Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Downtowner Kitchen, fighting lionfish invasion one plate at a time

Some people find peace through meditation. Others pray.  For the nearly-twenty years I lived in Florida, I found equilibrium underwater, scuba-diving on coral reefs. When I stepped off the boat and the water closed over my head, reality changed.  Noise diminished. The horizon faded. I felt weightless, buoyed by air in my equipment and balanced by long slow deep breaths. 

As I heard the mechanical rasp of my breath in the mouthpiece, my heart-rate slowed. I n h a l e, feel the lungs fill. E x h a l e,  a slow stream of bubbles dribbled up, disappearing in the blue.

Below and around were reefs, natural cities of plants and animals in browns, blues, greens, oranges and yellows. Soft corals waving in the current, lacy sea fans rippling. Bright yellow tube sponges tucked into crevices. Hard corals as green and brown boulders or shaped like pointed antlers. 

In, around and above it all lived a plethora of fish. A vibant meditation of form, color and movement.

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Photo credit: Daryl Duda, courtesy of
But in the last decade, an imported predator released from home aquariums has begun to decimate reef fish populations in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. 

Lionfish photo courtesy
Lionfish, a carnivorous fish with long venomous spines, is native to the Indo-Pacific. The fish live in warm-water reefs, reproducing year-round. According to NOAA, a mature female releases about two million eggs a year. As lionfish have multiplied in non-native regions where there are no natural predators for it, reef fish populations have suffered.

In recognition of the danger, groups such as REEF, a nonprofit marine education and conservation group, have begun to fight back through education, lionfish roundups and more. Reef even publishes a lionfish cookbook to encourage folks to harvest and eat the fish.

As longtime REEF members, my husband Denny and I have contributed reef fish surveys to the database and are happy about efforts to reduce the lionfish threat.

But what could we do in the Texas Hill Country? The answer appeared at happy hour last week after a friend called me to meet her at The Downtowner Kitchen. Over a glass of wine, she told me they serve lionfish. 

Sounded good to me--I'm tickled to help make a market for lionfish by eating them at a fun cafe in New Braunfels. Good eating and good for the planet.

The Downtowner Kitchen in New Braunfels has an eclectic feel.
We like The Downtowner anyway for its cool vibe, interesting menu, local brew-list and eclectic wines.

Not to mention a local DJ named Barrett Read who spins "Soul Brunch" on the weekends.

Last week I went twice. And I'm letting you in on it now so you can feel like a local too when you ask for lionfish. You won't see it on the menu even though it's a regular offering, flown in fresh from Florida. Owner/Executive Chef Chad Niland hasn't printed it on the menu because he doesn't want to disappoint if weather interferes with the harvesting, which is done by spearfishing.

For folks who wonder about eating venomous fish, it might set your mind at ease to know that the fillets are from the sides of the fish, away from the venom in the dorsal, anal and pectoral spines. Still curious? Check this video:

Most folks like lionfish because it's a mild white fish with a delicate texture when cooked. Chef Chad does several lionfish dishes, each with separate appeal. Some are only served at dinner. I've tried three but others are on my radar.

Grilled lionfish at The Downtowner Kitchen in New Braunfels, TX.
The most showy and biggest is a whole grilled fish delivered to the table in a satiny sweet, salty, slightly tangy glaze. The fish takes 30 minutes to grill, time for patrons to enjoy an appetizer, glass of wine and good conversation. By the way, the spiked rice underneath is addicting, and your choice of side-dish is included. Priced at $40, it's plenty for two and would make a great date-night dinner.

Blackened lionfish sandwich, The Downtowner Kitchen, New Braunfels, TX.
Denny enjoyed a blackened lionfish sandwich, accompanied by house-made pickles and crisp lattice chips. The portion of fish was moderate but the seasonings added to the oomph. $18.

My favorite was an appetizer, lionfish ceviche. The preparation requires 24 hours for the fish to "cook" in the lime juice. It's only available on weekends to take advantage of additional traffic. Any uneaten ceviche is discarded at the end of each day.
I loved the sweetness and al dente texture of the fish, the interplay of tang from lime juice and minced jalapenos, crunch from red onion, an herbal note of cilantro, a touch of smoothness from aioli.  Served with fried tortilla chips, it was a happy marriage in the mouth of sweet, salty, hot and sour. Reminded me of Caribbean visits. $20.

