garden, which is around back. Don’t be fooled. The one-eyed cat, Fauntleroy, is another clue you’ve got the right place. Call (409) 284-4411 and you’ll get more info and then you’ll make a couple of new friends at 7415 Eastex Plaza Drive. JimandDodie.com.
            P.S. Talking Point: Bring up New Orleans, because Dodie is a former New Orleans Saint Cheerleader! You’ll love these guys.
           
                             Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie who loves every aspect of farm to table. Got tips? Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jerky Day/Father's Day is around the corner

 


                             * What are you doing June 12? It’s National Jerky Day. Two makers, Prevail and Old Trapper, have sent me samples to promote their wares as both something Dad would en joy for Father’s Day and road trip food for those adventures we are all planning.
                             Jerky used to have a rough reputation. Adventure. Woods. Beards. Tough slivers getting stuck in your teeth. Flash forward. Are you thinking lemongrass and umami? No? Then try Prevail, that a couple with food allergy and creativity in their background fashion from 100 percent grass-fed and grass finished beef. Does your jerky naturally sweeten with coconut sugar to make it Paleo-certified, gluden-free and Celiac Certified?
                  No? Prevail is really good, and the soft texture is a joy to eat with matcha, cardamom and cherry wood smoke flavors. I’m craving these little tears of flavor right now. I also love their slogan: “Never Settle Always Prevail.”
                             Old Trapper has new beef sticks that are skinny little tubes of very flavorful meat with a jalapeno variety giving a little “extra.”  Slip these into lunch bags and backpacks. I keep moving bags of these around so that the dad in my house won’t enjoy them all without me. While they they’re going for a rugged image, the taste of these would enhance a fine cocktail/appetizer presentation. Imagine them as swizzle sticks in a Bloody Mary.

    
                             Soften up -  While Boston-based Eastern Standard Provisions Co. pursues baking the best soft pretzel on the planet, I can’t imagine how much more over the top they could go with wheelhouse, topknot, turnbuckle, slidepiece and pretzel bites configurations that feature a Bavarian-style crust with a light brioche texture inside. Oh, I know. Once you get these soft delights to enjoy now or freeze for later, you aren’t advised to rip them out of the plastic and pop into your mouth (like I did at first). You’re supposed to heat them for a few minutes, top them with butter and sprinkle on one of their salt flavors, like the tempting black truffle or everything mixtures. Do you have patience for 3 to 5 minutes? Please, try to hold out. This is the comfort food you’ve been craving. Makers think life is too short not to make every bite count. That’s not crazy talk. It’s doable.
* Good Dee’s Still Sweet – Pretty is a plus in a pancake, and mine usually leave a lot to be desired. I was pleasantly surprised to create lovely cakes from both my first and second attempts that I didn’t even need to tell my husband was low carb. First-generation Middle Eastern Immigrant Deana Karim is the Dee in Good Dee who wants us to give in to guilt-free cravings with her mixes free of gluten, sugar, grain and soy. She’s come through the weight struggle and offers almond flour pancake mix and chocolate brownie mix made with sunflower seeds. I did a good job with the fudge version of those, if I may say. GoodDees.com  has more on her products including Pinky’s Up and Yellow Gold sprinkles and Just Add Water Cream Cheese Frosting Mix. The New York City-based founder had been giving back during this health crisis so that’s how I learned about the line. If you’ve been baking, try baking very healthy with Good Dee’s Still Sweet. I also tried her Maple Syrup sweetened with allulose, which I looked up and it’s getting quite the buzz, so, you learn something every day. I enjoyed the flavor.

                  * YUNO has natural nootropic, and that’s another word I learned this week. Launched as botanical wellness drinks,  or “BioTactical” drinks, they’re designed to improve intelligence, memory and focus. Did those little shots from attractive shiny pouches do what the big words on the labels said? Well, after getting adjusted to the taste (I’m thinking prune cocktails) I’ll just say I felt like Energy, Focus and Uplift on the different days I drank them. I accomplished the goals I’d set for those days. You can mix the shots into smoothies but I’m a belt-it kind of woman. I was first attracted to Zen described in this fashion:
                  YUNO Zen - Relax in those stressful moments with a boost of serotonin to the gut! Get that zen, happy feeling and even improve your satiety and digestion all with this unique formula.
                  But listen to this one:
  YUNO Focus - Reduce brain-fog and aid analytical and strategic thinking with superfoods that encourage a healthy oxygen level in your bloodstream.
            These are not like the energy shots you find in gas stations. I trust them much more. The ingredients are natural and sound amazing alone. They are quite potent when you combine things like yerba mate, shitake mushrooms, Irish moss, lemon peel and more into one flavor. www.yuno.nyc is launching on Indiegogo.

