Travel

Spring in Texas: Froberg’s Strawberry Farm

by Shawnda on April 13, 2012

in Fruit,Strawberries,Texas,Tips,Travel

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

A few weeks ago, we headed down to a local farm, Froberg’s, to pick strawberries for the second year in a row. It’s a great opportunity to let the little one run around, pick strawberries, and pull out the camera.

We’re also big fans of the Jalapeno & Cheese Venison Sausage [swoon] from their smokehouse and strawberry fried pies… but this is about strawberries.

Beautiful strawberries.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

There are perks to dealing with 857% humidity in August, one of those being the ability to pick a couple of pounds of fresh strawberries in late February/early March.

Unless you’re a hoarder, and then you picked 14 lbs of fresh strawberries in late February.

I am a hoarder.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

2 baking sheets and large bowl full of strawberries. And we didn’t have to toss a single berry before it was baked with or eaten. This is how:

Wash your haul
I was always told never to rinse strawberries – just brush them with a damp paper towel – because they absorb too much water and it ruins the fruit and potentially the resulting dish. But you should really wash your strawberries, you just don’t want to soak them. I fill the buckets holding the strawberries with cold water, twist the bucket by the handle to gently swish the berries around, and use my hand to lightly press down/agitate the top floaters to loosen the dirt and grime. Carefully turn the berries out into a strainer and then rinse them off with cold water.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Dry your haul
Gently turn the berries out of the strainer onto a towel-lined countertop and pat them dry with a paper towel. You want them pretty much totally dry, wet/damp berries will go downhill really quickly.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Sort and store your haul
The best part of picking strawberries is that only berries that are red from end-to-end make it into the bucket, not a hard, under-ripe berry in sight! The downside is that all of those ripe, super-ripe, and almost over-ripe berries have to be managed in a way so you eliminate and minimize loss. Berries get sorted based on 3 categories before being stored in the fridge:
– Bruised or super-crazy-overripe berries go into a “must eat tomorrow” bowl. They were perfect when we picked them, but they ended up at the bottom of a 5 lb bucket of strawberries so they’re the first berries to go. They can go down as muffins or scones… or just get eaten straight from the bowl. Just as long as they’re used first!
– Picture-perfect berries go onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet (or 2) in a single layer. These will last several days, up to a week+ in the fridge (we polished off the last berries on day 11). I use a double-decker strawberry storage system: Fill the first baking sheet full of berries, move the berries around to accommodate a baking rack with legs/feet, and then set the second baking sheet on top of the rack. And it only takes up 1 shelf in the fridge!
– Berries that are scarred with a mark the size of a toddler bite-radius get tossed in the trash. If you have a berry-crazed toddler, you might find that 3 or 4 of these guys sneak into your buckets, too :)

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Cook. Eat. Sort. Repeat.
When your “must eat tomorrow” bowl is empty, refill it with any berries that were formerly picture-perfect but now need to turn into cake. Or ice cream. Repeat until your 14 lbs of strawberries are gone and you’re left wondering if your husband will have you committed if you mentioned going to pick strawberries again.

What did we do with 14 lbs of strawberries:
– Strawberry Wine (woohoo!)
Strawberry Muffins
Strawberry Scones
– Roasted Strawberry Goat Cheese Ice Cream
– Roasted Strawberry Crostini with Basil and Goat Cheese
– Goat Cheese & Strawberry Panini with Arugula and Balsamic
– Macerated to top pound cake
– Sliced to top a spinach salad
– Eaten straight from the bowl for breakfast and lunch. And dinner. And dessert. And then dessert again.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I sort of like the strawberry-goat cheese combo. We’ll be sharing some of the recipes over the next couple of weeks so stay tuned!

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Spring in Texas: Bluebonnets & Barbecue

by Shawnda on March 29, 2012

in Texas,Travel

Bluebonnets, Spring 2012

It’s hard not to get excited, catching that first glimpse of the blue blur as you speed passed a brand new patch of Bluebonnets next to the entrance ramp.

For Texans, that blue blur means two things: 1) Spring has officially arrived in Texas and 2) We got a decent amount of rain over the winter months to allow wildflowers to bloom, a welcome change to the drought and wildfires of last summer.

Bluebonnets, Spring 2012

Oh, and 3) You’re probably speeding.

Bluebonnets, Spring 2012

It's a rite of passage for families to drive all over town looking for a nice patch of bluebonnets in which to sit and take photos. If you wait too long, though, you'll find nothing more than sad, trampled patches of bluebonnets or you'll miss the flowers all together.

And then you find yourself turning onto smaller and smaller back roads, 30 miles from home, looking for that one perfect patch.

Bluebonnets, Spring 2012

There are few better ways to spend an absolutely gorgeous Texas spring day than washing down a plate of barbecue with a tall glass of sweet tea before heading out for a quick wildflower road trip. Brisket, smoked turkey, fried okra, mac & cheese, and peach cobbler with a scoop of ice cream.

We split it 3 ways. You kind of have to.

Bluebonnets, Spring 2012

We found or one perfect patch, a beautiful roadside pasture of blue and yellow flowers dotted with fuschia-colored phlox, purple vetch, and the occasional indian paintbrush near Hempstead. And we had them all to ourselves.

