Thursday, January 29, 2015

Strawberry Fields and Hometown Visits

Do you love strawberries?

I do.  In fact, it's my favorite type of fruit.  


One of my earliest memories is of the strawberry patch growing in my grandfather's garden in Frankfurt, Germany.  

We would visit them once a year for a month when we were young while they lived there.  I remember pesky rabbits trying to steal some of the sweet strawberries and my grandfather's ongoing battle to keep them out.

My hometown, in Southern California, was surrounded by strawberry fields.  When you drive down the 101 Highway through Ventura County, you could smell their delicious fragrance.



What's even better than smelling the strawberries, is being able to stop by the small produce markets right next to the fields where you can buy large flats of strawberries straight from the field.


The strawberries are beautiful, unblemished and you can't resist sampling one or two or even three before you make it back into your car.

While I love living in Arizona, I do miss the strawberry fields from my hometown.  However, now my second-oldest daughter, Rachele, lives close to the town where I grew up and so I get to visit the fields again and bring home huge flats of delicious, sweet strawberries.

In fact, earlier this week, I stopped by this small produce store and bought some strawberries and took them home and made 20 jars of strawberry jam.  I stayed up late last night, finishing up canning the strawberries and had some homemade strawberry jam on my toast this morning - yum!

So, why was I in California?


Well, I had a very important reason - my grandson, made his debut!

Of course, my husband and I were prepared to leave at any minute to drive out to California so that we could be there for our daughter when she went into labor, but the entire process didn't go exactly as we had planned.

In fact, I ended up spending 8 days in California.

I'll share more of our journey next time - it may be a two-parter :-)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Got Lemons? Make Your Own DIY Citrus Salt


Do you have a lemon or other type of citrus tree growing in your backyard?

Chances are, if you live in California, the Southwest or Southeastern United States, you do or your neighbor does.

While many people throughout the rest of the nation are waiting for snow to disappear, we get to enjoy the sight of colorful citrus fruit hanging from our trees, just ready to be picked and enjoyed.

During this time of year, neighbors give bags of excess fruit to neighbors or local food banks.

I have a young lemon tree, that isn't old enough to produce fruit for me, but that hasn't stopped me from having lemons to use.


Between my mother's prolific lemon tree on the family farm to those from my vet (who happens to be our neighbor), I have plenty to use.

I've used lemons in a variety of ways from freezing the zest, the juice, making citrus cleaner, natural air fresheners and was looking for another way to use them.


I recently learned about lemon salt and how great it tastes on my favorite dishes - chicken, fish, homemade salad dressings, salsa and much more - basically anything that you want to add a hint of citrus and salt too.

Making lemon salt is very easy to do and can be done using grapefruit, limes or oranges instead.

Citrus salts make a great homemade gift and are also a great way to preserve the taste of your favorite citrus when they are no longer in season.  

Whether you grow your own lemons or buy them from the store, lemon salt is easy to make.


1. You'll need 3 lemons and 1 cup of kosher salt.



2. Zest 3 lemons.


 3. Add together 1 cup kosher salt, the lemon zest and the juice from 1 lemon.

(Of course, you can make a lot more, like I did - I had a lot of lemons and wanted to make some as gifts.)


4. Mix together the lemon juice, salt and zest.



5. Pour the lemon salt mixture into a shallow baking dish or cookie sheet.

6. Place in a 200 degree F. oven for a half hour.  Then lightly mix it up and bake for another 20 minutes.
(If it hasn't dried all the way, cover it with a clean dish towel and let sit overnight.)


7. Use your fingers to break up any large clumps or you can put it in your food processor and pulse it 2 - 3 times.


That's it!  I told you it was easy.  You can use it right away or store it in a sealed jar to keep it for longer.

Lemon or salts made from other citrus fruit last a long time - at least a year if put in a sealed container.

If you love lemon pepper, you can simply add pepper to the mixture for a delicious addition to your steak!


I've been enjoying making flavored salts for cooking with.  Last year, I made basil and herb salts, which were delicious too!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On the Road Again? 5 Potential Road Trip Destinations

Do you like to travel?  How about traveling by car?

I love taking road trips and over the past several years, my mother and I embark on an annual road trip in our continuing mission to learn about the different regions of the United States.