           
            Some Sounds: Are you considering this a staycation? Find peace where you can get it, or rock out if you like, with PAWW headphones, which I’m considering just about the first ones I have been able to work with ease. With conference calls, we’ve all had to learn a little more tech during quarantine. Bluetooth, a built in microphone, 8 hours of play time and a connect to Siri or Google Assist has been on my head in SilkSound Wireless Lifestyle Headphones that are designed like a headband. Mine has a tortoiseshell look also helps ease the gone-without-a-haircut look. I’ve kept it on Pandora glam rock and Ramones as my escapism. What I would have given to have this quality of sound in the ‘80s.

            POP CAP – This handsome product is so easy to use, I did it wrong the first time. It looks like a stainless steel model of the top of a longneck beer or soda bottle. You simply place it over the top of an actual bottle and press down. You’ll soon have an open bottle and the intact cap, left perfect for crafting, magnetized to the shiny and handsome Pop Cap. This may be a guy thing, but I like it, too. I tried too hard the first time. It turns out, the technique is so smooth that it takes little to no effort to pop that cap.Visit wwwcorkpops.com to get some for all your buds.
                            Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie willing to try all sorts of concoctions to share with readers. Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Texas BBQ, fancy and otherwise

 


                             Please don’t accuse  Cheryl Alters Jamison of getting’ too fancy with dishes like Avocado-Grapefruit-Fennel Salad. She’s one of us, and maybe more so. She and her late husband had more than a dozen smokers around their patio in what friends considered an art installation. And they were used. Her new book “Texas Q” shares 100 recipes and some great tales from the pit. I feel a little smoky just flipping through the pages.
                             In my own “make-do” update, I spent some quarantine time cleaning out a shed that had accumulated a handful of “gifted” smokers that I put out to the side of the yard and I’m thrilled that people picked them up to hopefully refurbish. In my pantry, I’ve rescued and combined marinades and rubs to make new flavors and clear space for incoming, like I’ve found in the books in this column.
                             In “Texas Q, photo spreads of smoke-cooked concoctions will make your mouth water as you learn that paprika in “red dirt” will color your meat, brisket puts a shine to your deviled eggs and Evie Mae’s Cornbread Pudding and Bourbon Sauce can start with any cornbread recipe you already love.
                             I wish I could travel with this woman to enjoy any one of the 100 recipes. Selections that ought to grab a Southeast Texas Gulf Coast appetite the most include Gulf of Galveston Shrimp “Smoke” with Corn and Sausage, Vietnamese Lemongrass Shrimp and Noodles and Crawdad-Andouille Chowder. A Mess of Collards is the name of one recipe and Mexican street corn gets salad treatment while citrus and jalapeno provide that tart we crave.
                  A quickie from the book:
                  Sriracha Barbecue Sauce
                  Author’s note: This is perfect with a bowl of brisket pho or ramen or a chicken spring roll.
                  Three fourths cup tomato-based barbecue sauce
                  One fourth cup sriracha
                  Stir the barbecue sauce and sriracha together in a small bowl and serve.

                             Sauced
                             New Egypt and New Jersey are words far removed from Texas thinking for barbecue. We conjure “old” and “Southern.” But there’s a king up there in NE, N,J. Actually, he calls himself BBQ Buddha, and he has my full attention. Ray Sheehan spills secrets in his new book, “Award-Winning BBQ Sauces and How to Use Them.” Breakfast Fatty, a Pig-Out (waffle) Cone and Moink (combo of  Moo and Oink products) look trendy and fun, but please note that this certified Kansas City Barbecue Society Judge is pit-serious about empowering readers to play around. Just prep one of his BBQ Bloody Mary jars to sip while you page through to his classics. Rim the jar with seasoning rub and add skewers of bacon, celery, lime and olives. You’ve got a bloody artwork.
                             Right up front he shares how to make his famous Memphis Mop BBQ Sauce, which is also sold in bottles. It’s got a ketchup and mustard base. I approve of that starter, which I have been known to fashion from excess fast food packets. What I appreciate most his breakdown on building flavor with sweet, sour, spicy, savory, spice and smoke ingredients plus secret ingredients. It’s a mix and match list. You could go brown sugar, pickle juice, grated ginger, onion, paprika, and coffee. Or maybe today it’s about honey, vinegar, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, cumin, liquid smoke and cherry juice.
                             Hear that dinner bell? Come and taste this guy’s secrets.

