Froberg’s Farm

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The growing seasons here are all strange to get used to, because it is basically growing season year round. In Pennsylvania, we lived near Murphy’s Blueberry Farm, and we enjoyed picking each summer. I missed that, so last year I was in search of places to pick berries. I stumbled upon Froberg’s Farm in Alvin, about 30 minutes south of where we live. I was ONE WEEK LATE for strawberry season, which is from February to the beginning of May! Back in Pennsylvania strawberry season is in June. I should have known the timing would be different!  Well, I just kept it in the back of my head and remembered for this year.

Derek just finished school for the year yesterday, so now we can reclaim our weekends together again. The first thing we had to do was Froberg’s.

It is the end of the season, so there was slim pickings overall, but, with little bit of hunting, and going out to some of the further areas of the patches, we still found plenty of berries to fill our bucket. We picked over three pounds! There were also sunflower patches near the field, and I was excited to see a train go by! The patch is right next to tracks.

Froberg’s is a great place to spend half a day with your kids. We saw a tractor ride pulling kids around and rubber duck races! There is also a large market where you can pick up just about any kind of fruit and vegetable. There was also a bakery inside. This felt like Stony Fork General Store, which we frequented back in Pennsylvania. It feels great to find something so similar. Aside from the strawberries we picked up local honey, dried mango slices and peanut brittle.

Froberg’s is open year round, so even though the strawberries may not be in season, there is always the market, as well as some other seasonal activities such as a fall festival.

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New Orleans vacation

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I have a rather large travel bucket list. I have some favorites, but most are in no particular order, we’ll get there when we get there. When we made the announcement in March of 2016 that we were moving to Houston because Derek got accepted into UH, I immediately knew that New Orleans would be our next trip because it is a five and a half hours drive from Houston.

We went the week after New Years and my Aunt Susie came along. All in all we had an amazing time. We did everything we wanted to do, plus some extras that we were not expecting. The only thing that I could have dealt without was the cold. A cold front came through and temperatures were in the lower 40s, when it is usually lower 60s. We bundled up in may layers though and we ended up being fine.

We stayed at the JW Marriot on Canal Street, which was one block away from the French Quarter. There were a ton of shops and restaurants along Canal Street, including the street car line, so it was a great hub of activity.

We had three main attractions planned out: A river cruise on the Creole Queen, a cooking demonstration at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and a swamp boat tour through Cajun pride.

The Creole Queen was great. The guide was very informative and pointed out interesting things along the way. We had a short shore excursion at the Chalmette National Battlefield, which was the last battle of the War of 1812. It was windy up on the open deck, but there was a lower inside deck that was kept warm, with a optional lunch buffet.

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The New Orleans School of Cooking was probably my favorite thing we did on the trip, because it was so different. We watched Pat cook gumbo, jumbalaya, bread pudding and pralines. We got to eat everything, which was great because it served as our lunch, and got the recipes to take home. We also learned a lot of cuisine history. I love gumbo and jumbalaya but was always too nervous to try to attempt it myself. Seeing how it all goes together, it is fairly easy.

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The swamp tour was also informative. We learned a lot about the Cajun lifestyle, and all about the different types of animals and plants that call the swamps home. Unfortunately, because it was too cold, we didn’t not see any alligators, but the scenery made up for it. It helped that our tour guide pulled out a surprise baby alligator for everyone to hold!

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When we arrived in New Orleans, we quickly found out that Mardi Gras season was starting soon, on the night of Epiphany. We had no idea, and we did not plan it that way. The events started with a Joan of Arc parade, for her 606th birthday. Joan of Arc was known as the Maid of Orleans (France.)

We got good spots for the parade right in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, where we watched the blessing of Joan’s sword. The parade ended at the other end of Jackson Square, where everyone took part in eating the first King Cake of Mardi Gras. We of course had to join in on the revelry. Later that night, we saw fireworks on the river front.

We also found out that New Orleans was founded in 1718, so the city was celebrating their tricentennial. Good timing, right?

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Other highlights consisted of wandering around the French Quarter daily, the Louisiana History museum, and the aquarium. We listened to jazz music almost every night, and of course we stopped for beignets at Cafe Du Monde. We also checked out the garden district and walked around Lafayette Cemetery.

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On our way home, we visited Oak Alley Plantation. It is about an hour west of New Orleans. It was a good way to break up the drive home. Unfortunately, the big house exhibit was closed when we went, but they lowered the admission price which was good of them, and there was still so much to see. (We did peek through the windows and took some photos that way.)

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Birthday dinner

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I’ve celebrated two birthdays now in Houston. Can’t believe how fast time flies!

This year, we decided to go to The Gorgeous Gael, an Irish pub in Rice Village. We had only just noticed it a few weeks prior, and decided that we wanted to try it.

