Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I'm not a vegan, but I am a sucker for cupcakes.  And I'm definitely a sucker for cupcakes based on cocktails.  Tonight, I took another baking class from the Living Social headquarters at 918 F St. in Washington D.C.  This one was taught by Doron Petersan, owner of Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats and winner of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars and Cupcake Wars All-Stars competitions.  On the menu were Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes and Spicy Chocolate Cupcakes with Mexican Chocolate Frosting.
Strawberry Cupcakes (makes approximately 12 cupcakes)
  • 12 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 9 oz sugar
  • 5 oz non-hydrogenated vegan margarine (recommended: Earth Balance)
  • 1 tsp egg replacer (recommended: Ener-G)
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped strawberries
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened strawberry puree
  • 3/4 cup soy milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract    
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Set the bowl aside.
3. In the bowl of the stand mixer, cream the sugar and the margarine with the whisk attachment, about 5 minutes.  Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. In a small bowl or cup, combine the water and egg replacer, and whisk to dissolve the egg replacer (see bubbles).  Add the egg replacer to the sugar and mix until combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
5. Add the strawberries and strawberry puree and mix to the sugar until well combined.  Scrape the bottom of the bowl.
6. In a small bowl, combine the soymilk and vanilla, and set aside.
7. Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients and the soymilk, alternating between the two, ending with the soymilk.  Before ingredients are completely mixed together, take off mixer and fold the batter in order to not overmix.
8. Fill lined cupcake tin 3/4 full and bake 16 to 19 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

* Strawberry Puree
1.  In a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan, heat 1 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen, hulled) on medium-high heat, stirring constantly until they breakdown - approximately 15 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and blend with an electric hand emulsifier
3. Return to heat and cook down until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 15 minutes.  Let cool completely before using.

Margarita Frosting
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (recommended: Earth Balance)
  • 3 3/4 cups 10x powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp tequila
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • Yellow and green food coloring
  • Salt to sprinkle on top
 1. In the bowl of the stand mixer, whip shortening with the paddle attachment until completely soft.  Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
2. On low speed, slowly add sugar a little at a time, then add salt
3. Once sugar is incorporated, add the tequila and lime juice (half at first, then the rest) and mix on low until the liquids are incorporated.
4. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and mix on medium-high speed until all ingredients are combined and the frosting is fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add sugar if not fluffy enough.
5. Add one or two drops each of yellow and green food coloring and mix until incorporated.
6. Frost cupcakes, as desired, and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Chocolate Spice Cake (makes approximately 1 1/2 dozen)
  • 9.2 oz all-purpose flour
  • 10 oz sugar
  • 2.2 oz cocoa
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper (depends on how spicy you want your cupcakes)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk from a carton (recommend: So Delicious), room temperature
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup brewed and cooled coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, cayenne pepper, and salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Set the bowl aside.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, oil, coffee, and vanilla.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until just incorporated.
5. Fold in the vinegar until you begin to see streaks (you will see the vinegar turn the batter light brown).  Do not over mix the batter.
6. Fill lined cupcake tin 3/4 full and bake for 16-19 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Mexican Chocolate Frosting
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (recommend: Earth Balance)
  • 3 Tbsp non-hydrogenated vegan margarine (recommended: Earth Balance)
  • 2 cups 10x powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-3 Tbsp soymilk, as needed
 1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip shortening and margarine with the paddle attachment until completely combined.  Scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that all ingredients are mixed thoroughly.
2. In a separate bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon.
3. On low speed, slowly add sugar mixture to the shortening mixture, a little at a time.
4. Once the sugar and cocoa are incorporated, add the vanilla and soymilk and mix on low until the liquids are incorporated as well.
5. Scrape the bottom of the bowl, and mix on medium-high speed until all ingredients are combined and frosting is fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 by Julie

No comments

Monday, June 25, 2012

Last week was my very good friend's birthday, and we had a weekend full of fun activities to celebrate.  But no birthday is complete without a CAKE!  Since she was visiting D.C. from clear across the world in Southeast Asia, I wanted to make her stay extra special, so I put my ice cream machine back to work to make a homemade peanut butter cup and chocolate ice cream cake with chocolate ganache.  Can you say RICH??