Bluebonnets, Spring 2012

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Orange County

Last week, I jetted off to Orange County for a bloggers’ luncheon hosted by White on Rice Couple and KitchenAid. I was on the ground for 23 hours. In that short time, I discussed former-Presidential-candidates/current-Texas-governors with the cashier at Trader Joe’s, hoarded PoundPlus chocolate, chatted with 39 other bloggers, ate way too much of the best chocolate frosting I’ve ever had, and knocked back some seriously addicting Sriracha White Bean Dip. (You need that dip in your life.)

(You’re welcome.)

Trader Joe's

And I hugged Joy the Baker. Twice.

Joy the Baker

But it wasn’t weird, I swear.

Vegas, Baby!

Vegas, Baby!

I did manage to throw together my travel reservations so sloppily that I had barely an hour to inhale an airport lunch and slot machine-away the $3 I had on me in Las Vegas before finding myself in a hotel room in which I’m quite certain that [dramatization ahead] every “dead hooker scene” that has ever been on CSI/The Mentalist/Law & Orders I, II, III, and IV was filmed. I was bolted-in by dark and out the door super early, killing (ha!) time at the emptiest, quietest Chick-fil-A that this suburban mom of a chicken nugget lover has ever seen.

It was kind of nice. And I had such a memorable conversation with the nicest old man, a retired Naval pilot, who beamed with pride as he told me about his 3 children who’d followed in his footsteps as Naval aviators. All over Spicy Chicken Biscuits.

Mimosas

After juicing oranges for mimosas and chatting, we sat down to listen to Todd & Diane do the second thing they do best: talking about capturing life and telling stories through photography. It’s not the first time I’ve listened to their story – and it probably won’t be the last – but it’s still just as inspiring as the first time. They always project such a creative energy, and I (and sometimes Jason) always leave refreshed, renewed, and inspired.

Diane & Joy

I was super excited to get to have a mini-Food Blog Camp reunion and catch-up with Nancy (A Communal Table), Marie (Meandering Eats), Sally (A Food Centric Life), and Todd & Diane.

And I was giddy to get to chat with some blogging and cookbook heroes: Joy the Baker (long-time reader, first-time meeter), Cristina Ferrare (author of one of my favorite cookbooks from last year, Big Bowl of Love), Jenny (Picky Palate), and Naomi (Bakers Royale).

KitchenAid Lunch

After stuffing my suitcase so full of Trader Joe’s goodies that I had to literally sit on it to zip, wouldn’t you know it… my name was drawn out of the jar for some shiny KitchenAid goodies. I picked out a gorgeous red KitchenAid food processor. Because after seeing that beauty in action, I had already decided that I was going to cash-in my St. Patrick’s Day/birthday/Christmas present early this year :)

KitchenAid Food Processor

It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. And I nearly fainted when I saw that it had this fantastical adjustable width slicing control. I seriously cannot wait for it to arrive so I can put it to work.

Thanks to Rachel of KitchenAid and Todd & Diane for the invitation and for hosting such a fun event. Can’t wait ’til next time :)

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Food Styling Workshop

43 hours on the ground
6.5 in the air
2 trips to Trader Joe’s
1 trip to In N Out for a cheeseburger – animal style
12 hours at Todd & Diane’s faaaaabulous studio

Food Styling WorkshopFood Styling Workshop

2 big servings of Nancy's wonderfully addictive kale salad
207 photos
4 spring rolls
19 awesomely talented people
1 Kitchen Sink cocktail
1 suitcase half empty on the way in, completely full on the way out (see Trader Joe's mention above)

That was last weekend, in numbers. And this was last weekend, in pictures.

Food Styling Workshop

I had the opportunity to attend a food styling workshop led by Todd Porter & Diane Cu, the White on Rice Couple. There are few better ways to spend an entire Saturday than in a beautifully lit studio talking food styling and photography with two of our very, very favorite photographers. I absolutely love the passion and creative energy that Todd & Diane bring to a room. They love what they do. And Jason and I love what they do.

Food Styling Workshop

We spent a full day discussing the ins & outs of photography and food styling, shooting, working on styling techniques, learning how to build the perfect shot, and connecting. An entire room dedicated to prop storage, a large sliding garage-style door, a group of talented people eager to learn more, and beautiful southern California weather. Not exactly uninpsiring conditions :) I spent most of my hands-on time working on an area that I’ve wanted to improve on: backing away from the bright & happy whites and incorporating darker colors and mood.

Food Styling WorkshopFood Styling Workshop

Food Styling WorkshopFood Styling Workshop

And I’d be silly not to mention the food. Nancy, Rene, and Alex helped prepare some pretty outstanding food. The lunch spread was terrific: Red Rice Salad, Edamame salad, a dreamy Kale Salad with a super garlicky vinaigrette, Vietnamese-style pulled pork served with sesame crackers, and Katie’s Vanilla Bean Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Food Styling WorkshopFood Styling Workshop

And then there was dinner, a family-style Vietnamese spring roll celebration complete with table-top grills, fresh Asian herbs and vegetables straight from Todd & Diane’s garden, bottles of sparkling rose, and plenty of laughter and conversation. I’d actually never had a spring roll before much less cooked, built, and rolled my own right there at the dinner table. A little tutorial from Diane and we were all off and running. And cooking! And drinking! And laughing.

I came home renewed, recharged, and reinspired. With a new set of goals and a broader understanding for the art of styling.

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