A Blueberry Odyssey: Farm to Pancake

Big handsome horse was very friendly after some treats!

Big handsome horse was very friendly after some treats!

Happy June in Louisiana, the magical month of the year when strawberry, blackberry, blueberry – and if you’re lucky – peach season align in some kind of fantastic fruit shooting star.

Yesterday went on a journey one hour north of the big city, across “Lake” Ponchartrain, to a 10-acre berry farm and horse ranch by the name of Ridemore. Lucky for them, they did not experience the same spring freeze that other area farms did, and as such, they are one of the very-very-very few places that blueberries are available. Alex and I got there bright and early (9:15 am to be exact) and we were fortunate enough to spend about two hours scouring the bushes for those deep purple beauties. Apparently if we had got there at 8 am sharp, a few blackberries and more than 1 1/2 pounds of blueberries would have been ours in a matter of minutes!

Even though our bounty wasn’t the five plus pounds of blueberries and blackberries that I dreamed of, our scant 1 1/2 pounds of blueberries, plus a big jar of Ridemore’s honey still made our day a special one. Needless to say, we will be returning for more berries in a couple of weeks.

Follow these lucky berries’ journey from branch yesterday morning to my stomach for dinner today -

Scanning the bushes, while getting a full blast of morning sun

Scanning the bushes, while getting a full blast of morning sun

Stages of ripeness

Stages of ripeness

Homemade batter (courtesy of Smitten Kitchen's blueberry-yogurt multigrain pancake recipe) + fresh blueberries + real maple syrup

Homemade batter (courtesy of Smitten Kitchen’s blueberry-yogurt multigrain pancake recipe) + fresh blueberries + real maple syrup

The stars of this show! Being novices, Alex and I picked a few too many underripe (slightly pink) ones, but their tartness still works great in these pancakes...lucky us.

The stars of this show! Being novices, Alex and I picked a few too many underripe (slightly pink) ones, but their tartness still works great in these pancakes…lucky us.

The secret is to not mix the berries into the batter, but rather to press/drop/throw them in after pouring your 'cakes.

The secret is to not mix the berries into the batter, but rather to press/drop/throw them in after pouring your ‘cakes.

Barely any butter or syrup needed!

Barely any butter or syrup needed!

Each berry held its juice in like a little sweet secret that popped when provoked by my fork.

Each berry held its juice in like a little sweet secret that popped only when provoked by my fork. Divine.

I would call this blueberry odyssey a total success. The farm is lovely. The owners, Mrs. and Mr. Prats, are friendly and are happy to share wonderful information about their inherited family farm and the history behind their plants.

Now what am I going to do with the rest of these little juicy ones…? Eat them raw, mix them into my homemade yogurt, blend them into fruit smoothies (that was my breakfast today, with banana & grapefruit juice), muffins, cobblers… the possibilities are pretty endless and pretty exciting.

Jumbo Shrimp, Mammoth Carrots, and my Little Potatoes

Never understood jumbo shrimp until this moment.

Never understood jumbo shrimp until this moment.

Did you know that carrots could be like this?

‘ Did you know that carrots could be like this?

Thought my potato plants had died (due to me adding too much soil too quickly to my vines) - but luckily, Louisiana had given me a few small, new potatoes anyways.

Thought my potato plants had died (due to me adding too much soil too quickly to my vines) – but luckily, Louisiana had given me a few small, new potatoes anyways.

Just some of the spring curiosities to be found here in New Orleans!

 

A Strawberry Reprise

My local meal: Arugula salad with strawberries and pecans, topped with a homemade honey mustard vinaigrette. One of Southern Louisiana's gifts to us this time of year.

My local meal: Arugula salad with strawberries and pecans, topped with a homemade honey mustard vinaigrette. One of Southern Louisiana’s gifts to us this time of year.

Dirty Doz, front row at the French Quarter Fest

Dirty Doz horn men, front row at the French Quarter Fest

New Mingus picture

New Mingus picture

Panorama of the intersection of St. Roch and St. Claude; St. Roch Market under construction... hopefully done soon.

Panorama of the intersection at St. Roch and St. Claude; St. Roch Market under construction… hopefully done soon.

Erykah Badu at the Sugarmill, wearing a big old blonde wig.

Erykah Badu at the Sugarmill, wearing a big old blonde wig.

George looking good like always!

George looking good like always!