First, I started with the ice cream because it takes the longest time to prepare.  I resorted back to the vanilla custard base I used two weekends ago for my fresh raspberry ice cream.  I'll post the actual recipe in an upcoming blog, but basically it's close to this recipe.  In the first stage, the cream and milk are combined in a long simmer, then the creamed eggs and sugar are tempered and added back into the hot liquid to create the custard.  For flavor, since this is basically a vanilla base with chunks of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups thrown in, I added vanilla extract.  It takes a long time to chill the mixture, so I poured it into a metal bowl and threw on some plastic wrap, making sure that it was touching the custard -- no ice cream tastes good with custard crustiness mixed into it!  I started this process at about 8:30pm, to ensure my chilling time would occur overnight, but a couple hours should work just as well.
In the morning, I poured the chilled custard into the frozen ice cream tumbler for my ice cream machine, dumped in my chopped peanut butter cups, and flipped the switch.  About 30 minutes later, I had my soft serve consistency ice cream, which was perfect for spooning into the springform cake pan containing the bottom cake layer of my future decadent masterpiece - creating the final and top ic cream layer - then putting into the freezer to harden into shape.  But before I spooned it in, I melted some Reese's Peanut Butter chips in the microwave, then used a spoon to swirl it into the ice cream.  It was interesting because the ribbons of sweet peanut butter hardened pretty quickly, which actually worked out well, like extra candy. 

While the custard was chilling in the refrigerator, I started on the chocolate cake bottom layer.  I knew this cake was going to be big in taste, so it didn't need it to be big in size.  I selected a 7 inch springform pan.  And just to keep it simple, I went ahead and used a basic Betty Crocker Milk Chocolate cake mix.  To be honest, half the time I find that boxed cake mix not only tastes better but it produces results that are more consistent with your expectations.  I had thought about a brownie base, until my friend told me a story of her ice cream cake with a rock hard frozen brownie bottom.    
The mix was too much for what I needed, so I also got almost a dozen cupcakes out of this baking adventure.  Bonus!  When the cake was done, "toothpick clean," I let it cool for a few minutes on the cooling rack, then I took it out of the springform pan ring to prevent the sides from overcooking.  After the cake cooled a little further, I used a cake knife to separate the cake from the pan bottom, washed the bottom, then cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the circle shape.  Before I was ready to chill the cake, I washed the springform ring, placed the cake back on the lined bottom, then reassembled the springform pan.  I put the cake in Tupperware and placed it in the refrigerator to keep the custard company overnight.

In the morning, when the ice cream was ready, I took a strip of parchment paper and folded it in half to double its thickness.  It took three of these doubled strips to line the sides of the springform pan, just so it was easier to release the ice cream cake.  There was still a larger gap than I wanted, but I figured that when the ice cream was hard, I would (hopefully) be able to shape it into an even round, vertically.

And now...the waiting game!!!  I was crossing my fingers that what's in my mind is going to work in reality!  After adequate time in the freezer, I pulled the springform pan out of the freezer, undid the ring, lifted it off, pulled off the parchment paper, and....it was perfect!  Well, the ice cream had seeped down around the cake ring, essentially removing the layering look, but it was pretty darn good for my first try.

I then set out to make the ganache.  Using heavy cream, semisweet chocolate chips, and a few Reese's Peanut Butter chips for flavor, I heated up the cream to a soft boil, poured it onto the chocolate and peanut butter chips in a metal bowl, then stirred until it reached a shiny look.  I was a little impatient, and poured the ganache onto the frozen ice cream cake a little too early.  The chocolate was still too hot, and ended up melting the ice cream on the sides.  Oh well, lesson learned.  It may have looked like a hot mess, but it tasted delicious!  In hindsight, I think I should have used a richer chocolate cake mix, as the milk chocolate cake had little flavor in its frozen state.

Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 by Julie

No comments

Sunday, June 24, 2012

There's a new adventure in town!  Go Ape in Rockville, Maryland, next to Lake Needwood in the northern part of Rock Creek Park, is waiting to deliver some amazing treetop fun times.  While ziplining is probably the more popular part of the activity, there are many other challenging rope, swing, cargo net, and balance tests along the routes.

The park is setup in four progressive segments.  After receiving a training briefing - which included gearing up with your harness, instruction on how to be safe by always staying attached with at least one point of contact, and using the equipment on the tree ladders and traversing cables - we were let loose to start on the first segment.  The first step of every segment is to get up onto the tree platforms, hooking into a safety pulley system then climbing a rope ladder.

