Spring in Texas: The Kemah Boardwalk

by Shawnda on May 1, 2012

in Giveaways,Texas,Travel

How perfectly gorgeous is your spring weather right now? We’re right smack in the middle of a stretch of storybook-beautiful weather in southeast Texas.

It’s actually like this every year. But after a short stretch of annoyingly cool weather (“winter”), you learn to really appreciate the rest of the year. Most of it, anyway.

Growing up in the great state of Texas, we didn’t take many out-of-state vacations. We didn’t have to. Living just north of one the largest metro areas in the US, we had our choice of day trips and weekend outings, from a trip to Austin and the Hill Country, where the wildflowers are plentiful and smoked brisket is king, to a trip to Galveston for a day of fun in the sun at the beach. We had an array of options that had to satisfy two important criteria:

1) It must be fun for the whole family.
2) It must include delicious food.

Today, #2 is really #1. And also leads to #1.

Look any direction in Southeast Texas and you can get just about any food from any culture; our blend of Tex-Mex, which is heavily influenced from the South, fades into influences of Czech and German as you head west. You will see more Cajun influence as you head east, and there’s a plethora of Asian and Asian-fusion cuisines to be found everywhere in the city. But this trip would take us down to the coast, to one of the other perks of being in Southeast Texas: access to some of the freshest seafood anywhere.

A couple of weekends ago, we packed up our little family for a day trip. We were driving down I-10, windows down, dreaming of a lunch of fresh Gulf oysters, the smell of salt and sunscreen on the breeze, with skies clear enough to help banish the lovely shade of “winter white” we’ll sport until June. And then it will fade to “aren’t you a little old for a sunburn?” red.

Just the wind in our hair and … Jingle Bells blaring on the radio (don’t ask), and a gigantic pile of stuff in the back seat.

There’s a direct correlation between how tall a person is and the amount of luggage they require on a trip. At 6’2″, my husband had a wallet and his Baylor ball cap. At 3’2″, our toddler had a stuffed-to-the-gills duffel bag and a soft-sided cooler. Because when she yells “food!” out of the blue and completely (of course) off-schedule, you better be able to quickly produce some yogurt and string cheese.

An hour away sits the Kemah Boardwalk, an entertainment center complete with several restaurants, games, amusement rides and an aquarium. At the boardwalk you can eat ceviche, ride a sky-high ferris wheel and break your “15+ years without a cherry ICEE” streak.

We enjoyed every minute, from lunch at the Flying Dutchman, where we all shared several fresh gulf seafood favorites, to feeding the fish and ducks, to watching sailboats and speedboats drift by as they left the nearby marina, to the double-decker carousel and a “see for miles in every direction” spinning observation tower.

This is where I tell you that I have a small fear of heights. And if you know me, by “small” I mean huge. I white-knuckled my camera until we were back within 10 feet of the ground. This is also where I could tell you about the time I was seven and was so paralyzed with fear that three adults had to pry me from an upper staircase on the Battleship Texas. But I won’t.

I couldn’t find a single souvenir T-Shirt that read: I Rode the Tower at Kemah and Didn’t Die. But for the record, I did. And I didn’t.

We splurged at lunch, sharing an order of baked oysters topped with grilled peppers and crispy bacon, grilled fish topped with an indulgent crab-butter-heavy-cream-more butter-more-cream sauce, and the table favorite: fresh ceviche served on a bed of crunchy coleslaw next to a pile of cool avocado slices, lime wedges and a mountain of tortilla chips.

After a day of fun in the sun, walking the boardwalk, watching the little one go ’round the carousel for the 14th time (unlimited-ride day-passes — get one if you, too, have a carousel-obsessed child), feeding the ducks (but not the birds!), and riding the rollercoaster, we cooled off with the most refreshing, delicious cherry ICEE that has ever been sold. EVER.

It was only 85 degrees out but it was gone in 12 seconds flat.

After a stop off at the small shops for some Boardwalk Fudge (don’t pass on the caramel-turtle!), we headed home, with our partied-out toddler snoring in the backseat and us discussing how delivery pizza for dinner was both one of the most disappointing and the greatest ideas ever.

$100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway

Travel Texas and BlogHer are sponsoring a great giveaway to one lucky reader. Please leave a comment telling me where you’d like to visit in Texas. You can request a free Texas Travel Guide from the website where you can get lots of great ideas!


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This sweepstakes runs from 5/1/2012-6/1/2012.

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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!



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