Mud pit on Sunday at Jazz Fest

Mud pit on Sunday at Jazz Fest

Irma Thomas at Jazz Fest on Sunday

Irma Thomas at Jazz Fest on Sunday

Phenomenal drummer, Brian Blade, rocks & rolls the Jazz Tent

Phenomenal drummer, Brian Blade, rocks & rolls the Jazz Tent

Wayne Shorter on sax and Danilo Perez on Steinway - great way to end out a weekend of music.

Wayne Shorter on sax and Danilo Perez on Steinway – great way to end out a weekend of music.

 

 

Louisiana’s Sweeeet Strawberries make it the Capital of the World… at one time

> I had it all planned out. Six weeks ago I scoured the internet (pickyourown.org) to find out if there were any “pick your own” type of farms in the area, as I had never been out on a berry farm to pluck the delicious treasures straight from the vine. Success! The Landry-Poche family farm was just an hour north of here, near Ponchatoula, located outside the small town of Springfield, LA. Ponchatoula is the self-proclaimed “Strawberry Capital of the World” and fittingly, touts a Strawberry Festival each spring. This year’s festival was last week, but Alex and I wanted to wait until this weekend for Landry-Poche farm’s “pick your own” 1 day event.

I can’t recommend the folks at Landry-Poche enough. They were kind and generous, and didn’t mind chatting with me about their farm, which has been in the family since the 1920s. Glad to hear that they are all making a living at it, selling their product mainly to Whole Foods in New Orleans. Although, the woman I spoke with was quick to say that the price of berries stays constant, while their costs regretfully continue to go up each year. Finding labor is also an issue, as they hire migrant workers from Mexico. Everything must be done by hand, no machines here.

Here are some great pictures captured at the farm:

Rows and rows of strawberry plants - lovingly hand tilled, planted, and harvested each year.

Rows and rows of strawberry plants – lovingly hand tilled, planted, and harvested each year.

Carefully inspecting each berry for optimal ripeness. Alex and I did have to taste test a few. Bursting with sweetness and flavor, I promise.

Carefully inspecting each berry for optimal ripeness. Alex and I did have to taste test a few. Bursting with sweetness and flavor, I promise.

Now that's what I'm talking about! A small, but beautiful one.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! A small, but beautiful one. Ripe up through the hull.

Mutant strawberry. For some reason it makes me think of "Octamom" as if 8 strawberries were borns together, like children of the corn...

Mutant strawberry. For some reason it makes me think of “Octamom”, but with 8 siamese strawberries…

In all, we spent about an hour and picked a mere 3.15 pounds. However, we were not going for speed but for quality, choosing the sweetest berries for our jam.

Back at the house, I preceded to get 9 quilted jelly jars ready for this big moment. Then, I hulled and crushed 6 cups of those perfect berries (kind of broke my heart) and mixed them with 5 cups of sugar. At this point, I had a feeling that this would not be low-sugar, diabetes-friendly stuff:

Alex tenderly stirring the smashed strawberry and sugar mixture. The big, covered pot holds the 1/2 pint jelly jars boiling for sterilization.

Alex tenderly stirring the smashed strawberry and sugar mixture. The big, covered pot holds the 1/2 pint jelly jars boiling for sterilization.

 

7 filled jars, freshly sealed and cooling on a towel overnight. Got to hear a few lovely "popping" noises as all 7 sealed correctly!

7 filled jars, freshly sealed and cooling on a towel overnight. Got to hear a few lovely “popping” noises as all 7 sealed correctly!

To conclude, it was a worthwhile adventure. What a joy to follow our berries from field to homemade jam. It was a great success, although there are definitely a couple things we know now that we didn’t know before (such as, remember to skim off the foam of the cooked jam before filling the jars). Other than that, I am happy with the finished product – we taste-tested a small leftover amount, warm on toast last night. Super sweet, but the flavor is bright and fresh!

Now if only I had Mimi’s homemade bread to go with this jam, it would be almost like sitting in her kitchen, having an everyday breakfast on the farm…

A photo montage of Springtime

Mingus being serious while going pee.

Mingus being serious while going pee.

Small tree frog that jumped on my face while in bed, was safely returned to the outdoors.

Small tree frog that jumped on my face while in bed, was safely returned to the outdoors.

Dramatic lighting on George.

Dramatic lighting on George.

Ann's Roses in full bloom already, welcoming the Springtime.

Ann’s Roses in full bloom already, welcoming the Springtime.