I had expected the experience to be filled with ziplines and bridges from tree to tree, but it was a lot more challenging than that!  And while Go Ape caters to children and adults, it requires a relatively good amount of physical strength.  One of the first obstacles is a tarzan swing, where you hook into a regulated speed rope swing that crashes into a hanging cargo net.  You are expected to grab the net and climb up on a diagonal to reach the tree platform, and if you've never climbed a cargo net that is not secure on the bottom, you don't realize how much upper body strength it takes.  By the time I reached the second tarzan swing on the course, in the fourth segment, my arm strength was about zapped.  Of course it didn't help my energy levels that I went on a long hike that morning!  For the tarzan swing, they suggest that you actually bounce off of the net, then try to grab at it when the pendulum moves you back.  For the first swing, the speed wasn't so bad, but the second swing had a longer free fall leap from the platform and much faster speed into the cargo net.  I was the first to go off the platform on Round 2, so I was surprised by the velocity on impact, so much so that my shoe got caught in the net and almost fell off!!  That certainly would have made finishing the course more difficult!
Making choices - left or right?  I went right!
The course, from training to finish took us about three hours, and that was only because we were the first group to go during our time slot, so we had no delays ahead of us.  There is a lot of time spent hooking into the cable safety system and clipping your pulley onto and off of the cables for each obstacle...and taking pictures as well.  Of course the best parts of the day were the four ziplines that marked the end each segment.  The goal is to land on your feet, doing a running motion to lessen the impact.  Unfortunately, there are times where the harness spins you around, and inevitably you must land by dragging your feet to slow you down, ultimately landing on your butt.  Alas, I was 4 for 4 on my butt landings.  Maybe next time!

Posted on Sunday, June 24, 2012 by Julie

No comments

Great Falls on the Potomac River
I may not be much of a hiker, but that doesn't stop me from doing it every once in awhile.  Plus, when the hike is close to home and has beautiful scenic views, what's wrong with that?  The trail I'm talking about is called the Billy Goat Trail, just a 25 minute drive northwest of Washington D.C., near Great Falls and the C&O Canal on the Maryland side of the river.
Great Falls Tavern
Mule-Pulled Boat Rides on the C&O Canal
Starting at Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center, you can take a quick detour either before or after the hike to the Great Falls Overlook.  Great Falls is a point in the Potomac River where the water quickly rushes over sharp rocks as it works its way through Mather Gorge.  It's a popular spot in the river for kayakers and photographers alike.  What I love about this hike is that it's not only getting out and getting some fresh air, taking advantage of a local natural treasure, but the spot is also rich in history.  George Washington focused his post-Revolutionary War passion on the Potomac River as a potential trade route to the land west of the Allegheny Mountains, thereby further solidifying the new United States as one economy, one nation.  The Potomac River was the shortest waterway route available to link the trans-Atlantic trade to the frontier goods moving along the Ohio River. Washington convinced Maryland and Virginia to cooperate and form the Potowmack Company in order to formally engineer necessary improvements to the river to achieve his vision.  Washington served as the President of the venture from 1785 until he was selected for the office of President of the United States.
C&O Canal Lock and Towpath
While the Potomac presented many challenges for its use as a waterway trade route - including varying water levels throughout the year and steep drops - one of its largest obstacles was Great Falls, just 10 miles from Washington D.C.  To build a system of locks to compensate for an area of the river that falls 80 feet in less than a mile pushed the boundaries of physics knowledge and labor skills of the time.  The result, after 17 years of hard work, was a series of five locks on the Virginia side of the river - three of which required the use of black powder blasting in order to gain passage through rocks.  This venture also established an entire town next to the falls, Mathildaville, inhabited by construction workers and their families.  Mathildaville was named after the wife of the founder and Alexandria native "Light Horse" Harry Lee, father of Civil War General Robert E. Lee.  While the building of this canal provided a remarkable improvement to the movement of goods along the river, Washington's original vision was never complete as the canal proved to be too costly and the Potomac too uncooperative -- with water levels only making the canal usable a couple months of the year.  In 1828, the Potowmack Company was acquired by the new Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company, who decided to abandon the Virginia canal in favor of starting over on the Maryland side with a canal that begins in Georgetown and ends in Cumberland, Maryland, thereby sealing the fate of Mathildaville to a path of abandonment and ultimate demise.  The C&O Canal remains today as a link to our nation's past, and the Billy Goat Trail - Section A loops back to the starting point on the original C&O towpath that runs parallel to the canal.       

