After Bumper Crop, Texas Blueberry Farmers Want to Offload Their Giant Berries On You

Bailey's Berry Patch
Three berries in hand -- better in a cobbler.
Bailey's Berry Patch in Sadler, Texas, has experienced quite a few ups and downs the past year or so. Even before last summer's drought killed 65 percent of their bushes, in early spring one tall dark cloud sauntered over the farm and pummeled the delicate crop like a school-yard bully, leaving many bushes battered, bruised and broken.

In 2009, Erick and Jeannie Duarte took over this berry farm in a desolate part of far north Texas from Pearce and Ann Bailey who had planted rows of blueberries and blackberries in 1996. After many years of hard work, the farm became a popular pick-your-own berry patch. When the Bailey's were ready to retire from farming the Duarte's stepped in. Their first season, 2010, was bountiful. But, as luck always has it for new farmers, things have sort of went down hill after that.

Working with less than half the bushes they had two years ago, the Duartes are trying to regain their footing. The good news now is that the ones that survived are producing plump blueberries almost the size of quarters.

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Looking for Good Texas Peach Amid the Drought? Try a Pizzeria.

Categories: Basket Case

Lauren Drewes Daniels
Replacement peaches.

A few summers back when I was a punk-ass kid, a few friends and I were driving from Germany to Switzerland. The trip itself was an utter fiasco, but one highlight was stopping at a store and finding some peaches for sale. True to our arrogant form, we were all like, "They have peaches here? Whatever. The best peaches are from Texas."

But, they looked good, so we tried them and to our amazement, those peaches were fantastic. I had to lean out the open car door (still parked) to let the juices run down my arm and drip off my elbow.

But Byron just had to sit there and watch unable to eat peaches on account of his allergies. Well, he wasn't suppose to eat a peach.

Soon enough, though, he shot the bird at his medical condition (which, in Germany means nothing, so it was totally nonaggressive). We all gave him a "You sure about that, Buddy?" And yet...

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Sigel's Crazy Wonderful Irish Cheese Lady

In 1940's Belfast, Ireland, there lived the Magee family. Six daughters were born one after the other, followed by five sons all squeezed into a two-bedroom row house. The neighbors on one side were the McCormicks, who had 10 kids. On the other side were the Dunnigans, also with 10 kids. All told, more than 30 children in three row houses through which they all ran rampant.

And stuck in the middle was little Theresa Magee.

Photos by Lauren Drewes Daniels
Theresa Magee will set your eyes and stomach smiling, whether your Irish or not.
Growing up Magee always wanted to come to America, so, as a teenager she got a job as a nanny in New Jersey. The family she stayed with ran a gourmet food shop, thus beginning her lifelong love for fine food.

Fast-forward about 40 years. To set the stage, we're at the Sigel's liquor store off Inwood near Belt Line Road in Addison. The one with the retro-Vegas sign out front. Through the front doors, past the cash registers, opposite the rows of wine and liquor is a deli. It's spacious and clean, although for some odd reason, there's not a retro-Vegas sign with bright flashing lights announcing that just ahead is the best-kept secret in Dallas.

Magee works behind a large cooler filled with a bouquet of cheeses. Handwritten signs stand like flags above all the wrapped wedges and wheels declaring their countries of origin and best qualities. It's along the lines of the opening ceremonies at the Olympics.

On my first visit, as soon as I walked up Magee handed me some cheese samples. She's a giver. I didn't have to ask or stammer about how I didn't know where to start. It was an Old Québec March 2006 super sharp cheddar. Then we worked east. Second was a five-year Parmesan that she told me she aged in the back. What? You age cheese? In the back of a liquor store?

"All of my Parmesans are aged three to five years," Magee said. "I just know when cheese is ready. It's sort of a sixth sense. When I get wheels in I can tell if they're ready just by squeezing. Same with soft cheeses. Sometimes they're not ready in the middle so I'll keep them in the back while they ripen."

