Monday, June 28, 2010

Bursting with Blueberries



With our recent trip to pick blueberries, we are bursting at the seams with blueberries. This is really a wonderful thing because blueberries are considered a "Super Food". It's a refreshing berry that can be used in many creative ways in the kitchen but they are also packed with antioxidants, phytoflavinoids, potassium, and vitamin C. Blueberries have been found to reduce cholesterol, decrease heart disease, elevate mood, increase cognitive functioning, and improve skin. So you can eat your "apple a day" but I think I'll stick with a 1/2 cup of blueberries a day to keep my doctor away.

We snack on them throughout the day but I also found lots of recipes to use them in. I first made a blueberry almond french toast bake which sounded wonderful but I was disappointed that the recipe called for using wheat bread because the wheat flavor really overpowered the other flavors in the dish. No more random recipes from the Internet. Next time around, I decided to stick with a proven plan and searched for recipes by our favorite chef, Alton Brown. Who is Alton Brown?



He's the sparky chef on the show Good Eats on the Food Network channel that makes cooking seem fun while he teaches you about the science behind cooking such as what happens to the proteins when you heat this ingredient and why is that important to the final result that you want. He does this with cute props, stage crew in costumes, a magic refrigerator, and just lots of fun entertainment. Oh, and he always has awesome recipes that I know will turn out great. We have an autographed copy of his first cookbook, I'm Just Here For The Food, which was one of the best selling cookbooks when it came out in 2002 and won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Cookbook in the Reference category.

I made Alton's Blueberry Buckle recipe. My wonderful husband even found a clip from Alton's Blueberry Buckle show on YouTube so check it out for yourself - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7OXu5T5UyQ

Blueberry Buckle
by Alton Brown

Ingredients

For the cake:

* Nonstick cooking spray
* 9 ounces cake flour, approximately 2 cups
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
* 2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
* 5 1/4 ounces sugar, approximately 3/4 cup
* 1 large egg
* 1/2 cup whole milk
* 15 ounces fresh whole blueberries, approximately 3 cups

For the topping:

* 3 1/2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/2 cup
* 1 1/2 ounces cake flour, approximately 1/3 cup
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
* 2 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and cubed



Directions

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until well incorporated, approximately 30 seconds. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until incorporated and then add 1/3 of the milk and beat until incorporated. Repeat, alternating flour and milk until everything has combined. Gently stir in the blueberries and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.



For the topping:

In a small bowl combine the sugar, flour and nutmeg. Add the butter and work into the dry ingredients using a fork to combine. Continue until the mixture has a crumb-like texture. Sprinkle the mixture on top of the cake. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35 minutes or until golden in color. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving...

...if you can wait that long!



Delicious!

My son is quite creative with food as well. He was playing on my laptop while I put Rachel down for her nap. When I came back, he said that he helped himself to a snack - a peanut butter blueberry sandwich. Simple and interesting...just bread, peanut butter, and fresh blueberries. Creative little guy but we did have a little talk about eating sticky peanut butter and juicy blueberries while working on Mommy's computer!



Of course, we had to make our own blueberry lemonade too! Tastes vary, even in our household, about how sweet or tart a lemonade should be so you should experiment to find out the proportions that work best for you.





I couldn't find a blueberry lemonade recipe from Alton Brown but we also like Bobby Flay so I started with his recipe.

Blueberry Lemonade
by Bobby Flay

Ingredients

* 3 cups blueberries
* 3/4 cups sugar
* 2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
* 3 cups cold water
* Ice cubes

Directions

Place the blueberries and sugar in a blender and puree.





(Note from me: This is a yummy syrup that could also be used in other ways like added to plain oatmeal or as an ice cream topping.)

Place the lemon juice and water in a pitcher and strain the pureed blueberries through a medium mesh sieve into the pitcher. Stir well and pour into tall ice filled glasses.

Note: This recipe has a very tangy, tart flavor which I like but my kids do not. So I made a separate pitcher that had extra blueberry syrup and water to cut down on the tartness for them.

Now I'm off go enjoy a little Blueberry Buckle with my ice cold Blueberry Lemonade. Enjoy blueberry season while it lasts!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Berry Pickin'

We love fresh berries. My kids can devour a whole container of strawberries in one sitting. They munch on blueberry and raspberries by the handfuls. We've talked a little about how berries are grown but I love hands-on education so we headed out to Bailey's Berry Patch to pick our own berries!

We started off with some ice cold blueberry lemonade. Now that's good stuff!



The berry patch is clean and well-maintained. There were some blackberries available earlier in the day but they were all gone by the time we arrived. So we headed over to the blueberries.





Not all of the blueberries were ripe. If they aren't ripe they still have a pinkish color to them. But all of the bushes had big ripe berries ready for picking. At first Rachel was just picking anything and putting it in her bucket.



Daddy spent some time with Rachel to teach her to only pick the blue ones. She figured it all out pretty quickly.





Sampling is allowed. Thank goodness too because we did our fair share of sampling during picking!





Nicholas was quite good at finding big bushes with lots of ripe blueberries. He often found the best bunches at the bottom of the bushes that hadn't been picked over by others before us.







Nicholas was really quick and working hard to be sure to be the first to fill his bucket. I was amazed that both children were so calm and quiet and completely focused on what they were doing the whole time we were out there. It's wonderful to see them so connected with nature and how wonderfully entranced they were.