The Billy Goat Trail - Section A begins as an easy forested path, but once you get over near the Potomac River, you're climbing over and leaping from one rock to the next at most points.  An unusual aspect of this route is that it actually includes an obstacle that requires you to climb up a rock face that's maybe 70 feet, but it's not that bad.  There's a clear crevasse that leads you to the top.

Looking over at the Virginia side of Mather Gorge
But for all your hard work you are rewarded with beautiful views that make you forget that you're actually close to a large, sprawling city that also serves as our nation's capitol!  While the loop was only around 3.7 miles, it was not a quick hike.  Due to the rough terrain, some stops for photos and water, and delays at the steep rock, it actually took our group about three hours to return to our car.  So plan accordingly, start early, and bring water and sunscreen!   
A heron trying to avoid being photographed
Paddleboarders enjoying a calmer section of the Potomac below the falls

Posted on Sunday, June 24, 2012 by Julie

1 comment

Monday, June 18, 2012

Whenever I have visitors, I love to take them to the major sites in D.C.  One must-see site is, obviously, the U.S. Capitol.  Simply visiting the $650 million U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, you can gain access to the building and take one of the tours provided by the Capitol Red Coat tour guides.  As an alternative,  tourists can contact their local Senator or Representative's office and request a tour from someone on their staff or one of their interns.  While asking for a tour, you should also remember to ask for White House tickets too!  During busy season, though, you will have to request those White House tickets many months in advance; and even then, you may not get a ticket.

An advantage of living in D.C. is that inevitably you will have at least one friend that works on the the hill who may be able to help you gain access as well.  I am fortunate to have some very generous friends that have helped me out with tickets several times since I've lived here, so here's where I send a huge thank you to them again!!  Today in particular, my friend arranged for me a private tour of the Capitol for my Grandma, who was amazed by all of the special attention she received - definitely a great memory for her to take home!

Standing on the Center of the U.S. Capitol
For more information on the history of the Capitol's construction, major events that have impacted the Capitol (e.g. set ablaze by the British in the War of 1812, continuing construction of the dome during the Civil War, etc.), and other factoids, visit the website for the Architect of the Capitol.  This will give you a great background before your tour, especially since the crowds may make it difficult to hear everything your guide says.  On the typical U.S. Capitol the major sites you will see are the Crypt, Rotunda, Old Supreme Court Chamber, Old Senate Chamber, and Old Hall of the House now the National Statuary Hall.  If you want to visit the House or Senate Galleries to observe lawmakers in action, you must arrange for tickets from your local Senator and Representative's offices.  Here's a brief overview of the tour stops, with links to the Architect of the Capitol's more extensive descriptions, followed by some of my favorite neat discoveries we experienced on our tour today!

The Capitol Crypt is on the first floor of the Capitol and is directly beneath the popular Rotunda and its Capitol Dome.  This used to be the Visitors Center before the new one was opened in 2008.  Here, you can stand on a marble star that is the direct center of the Capitol building.  All of the marble columns and arches surrounding the star are placed specifically to support and distribute the weight of the massive dome above.
The Old Supreme Court Chambe
The Old Supreme Court Chamber was the home of our highest court from 1810-1860.  On the rear wall, in plaster relief, are Lady Justice with her scales (no blindfold), a young angel holding a copy of the U.S. Constitution representing a young United States, and an eagle guarding books of written laws.  After 1860, the Supreme Court moved into The Old Senate Chamber once the Senate outgrew the space and moved into their current Chamber.  
The Old Senate Chamber
The Rotunda is a popular stop on the tour because there is so much to learn about its history.  Finished in 1863 during the American Civil War, it was Lincoln's decision to complete its construction as a symbol of the inevitable survival of the Union.  Besides the amazing architecture of the dome, itself, I was particularly enraptured by the frescoed frieze, below the bottom set of windows, that depicts the history of the United States from Christopher Columbus through the Wright Brothers.  A painting technique was used to give the illusion that the frieze is three dimensional, what I think may be considered a trompe d'oeil because it certainly tricked my eye.  If you're a fan of Where's Waldo?, you'll appreciate the fact that the original artist, before he died, painted himself somewhere in his completed section, and his apprentice followed suit in his section of the circular panel.
The Capitol Dome
National Statuary Hall

