The immense danger of walking and cycling in Houston

Ghost bike memorial for an adult and child killed by a driver

In the past 16 years, Houston drivers have run over almost 2,000 people walking or biking. Even worse, since 2010, only about 25% of fatal crashes resulted in criminal charges. Maggi Gunnels of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration correctly calls this a “public health crisis”

St. John Barned-Smith and Dug Bedley have the fourth installment of the Out of Control series for Houston Chronicle.

Photo by Flickr user Daniel Lobo (CC-BY 2.0)

New program aims to help more rural Mississippi students enter college

School Buses lined up

Kelsey Davis has a report at Mississippi Today detailing a new partnership between Mississippi Valley State University and Greenville Public Schools. The program is designed to reduce the gap between high school and college, from more engaging, rigorous high school coursework to better bus service. According to a study by the Center for Public Education, only 73% of rural students have access to Advanced Placement courses (PDF link), compared to 95% of suburban students.

[Mississippi Today]

Women prisoners face more disciplinary action than men, including solitary confinement for nonviolent infractions

Two months in solitary confinement. The offense? Working an extra shift in the prison cafeteria. And the prisoner said she had permission to cover the shift. The Chicago Reporter, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and NPR investigated disciplinary actions in Illinois state prisons and found that women are disciplined at higher rates than men, despite the fact that men are more violent. Women prisoners are often cited for subjective, minor behaviors that aren’t a safety threat to prisoners and prison staff — like playing Scrabble solo. Over-punishment can be a triggering event for women inmates, many of whom are abuse victims, exacerbating the trauma and delaying rehabilitation.

[Chicago Reporter]

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

If you want to catch a fish in Philadelphia, bait your hook with…soft pretzels?

Soft pretzels from Philadelphia

You know the old saying, “Teach someone to fish, and they’ll eat for a lifetime.” Well, here’s your chance to eat on the cheap in Philadelphia: storm grate fishing! Stephanie Farr of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the fun story of the professional angler who uses local delicacies like hot dogs & soft pretzels to catch fish under city streets.

[Philadelphia Inquirer]

Image by Flickr user Sam Teigen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Colorado Attorney General alleges opioid overdoses are driven by Purdue Pharma’s sales practice

stone sculpture hand holding a poppy

The recently launched Colorado Sun reports on the inside story of how Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxyontin, implemented sales tactics leading to hundreds of opioid deaths in Colorado. The story is from recently unsealed court documents filed by the state Attorney General’s office, and details how Purdue Pharma sales representatives pushed for higher dosages of Oxycontin to patients. In 2017, 516 people died of opioid overdoses in Colorado.

Image credit: Flickr user polaristest, with slight cropping to fit. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

[Colorado Sun]

Residents of Hawaiian homeless camp announce ambitious plan for a self-made community

A community of 200 homeless people near Honolulu announced a plan to raise money to lease or buy land to build their own self-made community. Honolulu Civil Beat reporter Natanya Friedheim shares some of the details of the “herculean effort” of raising the money to build a group of houses with communal areas to house the homeless. In 2015, Honolulu Civil Beat produced The Harbor, a 5-part series on the Waianae homeless camp.

[Honolulu Civil Beat]

Registering voters in Smith County, Texas takes a village

People voting in front of an American flag

Texas has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. Erica Mansfield reports on efforts to get more people registered to vote in Smith County, Texas. Despite seemingly disparate political views, Mansfield interviews Republicans, Democrats, nonpartisan groups and even a shoe store owner volunteer in service to the same goal: get more people voting on election day.

[Tyler Morning Telegraph]

The 3 secrets to making great crab cakes at home

I grew up in Maryland, and crab cakes really remind me of summer. Here in Austin, I occasionally see a crab cake on a menu. It usually ends up being a crab fritter or croquette, which is like getting Sanka when you were jonesing for an espresso.

Fortunately, making crab cakes is super simple, as long as you follow a few simple rules:

Secret No. 1 – Old Bay

Every Marylander has a tin of Old Bay in the pantry. It’s a seasoning manufactured by McCormick that is mostly celery salt and paprika. It is salty, so watch how much salt you add when you use Old Bay as a seasoning. It’s a wonderful complement to the subtle sweet crab flavor, without being too much. If you’re wondering what to do with it when you aren’t making crab cakes, throw it on french fries along with a healthy splash of malt vinegar.

Old Bay Seasoning
Old Bay Seasoning

Helpful hint: I almost lost my mind trying to find Old Bay at HEB. It’s not on the spice aisle, but at a special kiosk over by the seafood counter.