A note about prices, lionfish is hand-speared and flown in, just two fillets per fish, so the price per pound of usable meat is not low. But it's a price worth paying, both for the experience and for the reefs.

Want to enjoy yourself and feel good about helping the coral ecosystem? Check out the lionfish dishes at The Downtowner Kitchen.
The Downtowner Kitchen

Then tell me what you think.

Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Drought again

Drought is a backward-looking depression. You don't know you're in it until the rains haven't fallen and the aquifer has. I know more about drought cycles than I'd like--most of our 11 years in south-central Texas have been lived in them. 

We're there again. While most of Texas is fine, our county is so dry it's classified "Severe Drought".

I've been expecting it.  During our eleven years here, the climate has alternated years of drought interspersed with periods of wet, like a giant climatic see-saw. Big swings up some years, hard landings others.

Denny and I moved to Texas in 2006, the tail-end of the worst drought in decades. The next year, 52" of rain soaked our place, twenty inches above the region's 30 year average and on par with tropical Florida. 

Then less than five years later, 2011 scorched the land with more than 60 days of temps at 100F or more while rainfall was less than the Chihuahua Desert.  
In the last few years, rain filled our rivers and aquifers. We've had to carry umbrellas in the car and plan river outings based on weather.

Starting into this drought, we're better off. But daily highs are up to fever levels, 100F and up.

Folks are watering lawns more to compensate, and as they do, aquifer levels are falling. Stage 1 water restrictions have been enacted, reasonable rules that make sense even when we're not in drought.  But other restrictions loom unless weather patterns and watering patterns change.

It's time to speak up for smart ways to enjoy our yards and conserve water at the same time--reducing the size of water-thirsty lawns by converting areas to mulched beds, patios and paths; and watering wisely in amount, method and timing. Using native plants that evolved for our place, adding compost and mulch to shield roots and conserve moisture, and using drip and soaker hoses to deliver water directly to plants, without the waste and evaporation of sprinklers.

Lawn as an accent, surrounded by water-wise gardens that feed and shelter birds and pollinators. Sustainable beauty.

Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, July 24, 2017

At the Farmer's Market, dogs are cool

It's not true that I'm addicted to our local Farmer's Market, in spite of what my friends say.  Yes Denny and I go EVERY Saturday and the vendors ask about my health if we miss because of travel. But what I have with the Farmer's Market is more of a love affair than an addiction.

And who doesn't love fresh local produce, eggs, chocolate and so much more. I like knowing the folks who grow our food and make things that satisfy our wants and needs. And we're happy our purchases support hard-working families in our region.
But my secret reason for going is that it's fun. We sample exotic flavors and home-made jam. Live music plays under a high awning--one memorable Saturday a full steel drum band played; I want to do that when I grow up. Every weekend I see or hear or taste or learn something new.  

Everyone is welcome at the New Braunfels Farmer's Market. Including dogs. People want to share the fun with their furry best friends; the Farmer's Market makes them welcome. 

Perry, an eight-week-old Husky, will be a service dog when he grows up. He's already learning how to get along and likes being petted.

Winston, an English bulldog, was named after Churchill. Can you see a resemblance?

My friend Glenna brought her dog Gozer. He stands waist-high to an adult but the biggest danger he poses is stepping on your foot or licking you in the face. The little Farmer's Market patron in the picture took an instant shine to him and by the smiles on their faces, both were having a good time.

This cutie was introduced to Denny and me as Rigby, a Blenheim King Charles Spaniel Cavalier. I didn't know there was a breed that had as many names as the Prince of Wales. He's frisky, especially for a guy in a fur coat on a hot Texas day.

Juliette, whose name is the same as the Shakespeare heroine but whose life has been considerably longer at 60 in dog years, wasn't interested in having her picture taken by the paparazzi. 

If you meet any of my four-legged friends on a happy Farmer's Market Saturday, give them my regards.
New Braunfels Farmers Market
186 S. Castell Ave.
New Braunfels, TX 78130
Saturdays from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Sundays from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. 

P.S. The introduction of the Sunday market is recent. Currently the Saturday market has more food-related vendors along with locally-made products, the Sunday market leans toward a local craft market. To have two market days in one modest town is wealth.

Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lum's Bar-B-Que--the best BBQ brisket

A few weeks ago, Denny and I found ourselves in a situation--driving toward the Texas Hill Country town of Junction shortly before noon on Sunday...hungry. 