A little more sampling...





Two hard-working and oh-so-cute berry pickers!



There is a big berry cleaning machine to get out any leaves and dirt from your bucket of berries. They don't clean the kid's buckets though since those most often contain lots of things other than berries including rocks and things that may damage their machine.



There are lots of wonderful preserves and butters for sale and of course we had to bring some home for ourselves.



Bailey's Berry Patch is located at 905 Crawford Road, Sadler, Tx 76264. You can contact them at (903) 564-6228 or info@TxBerry.com or just check out their website at www.txberry.com for more information. Berries are paid for by the bucket. Adults can fill a gallon bucket for $14 or kids can fill a quart bucket for $5. Bring plenty of sunscreen and drinks because you'll be working in the direct sun. But it's great family fun and you'll have some wonderful berries to enjoy for days later.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dallas Zoo

We were heading out to the Dallas Zoo this morning so as I'm putting things in the car, Nicholas was getting a hat for himself. Rachel walked out of the front door wearing a hat too. She obviously didn't care that she was wearing a winter hat in the 100 degree summer! She even brought a second one with her just in case.



We like going to the zoo but we haven't been since before Rachel was born so we were all excited about this trip.





The Dallas Zoo has a butterfly house. You can walk in and see lots of butterflies up close and maybe even have one land on you.





Nicholas asked why these two were stuck together. Ummm, they're hugging...





Nicholas had a great time trying to catch a butterfly.



On to Nicholas' favorite exhibits, the reptiles...



We liked watching the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. It's the largest of the 32 identified species of rattlesnakes. Adults are usually about 5-6 feet long but the longest known diamondback was about 8 feet long!





We always like to visit the albino alligators. How unusual!



Rachel loved watching the turtles.



These are pancake turtles. We love turtles and pancakes so we had to spend some time with these cute little guys. Unlike most turtles who have rounded shells, the pancake turtle's shell is flat which allows it to hide in tiny crevices.



We recently learned about the Texas Nature Challenge. It's really an awesome idea whereby you are given missions to go to a list of parks and find certain things or answer questions. What fun! The Dallas Zoo happens to be one of the nature missions in the DFW area so we took a moment and worked on answering some of the questions on our mission.



Nicholas, who until just recently was afraid of little petting zoos, actually wanted to ride on a camel! I was so proud of him for doing something that I know he was afraid of. He seemed to have a great time.



My favorite part of the Dallas Zoo is their Nature Exchange program. Kids can bring in items that they find in nature such as shells, seed pods, fossils, rocks, bugs, etc. They meet with a Nature Exchange staff person and tell the person what they are bringing in, where they found it, and anything else they know about it. They get points for the items they bring in and for how much they know about them. Then they can spend those points to "buy" other items in the Nature Exchange. Here are the items that Nicholas brought in today - a dead cicada, a rock that Nicholas calls his chalk rock because it writes well on concrete, the top of a giant acorn, a shell fossil, and a piece of agate.



Nicholas talked with the Nature Exchange lady who was so informative. She clarified that the chalk rock was actually sandstone and she doesn't usually see such a large piece of sandstone. The giant acorn is from a Bur Oak. She also talked about the fossil. It's a fossilized piece of scallop shell probably 65 or more million years old and it is encased in limestone.



Nicholas got 305 points for his items. He could keep those points on his account and let it build up to get a larger item but delayed gratification is lost on most 6 year olds so he went off to shop.

This is just a few of the bookcases full of items that he could buy with his points. There are many of these throughout the room with different things like rocks, shells, fossils, bones, seed pods, etc.



I was glad to find a name for these. We found several of these out at Grapevine Lake. They are fossilized oyster shells and their official name is Gryphea. They kind of look like a crawfish shell. I learned a lot myself just by looking around the room.



I really liked the fossil section. I want the fossilized fish (6,000 points!) or the ammonite fossil (15,000 points!).



Nicholas finally decided to spend most of his points on these three shark teeth and keep some points on his account. Cool choice!



We played in the kid's section for a little while. There is a little "river" and splash area that are great for kids to cool off in. Nicholas loves to climb on the giant spider web.



I was proud of Nicholas for figuring out one of our questions for the Nature Challenge. He even found the pelicans despite the fact that there aren't any signs on their cage letting you know where they are.





Hey, look! It's Happy Feet! Rachel loved watching the little pelicans waddle around and jump in their pool.



We were getting really hot and tired by now but couldn't leave without visiting the Giants of the Savannah exhibit. It is really a great exhibit and so much better than last time we were at this zoo.





The giraffes can even come right up to you and you can purchase food to feed them. Neat!



The Dallas Zoo is comprised of 95 acres and thousands of animals. Plan to make a whole day of your stay. There is really that many things to see and do. It can be quite expensive with admission prices of $12 for adults and $9.00 for kids 3 and up plus parking is $7.00 per car. But there are often special Zoo Days with $1.00 admission prices or you can find local coupons for cheap admission prices. They are located at 650 South R.L. Thornton Freeway (I-35E), Dallas, TX 75203. It's about three miles south of downtown Dallas, on I-35E at the Marsalis exit. The zoo is open 9:00 - 5:00 daily.