In Congo Square for the New World Rhythms Festival a couple of weeks ago.

In Congo Square for the New World Rhythms Festival a couple of weeks ago.

Crawfish boil, enough said.

Crawfish boil, enough said.

Lindsey getting some "Auntie" time in with Andrew in Kansas.

Lindsey getting some “Auntie” time in with Andrew in Kansas.

Nice to see you sir!

Nice to see you sir!

Tired kitten sleeping on Alex's lap.

Tired kitten sleeping on Alex’s lap.

Decided that he'd like to try sitting down in the potted plant for a while.

Decided that he’d like to try sitting down in the potted plant for a while.

The green plant was too tempting, so George had to take a risk and leave Alex's back to acquire the chlorophyl treasure.

The green plant was too tempting, so George had to take a risk and leave Alex’s back to acquire the chlorophyl treasure.

 

 

Funky Fiesta

> Here are some recent pictures from the adventures in the Crescent City. If the current weather persists, we are looking at Springtime already! After the coldest nights this weekend (I think we did get below freezing), the air has turned warm and fresh, letting us all know that long days and perfect nights are on the way.

The Maceo Parker Band at Tipitinas, Thursday February 28

The Maceo Parker Band at Tipitina’s, Thursday February 28

George resting her triangle-head atop Alex's ear

George resting her triangle-head atop Alex’s ear

Hello Mingus!

Hello Mingus!

Weekend produce box from the Hollygrove Farm & Market - local, sustainably-grown strawberries, shittake mushrooms, tarragon, sweet potatoes, blood oranges, and brussel sprouts. Enjoyed the "fruits" of a more mild climate than Kansas!

Beautiful weekend produce box from the Hollygrove Market & Farm – local, sustainably-grown strawberries, shittake mushrooms, tarragon, sweet potatoes, blood oranges, and brussel sprouts. Sampling the “fruits” of a more mild climate than Kansas!

Mingus sniffin' the greens portion of my produce box - kale, purple cabbage, creole green onions, and beets. Pushing myself to cook new things! Especially enjoyed the brussel sprouts.

Mingus sniffin’ the greens portion of my produce box – kale, purple cabbage, creole green onions, and beets. Pushing myself to cook new things! Especially enjoyed the brussel sprouts. However, some of the greens go to George of course.

My score of all-natural ingredients for my household cleaning and health products. Baking soda, castile soap, washing soda, vinegars, coconut oil, and of course lemon juice.

My score of all-natural ingredients for my household cleaning and health products. Baking soda, castile soap, washing soda, vinegars, coconut oil, and of course lemon juice.

With time on my hands, I am trying to better myself and learn new things, such as cooking & eating more healthily, reducing the toxicity and waste in the house, and taking care of the pets in the best ways possible (fresh air, healthy food, and exercise for them, too). Also, I am starting to read up on growing my own produce and perhaps keeping a couple of chickens someday. I have planted a small seed potato in a bushel baskets filled with compost from local, small business (Jefferson Feed in Jefferson, LA and Harold’s Plants, close to my house off St. Claude). There has never been a better time for me to learn about improving for myself and the planet, albeit in small ways. Hoping to have access to a surplus of local peppers and fruits this summer so I can try my luck at canning fruit & pepper jellies!

In other news, I have been checking the on-line sources for upcoming concerts, festivals, and activities around the city. Seems like the Spring IS the most happening time here in NOLA – with plenty of activities outside to enjoy the beautiful weather (before it turns into a hot mess of a swamp in July).

Looking forward to coming back home to Kansas for Easter weekend!

Enjoy yourself & be well,

Missy

‘Tis the Season

Been quite a while, but we have been busy hosting many guests and enjoying the festivities this Mardi Gras (and Superbowl) season!

While over Christmas and New Year’s Alex was visiting friends and family back in Kansas, my good friend Iwona came from Poland via Chicago to visit New Orleans for the first time. I had not seen her for many years and was excited (in the least) to share my most recent adventure with her. The best things we did were eating at The Joint for her first meal here, as well as indulging in Sunday brunch at my old employer, Apolline. Other than that, we moseyed around the Quarter, Marigny, and Bywater. Iwona took many wonderful photographs which I would love to share, however they are currently locked in my old laptop, unable to be freed from Electronic’s Hades. Hopefully, where there is a will there is a way and I will get to post some here eventually.