                             On the Grill
                             Grilling is a slow process, so that must be when pitmasters start churning out new combos with attention-grabbing titles. The Devil’s BLT has lobster as the “L.” A Blueberry Sausage Fatty is a pork rib round of ingredients on a slice of pound cake. Drizzle it for syrup for a presentation that’s like a meat pancake.
                             These are from Ed Randolf, author of  “Smoked” and owner and pitmaster of Handsome Devil LLC. Read how to create such edible delight in “Showstopping BBQ with Your Traeger Grill,” subtitled “Standout Recipes for your Wood Pellet Cooker from an Award-Winning Pitmaster.
                             Maybe you never liked Brussels sprouts because your mom didn’t do this bacon and sugar thing in the recipe Balsamic-Glazed Roasted Brussels Spouts with Bacon. Catching on, everything’s a little extra, even when it is simple. Here’s an example. You can do this South Carolina-inspired sauce:

                  Mustard Sauce
                   1 cup yellow mustard
                   1 half cup honey
                   1 fourth cup apple cider vinegar       
                  2 tablespoons ketchup
                   1 tablespoon brown sugar
                   3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
                 
                  Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie who loves to talk about, read about and consume barbecue and grilled feasts, but would still rather someone else be the chef. Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Are you a better cook since quarantine?


                             Before things got real about quarantine, a bible study friend got a call from his brother that restaurants would be shutting down in his state. My friend and his wife are skilled hosts creating internationally themed meals from appetizer to labor-intensive desserts. They seemed more than a little concerned because the brother’s family “doesn’t cook.” Like, doesn’t know how to cook. I always think that must be an exageration, but there was concern.
                             Creatively cooking is one of the main things keeping me going. I’m already one for unusual combinations and I’m rotating the pantry. I’m actually clearing the pantry as nothing new is coming in. Who bought that tin of squid in its own ink? I don’t think I’ve had one bummer yet, and I’m including a lunch featuring sautéed whole okra, crackers and cheese and Spam just about the only way I like it, sliced thin and fried up crisp. Quarantine has allowed me to focus on my “garden” of potted plants, which include gargantuan aloe vera plant that came in handy after an elbow scrape. I taped a soothing sliver of the stalk to the damaged part until it healed. What to do with the rest? I read that the drinking the gel could aid in weight loss, so I scraped some gooey, clear chunks of gel into a blender with water that had been infused with fresh mint. I played with this on three different days. The third time I lifted my wide-mouth Ball jar for a cool sip, and got burned. I finally remembered that the day before I’d ground some dried red peppers into dust for seasoning and hadn’t  thoroughly rinsed the blender blades. Once I knew what I was imbibing, it turned out to be a pretty good beverage.
                             Baking bread seems to be the American trend as people stay home. Have you done it? I’ve been blessed to have some gifted. Let me know what restaurants you all have been missing the most and how your own cooking skills have been put to use.


                 
Plants get around
                            While we’ve been locked down, plants have been traveling and taking root with help from bees, birds and wind. “The Incredible Journey of Plants” is a romantic and factual collection of stories from Stefano Mancuso, one of the world’s leading authorities in the field of plant neurobiology. With watercolor maps by Grisha Fischer, we become part of this journey of how even fish could help seeds travel. Did you know jaguars have a thing for avocados? There’s this one tree in the desert that was hit by a vehicle, twice? Lonely trees and seeds that explode and some, well, very sexy plant stories. And the guy who ate coconuts only and recruited people into his coconut tropical cult.   
                             My favorite is the Hibakujumoku of Japan, or “trees that had suffered an atomic explosion.” The name means “person exposed to the bomb.” These misshapen trees are not called “survivors,” and that is part of the story. They are marked, visited and treated with great respect.
                             Plants have their stories and this book is getting them out.