Anybody who knows Texas knows that timing is everything to eat out without a wait for Sunday lunch--you gotta beat the church crowd to the door. 

More so if you're salivating for the king of meats, slow-smoked brisket. Especially if it's not just brisket, but the best brisket, tender and meaty with honest red smoke lines deeper than you've ever seen. The kind of brisket that slows time on your tongue so you taste the hours it bathed in the pure smoke of Texas oak.

So you can understand our concern about exiting the interstate to find Main Street and Lum's Bar-B-Que. We'd never been there before and weren't sure we'd spot it right away. Some great BBQ spots are more like smoke shacks, not easy to pick out.

We needn't have worried. Between the stars and flags and oil derricks on the building, it stands out. 

We got the last spot in the parking lot.

Inside, there were football flags and posters. The place matches the down-home quality of the food, reflective of people who believe in doing things right.  

You stand in line at a counter to order; sandwiches and plates (one, two or three meats and two sides). You watch the folks who look like they've done it all their lives cut your meat and dish your food onto a styrofoam plate. 

The serving line ends at the cash register but the lady behind the counter tells you to come back and pay after you've eaten. She does not give you a ticket or check. Later, when you're sated and happy, you go to the register and recite what you ordered so they can charge you. 

Your first bite makes you happy. The second and third and last do too, although the last comes too fast. The sweet smoke and tender meat, and the sauce that's the closest you've tasted to your mother's best-in-the-world BBQ sauce. Your only regret is you didn't try all the meats...why didn't you get the ribs? Which is when you begin to think about the next time you can find your way to Lum's Bar-B-Que in Junction. 

Lum's Bar-B-Que
2031 Main St, Junction, TX 76849
(325) 446-3541
Sunday - Thursday,10 a.m. - 9 p.m. 
Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. 

Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Small town Texas parades are the most fun

You never know what you'll see at a Texas Hill Country parade, beyond the obligatory fire engine, horses and boy scouts. But you know it will be fun.

Kids line the streets early.

Everyone loves the Boy Scouts.

Republican and Democratic women march.  

While the New Braunfels Wurst Girls roll.

Golf carts and motorcycles become home-cooked floats, such as a seagull-eagle.

And patriotic dalmatian--you gotta be dedicated to wear a full-length fuzzy costume in Texas summer heat.

My favorite might have been this rescue horse outfitted for 'Merica in the stars and stripes, trotting with a full belly beside kind people.

Hope your July 4th holiday was happy and you were able to celebrate the freedom to be whoever you are.

Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Best Way to Kill Crabgrass

Life in the Texas Hill Country is just more fun.  Take my neighbor's approach to killing crabgrass--fun, organic and good for his game.

He was nervous about being filmed, don't let his partial-pull put you off. Click the link for 24 seconds of how a Texan does it. 


Gives weed-whacking a whole new dimension, doesn't it?

Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Red White and Blue Birds

This time of year, everyone's favorite colors are red, white and blue.  Even birds get into the act.
Male Summer Tanager, September 16, 2011

Summer Tanagers fly in to the Texas Hill Country in summer to nest and rear young, just one clutch. Females are yellow, the youngsters a greeny-yellow and males a glorious solid red, the only solid red bird in North America. 

When we lived in the country, a male often graced our porch, attracted by bees around the hummingbird feeders. After rubbing the stingers off the bees, he'd eat or take them back as food for the nestlings they were rearing in the forest around our home.
Bees visited our gardens for the native flowers, but who can resist a feeder full of sugar water when the mercury rises above 100? And if you're a Summer Tanager, that's the equivalent of a drive-through window at a burger place.

Great Egret at Lady Bird Lake in Austin, September 3, 2015
We sometimes think of Great Egrets as common birds, because we see them often, fishing along the waterfront. Bold figures stalking and striking in a flash of neck before the fish or frog or snake knows the danger.

Woodhouse's Scrub-jay, formerly Western Scrub-jay, February 13, 2010

Look at that face. Gotta love the sass. For the longest time, this one was called the Western Scrub-Jay, ranging from Texas into California. Last year ornithologists split the population into California Scrub-Jay and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay. The Westerns who didn't live in California became Woodhouse's. He looks like a guy named Woodhouse, doesn't he? 

My hubby Denny prefers watching birds to fireworks but however you celebrate, we hope you have a good one.

 Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.