Soon after Iwona’s departure and Alex’s return, my parents came down from Overland Park. This was Mom’s second visit to New Orleans (the first was only a couple days with me last June) and Dad’s first time. Neither had been to our neighborhood, and it truly was a great experience for them to stay at the Elysian Fields Inn. Always a blast to show them around town, both by car and by foot, as there is no other place like New Orleans – especially in the architecture and people-watching department.

Next, Alex and I hosted his brother and sister-in-law, Jacob and Crystal, who flew down from Lincoln, NE. Simultaneously, Dylan, the African drum guru extraordinaire, stayed with us, coming from Lawrence, KS. Luckily, the trio came for the most exciting – and first of the season – Mardi Gras Parade: Krewe du Vieux. A highly raunchy and satirical parade, we watched with glee on Frenchman Street and tried to get as close as we could to the fascinating floats. Check out the website for more information about this local, seasonal treasure. I also hope to get access to some of Crystal photographs of the parade, as she got right in the action, jumping in front of the floats fearlessly with her snazzy camera and skills.

So things I do have pictures of….

Krewe of Barkus

Mr. Bruiser enjoying himself at the Barkus parade on Dumaine St.

Mr. Bruiser enjoying himself at the Barkus parade on Dumaine St.

Holding my co-worker, Karen's, chihuahua - Cocoa Puff

Holding my co-worker, Karen’s, chihuahua – Cocoa Puff

Dachshunds by the bushel

Dachshunds by the bushel

Even George enjoyed the view atop Alex's shoulder

Even George enjoyed the view atop Alex’s shoulder

Gimme a break!

Gimme a break!

Superbowl concerts by the great Mississippi River

Walter Wolfman Washington and his Roadmasters...gimme some of that sweet funky sound, baby!

Walter Wolfman Washington and his Roadmasters…gimme some of that sweet funky soul, baby!

It's electric!

It’s electric!

Puttering around the house…

Sneaky gato

Sneaky gato

Completely homemade pizza, Alex's creation. White whole wheat crust, with a tomato-basil-garlic chunky sauce, topped with whole-milk mozzarella, spinach, green pepper, onion, and giant pepperoni. Divinely cooked atop a cornmeal-rubbed pizza stone...for the perfect crust.

Completely homemade pizza, Alex’s creation. White whole wheat crust, with a tomato-basil-garlic chunky sauce, topped with whole-milk mozzarella, spinach, green pepper, onion, and giant pepperoni. Divinely cooked atop a cornmeal-rubbed pizza stone…for the perfect crust.

Raspberry chipotle pepper jelly and neufchâtel cheese spread on a ciabatta roll...enough said

Pepperland raspberry chipotle pepper jelly and neufchâtel cheese spread on a ciabatta roll…enough said

If you go to New Orleans, you got to see the Mardi Gras

Alex's friend from KS - Joe, me, and Alex on Mardi gras day, Frenchman Street

Alex’s friend from KS – Joe, me, and Alex on Mardi gras day, Frenchman Street

Originally, we went out walking dressed normally, but quickly found that we had better dress up in order to avoid strange looks. And yes the men are wearing girl’s clothes, and loving it.

Ladies...

Ladies…

...and not so much.

…and not so much.

Doing what they can to catch some beads in the Quarter, you know how it is.

Doing what they can to catch some beads in the Quarter, you know how it is.

Saturday before Mardi Gras, Alex at the Krewe of Endymion parade, Orleans & Carrollton, Mid-City

Saturday before Mardi Gras, Alex at the Krewe of Endymion parade, Orleans & Carrollton, Mid-City

Another Wild Tchoupitoulas sighting, this time on stage with Russell Batiste at BMC Mardi Gras evening

Another Wild Tchoupitoulas sighting, this time on stage with Russell Batiste at BMC Mardi Gras evening – their beads & feathers looked phenomenal!

The End

And of course, a little George & Mingus couldn't hurt.

And of course, a little George & Mingus couldn’t hurt.

the Zoo on Marais St.

Dragon, looking good.

Dragon, looking good.

Tired kitty, meet Mingus. Somewhere between 7 and 10 months old. Weighing in at a whopping 10 pounds. Adopted from the Louisiana SPCA two weeks ago!

Tired kitty, meet Mingus. Somewhere between 7 and 10 months old. Weighing in at a whopping 10 pounds. Adopted from the Louisiana SPCA two weeks ago!

Old girl, isn't she glowing?

Old girl, isn’t she glowing?