                  Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie ready to enjoy Southeast Texas and beyond. Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Pepper adds a "thread" of interest


                             A jar of Korean pepper thread is a condiment I’ve rediscovered as I rotate my “making do” pantry. What texture and interest these long, slender threads add to a finished dish. They unfurl and drape over your fish or rice or even toast. I found them at a market years ago and figured they’d be hot squared. In my opinion, they are not hot at all, but they do instill a respect when you serve such an arrangement to an unsuspecting diner. I won’t be buying these threads again, but I’m glad to have had their acquaintance.

                      Plant Junkie
                      If you’d hang with a gang that thinks the term Plant Junkie is a compliment, then get to know this new line of 100 percent plant-based, vegan-friendly and flavorful dressings for salads and sandwiches. They’re from BetterBody Foods, who also brought us PBfit. When I found the Thai Peanut Vinaigrette, I headed to the pantry for noodles, rice, rice paper and anything Asian based this could highlight. Lovely yellow Tumeric &  Pepper Ranch dressing became my eggplant dipping sauce and Chili Pomegranate went on my dwindling supply of fresh veggies to make them new again. Chia Ranch Dressing needs no buildup, as folks are crazy for ranch around here. These are designed to be good and help those with food allergies. It’s best when good and good-for-you align. I’ve yet to try avocado oil-based spread and dressing in chipotle lime, but I’m envisioning a sandwich that includes avocado and a thinly sliced purple onion. I guess I’m a Plant Junkie.

                      Edible Product
                      Cooped up much? Maybe the new Stuffed Puffs could start out as a math and creative writing project with the kids. What does chocolate plus chocolate equal? Begin with the adjectives and superlatives and stir up a “sweet” ode. Chocolate on Chocolate is the actual name of this marshmallow that has a chocolate center, so, cut to s’mores made very easily. Quarantine snacks? Yes! This new version incorporates chocolate right into the marshmallow and you still get that center that melts just so after you warm up these pillow-soft just the right amount of crispy on top. Their tag line is “Life’s More Fun Filled with Stuffed Puffs.”
             
              Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie who’s in this with you guys. Reach her at darraghcastillo@yahoo.com

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Covert black-eyed peas pear with wine wins



                             My mission to completely rotate the pantry, including every powder and spice, has stalled at beans. Peas actually. The black-eyed variety, highly celebrated on New Year’s Day, then less remembered when more flashy beans get transformed into dips or beans and rice meals dotted with sausage.         
                             I soaked some dried peas from my stash and it seemed I simmered them two solid days before they softened. Then there was the dejected half-bag I found in my late mom’s freezer. I reconstituted them with love. Then I found one more half package hidden in there, and also a can on my shelf.
                             Somewhere through these quarantine discoveries, my husband scowled and announced he does not “care” for black-eyed peas.
                             Well, I’m on a “making do” mission, and I couldn’t let a little setback like that discourage me. I began to hide the peas. There was BEP hummus. BEP dip. BEP sauce. He’s on to me, but I’m really moving product here and I give myself gold stars for creativity.

                  What’s the fizz?
                             My first taste of Perrier in the ‘70s was underwhelming. Now I can’t get enough of the bubbly. It’s so…. satisfying. It’s calorie-free. It’s fun. It’s pretty in your glass.
                             I call it fizzy water and it’s a real treat. I don’t abuse the pleasure. I relish it. SodaStream came into my life. I resisted it, but it has become a daily perk. I avoided this machine for years until the makers offered to let me try it. My mom would have been cautious of the canister you must insert into the back. She was also had a ban against canned biscuits and microwaves, for safety purposes.
                             I could not believe how easy it is to use. Plug it in and put the bottle that comes with it into the right slot and select your level of fizz. Lots, please. I punched the button and got a woosh and a show. The bubbles look amazing going in and last while you pour out our concoction.
                             As for flavors, when I treated myself to cans, I went for lemon and lime. Now I’m playing with a drop of vanilla, ginger juice or a rosemary infusion. The thing is, there are plenty of recipes for homemade syrups to add coffee, fruit, chocolate and other flavors to your water. Guess what. The bubbles are enough of a treat for me. I still want it calorie free. Unless of course, I get to play with gin or wine or something.  I learned that people were carbonating the cheapest of wines and calling it “shampaign.” Get it? Sham? I simply added some bubbly water to some red wine and guess what? Wine coolers are officially back.