The Old Hall of the House became the National Statuary Hall in 1857 when the House moved to its current location.  If you look at the floor, you will see brass plates that mark the spots where former Presidents sat while serving in the House of Representatives - like Abe Lincoln and John Quincy Adams.  The dome also creates some interesting acoustic effects that allow you to hear a whisper from across the room if the speaker and listener are standing in just the right spots, which is why this room is also called the Whispering Hall.  This room is home to several statues that are part of the National Statuary program, where each state can contribute two statues of individual citizens who represent state history or extraordinary achievement.  This was my favorite room!

We also got to view both a session of the House and of the Senate.  I can't say much about the experience, though, because not many members showed up today.  On the House side, we did get to see the morning opening to the session tradition.  Then a few Republicans read to the Speaker, and for the record, anything from views of Obama's recent immigration leniency decision to congratulations for outstanding constituent accomplishments.  In the Senate Chamber, it was very slow, with only one Democrat Senator present, discussing a Farm Bill.   

OK, so the boring (but interesting to me) stuff is finished.  Now on to four little known facts that were introduced to us by our personal guide!

The fresco at the top of the Capitol Dome is titled The Apotheosis of Washington and illustrates George Washington as he rises to heaven, flanked by Liberty and Victory, surrounded by thirteen maidens representing the original thirteen colonies.   Way to go George!  A ladies man!
The corn carvings atop columns near the Old Supreme Court Chamber are original and survived the fire in 1814 set by the British that destroyed nearly all but the outer structure of the U.S. Capitol (and the White House too!).
In a painting in the Rotunda of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, the artist did something funny to symbolize the friendship and strong disagreement shared by Jefferson and Adams.  Look closely...Jefferson is stepping on Adam's toes!
What is considered one of President Ronald Reagan's most famous quotes comes from a speech he made in 1987 in front of the Brandenburg Gate:  "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"  Incorporated into the stand for the bronze statue of Reagan in the National Statuary Hall is a piece of the Berlin Wall.  

Posted on Monday, June 18, 2012 by Julie

1 comment

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I'll admit, summertime is not my favorite season of the year -- preferring the beauty of the new flowers and bright green baby leaves in Spring, the smells and crisp air of Fall, and no stifling D.C. humidity -- but it does bring some definite pluses.  Here are some of my favorite things about  summer:

1. Berry season!:  I know I just wrote about this yesterday, but I've been eating the rewards of our hard work today, so it's still on my mind!  The raspberry ice cream I made was fantastic!  I used a vanilla custard base with whole milk, heavy cream, 3 eggs and 4 egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla - not low fat! - then added the raspberry puree in before it was churned.  It really is a shame that so many farms have been sold to land developers and made into housing communities now, but I understand the economics of it.  Still sad.

2. Orange and yellow bell peppers with hummus:  I don't know why I've never tried orange and yellow bell peppers before this year.  I suppose it is because I despise green and red peppers, or what I call airplane food seasoning because it makes tasteless food moderately edible.  Plus the name, pepper, implies spicy to me.  Anyway, I just started to eat them as a dipping veggie, and I'm loving it!  Even if the yellow ones turn my nails yellow.  If I'm out of peppers, I just discovered these delicious Blue Diamond Nut-Thins nut and rice crackers with a hint of salt are a great hummus-dipping alternative.
3. Tennis!:  Yes, I know the tennis season is practically year round, but summer means the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.  Watching Rafa Nadal win his 7th French Open last Monday was fantastic!  I like to go to at least one tournament every year, and it's convenient that Washington D.C. hosts some of the professional men every August for the Citi Open (formerly Legg Mason Tennis Classic).  But, if I'm looking to see all of the top pros in a less crazy environment than a grand slam tournament, I love going to the Cincinnati Masters tournament.  This year, I'm going to miss Cincy, but I'm replacing that experience with a ticket to watch everyone during the London Summer Olympics at the grounds of Wimbledon!!! Not a bad trade-off!
4. Outdoor Concerts and Movies: We have several great outdoor venues in D.C. for concerts, but the only one that lets you bring in picnics and bottles of wine and sit on the grassy lawn behind the seating area for cheap is Wolftrap.  I have really bad luck, for some reason, when I buy lawn tickets, though.  Inevitably, a thunderstorm always hits!!  No joke!  If concerts aren't your thing, then there's Screen on the Green on the D.C. National Mall during July and August, where you can spread a blanket on the lawn and watch old movies on a giant screen.  The 2012 movies are:
  • July 16 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • July 25 - It Happened One Night
  • July 30 - From Here to Eternity
  • August 6 - Psycho