Curious about Bruiser...."is that really a dog?"

Curious about Bruiser….”is that really a dog?”

Bruiser, the little Chihuahua mix. What a gentleman.

Mingus, also a very handsome boy.

Mingus, also a very handsome boy but currently experiencing the Crazy Eyes.

Yummy collard greens for breakfast.

Yummy collard greens for breakfast.

Big stretch kitty.

Big stretch kitty.

Cuddling on my lap to avoid Mingus.

Cuddling on my lap to avoid Mingus.

Herlin, Dirty Doz, Chucho – and the food continues…

Grant Green, Jr. (guitar), Ike Stubblefied (B3 organ), and Herlin Riley (drums)

Some jazz giants killin’ it. First time seeing these guys, and I left very very happy.

Seafood gumbo from the Ya-Ka-Mein lady, Ms. Linda Green

Last weekend was the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival in Armstrong Park, to celebrate the bicentennial of the Treme neighborhood (1812-2012) and its delicious culture. I went on Saturday afternoon and saw the Hot 8 Brass Band, Soul Rebels Brass Band, and of course – my favorite – the Dirty Dozen Brass Band:

Gregory Davis doin’ double on the horns.

“It’s a big old musical gumbo, and that probably made the difference, separating us from other brass bands out of New Orleans. It put a different twist on the music. We were not trying to change anything, we were just playing the music we wanted to play and not stay in one particular bag.” – Roger Lewis

This past Sunday, after both Alex and me got off work, we were lucky enough to head over to Uptown for the Oak Street Po’boy Festival. We sampled many different items, including a crabmeat and shrimp po’boy from Ms. Linda Green. Also, we had “shrimp corn dogs” aka deep-friend, cornmeal-battered shrimp on a stick with a side of crawfish mac-and-cheese (from Palate). The strangest thing we tried was a savory cheesecake from Jacques-Imo’s – parmesan crust, alligator sausage, and shrimp sauce. I did not love it… but I did not hate it. It was intriguing.

Alex enjoying the crabmeat & shrimp po’boy

What beautiful weather we had! (Disregarding the giant pile of trash behind me.)

Phenomenal free (!) show at the newly-renovated Joy Theater, put on by the Jazz & Heritage fund people. Chucho Valdez and his spectacular band presented a beautiful mosaic of Cuban music on Monday.

Saved the best for last – Chucho Valdez and his quintet blew Alex and me away on Monday. I heard about this show and knew that I had to be there. Luckily, I was available and Alex met up with me after work. Chucho (piano), Yaroldy Abreu Robles (congas), Dreiser Durruty Bambole (bata drums), Rodney Barreto (drum set), and Gaston Joya (bass) played for nearly two hours, delivering more than I ever could have imagined. With three percussionists, a bass player, and Chucho on piano, the night was non-stop polyrhythm, poignantly intoxicating, always danceable. They blended African religious roots, Cuban syncretism, funky grooves, and jazz styles in an explosion of mysteriously fresh creativity – while simultaneously honoring their ancestral cultures.

In other “news,” getting ready for Thanksgiving here. Baking up a storm here with my little helper, Bruiser (a co-worker’s dog who is staying with me for a few days). Here’s a picture of our time together already. By the way, Dot is very interested in him.

Dot kissing her new friend

Outdoors in October

8 Trying to spend time outside – from attending free concerts in Armstrong Park and Lafayette Square, to soaking up the sun in the courtyard!

Treme Brass Band

Don’t worry, I shared with Alex.

North Mississippi All Stars, joined by Johnny Vidacovitch (drums) and Big Sam (trombone) – wow!

Barbeque Shrimp and Grits. Disclaimer: I did not make this.

Treme Funktet feat. Corey Henry (trombone) and Travis Hill (trumpet)

Plants getting some morning sun by the pool

LuLu working on an egg for me

Collard Greens for George

The Professor working on a new philosophy of existence

Window box of herbs…dill, cilantro, and green onions.

Ann feeding Buddha some zucchini.

Hope you enjoy some of my pictures. A couple of weeks ago, Alex and I got to go see Antibalas perform at the historical venue, Tipitina’s (dedicated to the memory of Professor Longhair, the great New Orleans piano party man). Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos, but I danced all night long in the front row! They really blew me away with their immense talents, mesmerizing polyrhythms, and entertaining visual show.
More shows coming up this week, hopefully I can stay awake after work and make it out for some good grooving…

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