                             Wine wins
                             It started in 1887, and in 2020 I’ve learned a new word: perlage. It’s to do with all the bubbles that bring aromas of exotic fruit, apple and white pear to you. Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG has creamy perlage, good with refined appetizers, risottos, white meats, fresh cheeses and light pastries. I believe it would go well with Mother’s Day. We all are craving something extra special these days. Why, Mionetto Prosecco and Rose are released as the “Prestige Collection” and are even packaged in attention-getting curvy bottles.
                             All the fruity flavors a delicate and the bubbles are what you came for. Relish them. In these times, make every day your special occasion. Please do give these Italian sparkling wines your attention (you don’t really have to involve your mother here).
                             The Wand
                             Little disposable tools called The Wand and The Pour are out to help the (studies show) 75 percent of wine drinkers who get headaches from histamines and sulfite preservatives found in red and white wine. Maybe you’ve seen what looks like little flyswatters for a glass or bottle filters demonstrated on popular news shows. A father and son team of scientists spent 5 years developing Phoenix Technology to alleviate headaches, congestion and flushing without affecting the aroma, taste or color of the wine. I have been sensitive to this in the past so I tried this product with pleasant results. For more information, go to drinkpurewine.com


                  Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie in the middle of this with all of you Port Arthur News readers. Contact her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Crawfish cravings and twists; move the rice paper


                             This was going to be the season of crawfish for us. We lost my mother last fall and my husband and I planned to enjoy as many pounds of crawfish as we could in her honor. It is not coming to pass as planned, though I’ve been stirring Cajun seasoning into everything I can think of while quarantined.
                             Twice in one week I heard of something new to toss in the boil pot: Oranges or orange juice. I heard it from someone I was doing business with on the phone when he heard I was from Port Arthur, and I read it in a magazine on Vietnamese crawfish get togethers. I have never attempted to boil these famous crustaceans myself, but, it’s still a great tip I want to share with those who do. You’ll invite me when you try it, mais no?
                  The good people at sweetpotato.org are promoting Louisiana Sweet Potatoes, Yams via a card suggesting you “sweeten the pot when you boil” by adding fresh yams. Add them to the boiling water with the seasonings. That’s some progressive thinking, and bound the make the corn and potatoes a little jealous.
                 

                  Making do update:
                             Quarantine cooking: I’ve still got bread so a cheese sandwich became extra special by grilling. With all my efforts to eat as healthy as possible, I could not help grilling this sandwich in a rare stash of bacon grease. It upped the game considerably.

                             Spring rolls: Chefs suggest keeping rice paper as a pantry staple and I pulled out my stash from Port Arthur Vietnamese markets. I did such a good job with the drizzle of sriracha-soy sauce that my husband barely noticed that a vegan soy patty was the main ingredient. Score for moving older product off my shelves.

                  Be well:
                             Wellness is a thing now, more than ever. Eat your veggies and take your supplements. I never had vitamins as a youth or young adult, but the natural ones are sounding more appealing all the time. Sael Wellness offers Happy Apple, a very pleasant gummy that tastes like apple cider and vinegar, because that’s what it is. The vinegar’s benefits are said to include weight loss, increased energy and lower blood sugar, along with clearer skin and controlled cravings. That ginger helps fight off infection, reduces inflammation and reduces nausea, among other things. It’s a delicious backup. I don’t really need help falling asleep, but Sael’s melatonin and magnesium strawberry vegan gummies are a natural version of what many already take. We all want better sleep these days.
                             Voke makes a chewable super food tablet for mental focus, clear thinking and upbeat mood. Do you have someone in your house pointing to you now saying “You need that!”?  Chew one in the morning and save the other for evening to “nourish your mind, perform your best at work and be present for friends and family. I liked the taste and nobody can tell me I haven’t been at my very best of late, considering what’s going on everywhere. Ingredients here are red beetroot, taw guarana seed, green tea caffeine and acerola cherry. I’m cheery.

                  Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie in the middle of this with all of you Port Arthur News readers. Contact her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com