Photo from Washington Post
There's also the NoMa Summer Screen on Wednesday evenings May 23 to August 8 on the Loree Grand Field at Second and L Streets, NE. The event starts at 7 p.m. with music, giveaways, family fun, food vendors (food trucks!!) and picnicking. Films start at dark. This year's film theme is 2012: Is it the End of the World? If those two locations don't work, there are also outdoor screenings in Rosslyn and Crystal City.  WTOP has a complete schedule for the whole summer!

5. Summer BBQs:  Summertime is simple.  The weather is warm and there's no snow to shovel.  Flowers are blooming and scenting the air.  Citronella candles are burning.  And there's nothing better than lounging on the outdoor patio set, catching up with friends, drinking beer from a cold bottle, and smelling the food grilling.  Oh and a giant bowl of seedless watermelon for dessert!  In fact, it's time for me to head over to my friend's house for a BBQ right now!

Posted on Sunday, June 17, 2012 by Julie

No comments

Saturday, June 16, 2012

We headed out today to pick some berries at a local farm.  When you live in Northern Virginia, the closest farms are out in Fauquier County, or about a 60 minute drive from inside the beltway.  The scenic drive, alone, is worth it though. 

I grew up picking my own berries in Oregon.  Every summer, my mom would take us out to Wilhelm Farms in Wilsonville where they had rows upon rows, in multiple fields, of ground skimming strawberry bushes.  I swear, Oregon berries taste like no other berry you can pick in the world or get from the grocery store.  I don't know if it's the rain or if it's the variety, but they are the sweetest and juciest berry.  I remember my mom would take us out there for the day, every June after school was out, to pick as many berries as we could.  As a kid, of course, I only picked probably one flat to my mom's four - because I ate the other three!  Seriously, I must have ingested a ridiculous amount of pesticides when I was young, but fortunately I turned out okay!  Oregon berry shelf life is very short, so when we got home, my mom would slice up all the berries, sprinkle them in sugar, then pack them into several ziploc freezer bags.  This meant that for the rest of the year, we always had strawberries we could thaw out for weekend breakfasts.  Yum!! 

So, today my friend and I tried to replicate my berry picking memories by taking her daughter out to  Hollin Farms.  In June, the farm allows locals to pick strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, sour cherries, plums, and apricots.  We both aren't big fans of plums and apricots, so we stuck to the berries.  Like me, my friend's daughter ended up eating half of what she picked.  Love it!  It's funny how you remember the happier parts of things you did as a kid.  I tell you, after only filling one quart of strawberries, my back and knees were already complaining, and even in low humidity the sweat was pouring!  And I don't remember having to dig so much into the plants to find the berries.
 After about an hour and a half at the farm, we had successfully picked four quarts of strawberries, four pints of raspberries, a pint of (sour!) blackberries, and a half pint of the tart cherries.  I will be freezing the strawberries for future breakfasts, and tonight, I got all the ingredients to make an amazing batch of fresh raspberry ice cream.  Yum!!
Our berry load for the day!
The plan was that after the berry farm, we were going to go to a lavender farm I had heard about recently, Seven Oaks Farm.  Envisioning the endless rows of lavender of Provence, France, I questioned the GPS when it had said we arrived and we saw nothing purple at all.  We headed down the driveway only to discover that a lavender farm was, in fact, simply an oversized garden full of lavender plants.  While the berry farm had been free admission, pay for what you pick, the lavender farm had the gall to charge $6 for adults, $3 for children, just to walk through this garden - on top of the $0.12 per stem should you choose to cut them.  Disappointed, we ended up leaving.  Lesson learned, if I want to see lavender, the only place to go is to its true source.  Plus, who doesn't want to go to Provence in the summer?  I do!  No excuses required!
The not so much lavender but empty field farm

Posted on Saturday, June 16, 2012 by Julie

1 comment