So, a vivacious Irish lady ripens and ages gourmet cheeses in the back of Sigel's...

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Nine Tips for Digging Through Local Farmers Markets

Categories: Basket Case

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​It didn't take a study of Vermont farmers markets to tell us what we knew for a long time: Supermarkets aren't cheaper. That being said and this being spring, it's a good time to riff on farmers' markets, plus give you a few shopping tips on how to navigate them.

1. Find Your Market
I always assumed this was easy. Ask around in your neighborhood, read the local paper, and somewhere, someplace, there's some mention of farmers' markets, opening hours, and weeks of operation. After moving from San Francisco to Dallas I was shown the error of my ways. Two websites helped me get back into the game, LocalDirt and LocalHarvest, both of which sport large databases of markets sorted by distance and seasons and days. Yelp isn't that bad of an idea, either.

Another way for me to get the goods on the goods was to email a whole range of local bloggers. Some responded; some even made sense. After a week of all that I had my list, a small list of currently open farmers' markets and a bonus list of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and local meat sellers.

2. Go Early
This goes against anything a weekend should stand for, but believe me, the earlier you go, the better the selection. Like finding a market, I assumed this to be general knowledge until I read market descriptions on Yelp and found a lot of "nice place but bad selection" reviews, all of which after a little prodding told me that, yes, they'd been there after 10 in the morning. Hit the hay for another hour afterward if you must (and I certainly do), but be there at opening.

In some cases it helps, after establishing a relationship, to call ahead or order the week before. My favorite meat purveyor always gets my order the Sunday ahead and has my phone number in case something cool comes in (last week he called me about a half hog he could get me, I said yes, of course, and went to buy another freezer from Lowe's).

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Begging and Choosing: Which Market's
Free Samples Give You the Best Meal?

Categories: Basket Case

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Brooke Nottingham
We managed to snap a couple of pictures of freebies before the Central Market Stasi busted us.
During a dinner shift a few weeks ago, I returned with a guest's drink and asked if he'd like to start with a cup of soup or an appetizer.

He stared at me. Then he said, "Do those cost? Do you have to pay for those?"
I stuttered something like, "Well, yes. I mean, I could check, but I think that you have to."

Not counting food pantries, soup kitchens and victory gardens, free meals are rare. To retain some dignity, you have to get crafty and work on your stealth. Then hit the grocery stores and start collecting samples.

Can you make a meal out of grocery store samples? I took my appetite to Whole Foods Market, Sam's Club and Central Market to find out.

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Five Bestsellers From Tajmahal Imports

Categories: Basket Case, Lists

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Tadoor dal (pigeon peas)
Go on in. Don't be shy. If you're not sure what's what inside Tajmahal Imports, the all-vegetarian Indian grocery at 501 W. Beltline in Richardson, ask for Mr. Shah. That's Pramod Shah, the owner of this expansive food, spice, knickknack, religious statuary and cookware store on the southwest corner of Beltline and Central.

"I always look for the new customers," says Shah, who's opening a new, larger Taj Grocery at Independence and Legacy in Plano next month. "Ah, a new guy, I'll say. And I'll go up and ask if they need help."

I've shopped at Tajmahal and been a little bashful about asking questions about the odd-looking fuzzy vegetables and the pillowcase-sized bags of unfamiliar dried beans. No worries now. Mr. Shah gave me a tour, pointing out five of the most popular exotic items in his store.

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MOM and POPcorn Begets 48 flavors

Categories: Basket Case

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Photo by Liz Smith
The MOM and POPcorn Company
215 E. Louisiana St.

Try: Parmesan and garlic popcorn
Don't try: Cricket Lick It and Real Scorpion Suckers, unless you're brave enough.

When a friend first told me about a gourmet popcorn shop, I didn't exactly jump to my feet. I imagined the Christmas tin full of the long since stale buttered, caramel and cheese-flavored popcorn still sitting in the far corner of my pantry. But since my visit to the MOM and POPcorn Company in McKinney -- a nostalgic, 1950s style popcorn and candy store -- my friend has officially been added to my "people whose opinions I trust" list.