Both my mother and I are native Californians and now Arizona is our home.  So, our cultural journey has been decidely West Coast and Southwestern.

As a result, we enjoy learning and experiencing the varied sub-cultures that each region of the U.S. has, from its food, history, gardens and people.

Interesting past experiences include:

-Walking into the living room of our bed & breakfast in Indiana Amish country to find two old Amish women watching the royal wedding of William & Kate.

- Touring thoroughbred horse farms and participating at a bourbon tasting at distillery in Kentucky.

- Learning what 'Kentucky burgoo' tastes like and deciding to pass on trying 'dandelion gravy' in Amish country.

- Seeing the actual kitchen where the recipe of Kentucky Fried Chicken was developed.

I could go on and on, but it's time to decide where our road trip this year will take us.


We have several options to choose from and you may think that this is funny, but I drag out my kid's United States puzzle to see where we have been and to help us decide where to go.


This is where we have traveled in the past few years.

So for this year's trip, here are our options:


Option 1: Oregon and Washington.  
I have been to Seattle and Spokane, Washington, but have never traveled to Oregon.  

Options for this trip would include visiting Portland, Oregon and driving up to Seattle, visiting the San Juan Islands and going on up into Canada to Victoria and Vancouver before driving over to Spokane where we have family who live there.


Option 2: Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

We would land in Birmingham, Alabama and drive through Nashiville & Memphis, Tennessee before heading to Little Rock, Arkansas and ending up in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Option 3: Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.

I've never traveled to any of these states and would love to see Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore.  


Option 4: Louisiana, Arkansas, eastern Texas and Oklahoma.

I am anxious to visit the vibrant cities of Texas such as Austin and San Antonio and visit some of my fellow garden blogger friends who live there.  

My grandmother was born in Louisiana and that would be a fun place to visit with a stop in New Orleans.  For this option, we would also visit Little Rock, Arkansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Option 5: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.


Okay, I realize that this is a lot of states to see, but they are small, so we would be able to fit them all into a road trip.  I have visited parts of New Hampshire and Vermont, but would like to see the other states in the Northeast.

So, those are the options we have to choose from.  We will be traveling in early May and our trip will last approximately 8 - 9 days.  

**Do you have a favorite option?  I'd love to hear your recommendations!

No matter where we visit this year, we hope to eventually fulfill all of the options listed above.

***********************

Baby Watch Update:

Not yet, but very, very soon!  The doctor says that the baby is settled as low as he can be, which is a good thing.  

I honestly think that it is harder waiting for your grandchild to be born than your own children.  

Okay, on second thought, not really - being pregnant for 9+ months and not being able to see your feet, much less tie your own shoes - I think waiting for your own baby is harder, but not by much!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Road Trip Plans and a Special Garden Visit

Do you like to travel?  

Where do you like to go?

For those of you who have read my blog for a while, you are familiar with my annual road trip that I take with my mother.

Each year, we visit a different region of the United States.  We fly to one city, rent a car and end up several states away 8 days later.


Flowering window boxes of Charleston, SC

Whether its strolling through historic Charleston, South Carolina...


Or visiting horse country in Lexington, Kentucky...


Visiting Lincoln's Tomb in Illinois...


Sampling the fudge in Mackinac Island...


Driving through the Vermont countryside...


Touring old plantations in Georgia...

or


Watching an old Amish farmer fertilize his field with manure...

I never cease to be amazed at the wonderful things that I get to experience.

This year, we are busy deciding where our next trip will take us.

Last year, we visited the Upper Midwest and I was able to tour some beautiful gardens, including the Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Wisconsin.  


I enjoy taking photographs wherever we visit and this garden was filled with lots of beautiful areas, which you can view here.

Next time I will show you the possible routes that we have to choose from.


***********************

Baby Watch Update:

No baby yet.  The good news is that the amniotic fluid level isn't low as they had previously thought and the baby is gaining weight.

However, they are still monitoring her closely and she has an apppointment this morning, so we will see what they say.

I have my suitcase packed and I'm ready to go at a moment's notice.  I still have appointments scheduled and am busy designing landscape areas next to a golf course, but I can take most of my work with me, so that is good.

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