Secret No. 2 – Be Gentle

Let the crab be the main attraction here. In order to make that happen, you must go light on the filler & binder, and you must be gentle with the meat. It might fall apart on you. That’s okay. We are not making a meatloaf here. Too much filler & binder and you won’t taste the crab.

Secret No. 3 – Crab cakes are balls, not pucks

It absolutely KILLS me when I see “crab cakes” that are shaped like tuna cans that have been rolled in bread crumbs. Don’t eat these. They are not crab cakes. As you will see, crab cakes are loosely formed balls of lumps of crab meat. You’ll kill the meat and have to use a lot of binder to get them pretty like the pucks, and they will taste like garbage.

Your shopping list for crab cakes

Since we aren’t going to complicate a great crab cake with a bunch of junk, shopping for them is pretty easy. In fact, you probably have most of the ingredients already.

Crab meat: I use lump blue crab meat. It comes in a clear plastic tub, typically around $10-15/pound and goes on sale from time to time. You need the lumps, so don’t get “special” or anything that doesn’t specifically say “lump” on the label. I don’t care for claw meat, so I avoid it as well.

If you are down to splurge, get jumbo lump blue crab meat. It’s probably around $25-30 a pound, since it has to be picked by hand, and there are only two backfin lumps per crab. If it doesn’t come out right, it doesn’t get to be jumbo lump.

Phillips Seafood has helpful diagram explaining different types of crab meat you can see here.

Old Bay: See above.

Saltine crackers: You’re going to need some sort of bread that will help hold the cakes together. I use plain old saltines. Some people use stale bread, or bread crumbs, or panko. Breadcrumbs are fine, but I think panko is getting too fancy.

Only the best...
Only the best…

The rest of the ingredients:
1 egg
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1 heaping tsp prepared mustard

Optional ingredients (I can take it or leave it)
Dried parsley
Hot sauce

Make your crab cakes

In a decent sized bowl, mix together the egg, mayo, Worcesteshire, lemon juice, Old Bay, dry mustard and prepared mustard. Whisk it nice and smooth, it’s essentially a dressing to help keep these cakes together.

crab cake dressing
Whisk the dressing nice and smooth

In a separate bowl — or a Cuisinart if you thought it through better than I did — crush up about 15 of your saltines into a fine grain, as uniform as possible. We don’t an oyster cracker sized hunk polluting our crab cakes.

Now, in a third bowl (I know, I know, bowls don’t grow on trees), gently examine your crab meat for bits of shell. When I say “gently”, think of looking for a lost earring in shag carpet. Or a contact lens. Don’t break up those lumps! The last couple tubs I’ve gotten have been pretty clean, but it’s nice to sift through the meat to make sure.

Now that you have clean crab meat, start adding the dressing, and very lightly tossing it with your hands. This last time, I actually used all the dressing, and they were great. Once all the crab meat has a light coating, add in the cracker meal a handful at a time. You probably won’t need all of it. You may only need half of it.

The key here is to be gentle, don’t fuss too much, and add just enough cracker meal to help bind the lumps together. To see how it’s coming, take a handful of meat and carefully ball it between your hands. If it holds, put it on a plate or dish and make more balls, about the size of an orange or slightly smaller. It’s entirely up to you, I’ve even made them golf ball size for mini crab cakes.

Crab cakes, loosely packed
See how they are loosely packed, and plenty of lump crab meat is visible?

Cover your crab cakes and refrigerate for an hour. This will help them hold.

Now, once your hour is up and you are ready to cook, you have a couple options. You can fry them on the stove in oil, which is delicious, less healthy and risky when it comes to flip them over without breaking them; or, you can broil them.

This most recent time, I actually went a third route:

The hybrid broil/fry

I put the crab cakes on a baking sheet lined with foil (a bit of Pam is nice to keep them from sticking). I put them under the broiler for 5 minutes or so, until the top was nice and brown. Your crab meat is already cooked when you buy it, so you are just warming & browning here.

While they were broiling, I took the iron skillet and added a pat of butter. About the time the butter was foamy, the crab cakes were done in the broiler. Rather than flipping them and possibly breaking them to pieces, I took my fish spatula, lifted each cake and gently set them in the hot buttered iron skillet to brown the bottoms.  It will only take a few minutes. When they look good, you’re done. Plate them up and sprinkle with more Old Bay on top.

Maryland Crab Cakes
Maryland Crab Cakes

If you are looking for a couple other variations I recommend, John Shields has Miss Shirley’s crab cake recipe on his website. John is a Maryland food historian and public television personality whom I got to work with when he emceed the Crab Soup Cook-Off at the Maryland Seafood Festival a few times. Andrew Zimmern’s wife is also from Baltimore, I believe, and his recipe is a good one as well.