And I wasn't the only newbie headed that way to check it out. As I paused at the crosswalk about a block down from the store, a random woman stopped her SUV in the street, stuck her head out the window and asked me, "Excuse me, do you know how to get to the popcorn store?"

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99 Ranch Market: The Promised Land
Of Asian Produce

Categories: Basket Case
Earlier this week, City of Ater Kristy Yang told you about her less-than-stellar experience dining at the new 99 Ranch Market's food court. Since the market is a grocery store, not a restaurant, we thought we'd have her come back with a separate review of her shopping experience at the mega-Asian mart.

Try: Portugese Egg Tarts
Do not try: Durian (unless you're Andrew Zimmern or my mom)

My favorite section of any Asian market has always been the produce section. Beat down by the high cost of fruits and vegetables in my neighborhood's western grocery stores, Asian market produce sections are a must in my life. Where else could I find $1 bundles of basil and softball sized fuji apples? Entering 99 Ranch Market's behemoth produce section was my equivalent of entering the promised land. It is truly impressive.

The enormous section is pristine and stocked with every fruit and vegetable imaginable. On our visit during the soft opening of the store, a fuchsia flappy-winged oblong fruit caught my boyfriend's eye. "What is this?" he asked. "Dragonfruit," I replied excitedly. I immediately placed it in our cart. However, one tiny dragonfruit was $2. Luckily, there were employees cutting up samples of all the fruits for everyone to try. The dragonfruit wasn't as sweet as I'd like, so for the same price, I swapped one dragonfruit for a whole bag of lychees.

Something I rarely ever see in an Asian market is cut up and ready-to-go fruit. I didn't purchase anything from this section. That would be because of the cut-up durian. The nostril-hair singeing fruit is so notoriously smelly that it is banned in public areas of Singapore. The lingering stench of durian clings onto anything else in its proximity and is hell on fridges. Of my immediate family members, my mother is the only one who enjoys the fruit, and we would only let her eat it alone in our garage. Don't judge me until you've smelled it.

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Sampling Lucky Layla's Raw Milk;
So Far, No Fever

Categories: Basket Case

The Lucky Layla Farm Store in Plano is the local hub of raw milk activity.

As the only certified raw milk dealer for miles, Lucky Layla sees a steady flow of older milk drinkers who grew up drinking milk straight from the cow and conscientious mothers carrying babies in wraparound slings.

"I super appreciate having it here," says Dirna Shipley, a mother of three from Richardson. "We go through a gallon a week."

Raw milk is exceedingly controversial. While proponents credit the unpasteurized drink with curing asthma and boosting energy, health officials call it a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. A number of state legislatures are now grappling with how to regulate raw milk sales -- or whether to allow them at all.

But few of the current raw milk debates focus on the milk's taste. The word "disease" comes up far more frequently than "delicious" in online forums devoted to the topic. As a food writer, I always wondered why.

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Dallas Farmers Market Shed 2 Offers
Heart-Stopping Specialty Foods. Yum.

Categories: Basket Case

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Dallas Farmers Market
1010 South Pearl Expressway

Try: La Popular tamales
Don't try: Eating bath fizzies

Obviously, if you go to the Dallas Farmers Market this summer you should pick up some Texas peaches, some tomatoes and any other fresh fruits and veggies your heart desires. But, while you're there, don't miss out on the other amazing little eateries and specialty food shops that have popped up in the recently remodeled Shed No. 2.

Shed No. 2 used to just be my air-out-the-pits place. I'd get all gross spending like two minutes in the other sheds buying peaches in 200-degree heat (with a heat index of Sweaty Butt Butter) and then I'd head to Shed No. 2 and chill with their ceiling fans. One time, I bought some amazing curry and cinnamon from the Kurry King in Shed No. 2, but mainly this place was used as my armpit stop between the farmer sheds and my car.

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