The food was delicious! I had Irish beef stew with mashed potatoes and Irish brown bread. It was thick and hearty, a good comfort meal. I had leftovers for lunch the next day and it tasted even better then!

Derek had the deluxe grilled chicken mac and cheese. We tried each other’s food and we both liked the other dishes as well.  We also had mozzarella bites as an appetizer, which in hindsight probably wasn’t such a good idea because our dinner portions were so filling!

I love trying new restaurants. The only problem is that we have liked everywhere we have gone, and our list of favorites keeps growing!

We walked around Rice Village afterwards to digest a bit, but a lot of the stores were closed already. But we did get to see a beautiful cat named Misty in one of the store windows!

 

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la Madeleine

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Have you ever passed something hundreds of times without giving it a thought, and then finally discovered it, to realize that you had missed out?

This happened to us with la Madeleine French Bakery and Cafe. It is located a few miles from our apartment, in a big shopping plaza that we go to often.

We have already been three times in short amount of time; once for lunch, for dessert, and the most recent time for breakfast. The menu is expansive. For breakfast I had quiche Florentine and Derek had french toast. For lunch I had french onion soup and a pasta salad and Derek had a ham and Swiss baguette. For dessert I had a lemon tart and Derek had a creme brulee cheesecake. We also bought a baguette to take home for dinner.

While we arrived early in the morning for breakfast when it was still quiet, the two times we went in the middle of the day the cafe was packed – a good sign.

While the food is great, I love the atmosphere the best. When stepping inside, it felt like we were in Belle’s village in Beauty and the Beast. la Madeleine truly lives up to the French name.

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One year later – an editorial

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One year ago today, we pulled out of our driveway in Wellsboro, and started the 1,600 mile drive to Houston. I wrote an editorial for the Houston Chronicle about the last year and how Houston is different from Wellsboro.

I have included the link, and a copy/paste version of the text below.

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/gray-matters/article/To-Houston-from-Wellsboro-Pa-population-3-326-11526896.php

 

I’ve discovered the wonder that is Buc-ees. I’ve photographed bluebonnets in spring, and I’ve eaten my way through multiple flavors of Blue Bell.

Since moving to Houston last August, I realized that everything truly is bigger in Texas (except for our one-bedroom apartment.) I moved from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, home of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, population 3,326.

We moved because my husband is pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Houston. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the amount of students at the university (more than 40,000) is around the same amount of people in our rural county.

Coming here has been like living in a completely different world. There are so many city-related things that are a part of anyone’s day that I would have never given a second thought before.

For one thing: Traffic reports. They’re on the news every morning! The only traffic I had to worry about was the occasional bear and deer running across the road. I would sometimes get stuck behind a truck going 40 miles per hour, but here I realize that you’re lucky to be going that fast any given day on 610.

I’d much rather stay home than try to battle other drivers if it’s more than a 10-mile drive, a far cry from being used to driving hours all over the northeast.

And the noise. Not only the noise of the 10 or so lanes of traffic right outside our door, but the sounds of planes and helicopters constantly overhead. I had not seen an airplane overhead in the 10 years I was in Pennsylvania. My husband constantly has to repeat himself if he talks to me outside our apartment, because I cannot hear him over the rows and rows of air conditioners that are consistently running.

The loudest thing I have ever heard, without a doubt, was the fighter jet flyover during the Super Bowl. We live close to NRG, and it rattled the whole place. The cats ran under the bed.

And the many options … for, well, everything. How do Houstonians even choose? Where to go, what to do, what to eat, where to shop? It’s all mind-boggling at times. We visited more stores in the first week of being in Houston than in years of living in Wellsboro. The first time I went grocery shopping, I had an anxiety attack.

It’s the worst with restaurants. There are so many options here for each cuisine, and a lot of it’s unfamiliar territory for us.

I remember trying crawfish for the first time. I am a picky eater, and I kept finding excuses not to try it.

But it was the season, and I found a restaurant hosting a crawfish special for $7 a pound on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, perfect for my work schedule — and my frugality.

My husband and I tried to prepare ourselves in advance by watching YouTube videos on how to open them, but they left us more puzzled. You really have to suck the fat out of the heads?

But we got there, and the platters were put in front of us. We asked our waiter for good measure how to open and eat them, but he just chuckled and walked away.

We eventually figured it out after consulting the internet once again on our phones. The crawfish, along with the corn on the cob and potatoes, were excellent, but my lips were burning so badly by the spices that I was crying at the table.

I do miss Pennsylvania, at least some of it. I miss homemade maple syrup, and I miss the mountains, especially in the fall with the bright foliage. I miss making trips to the Mennonite general store.

But I feel like Texas, with all of its hustle and bustle, is where I am meant to be.

Phoenicia

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I didn’t expect to write about a grocery store, but Phoenicia is so much more than just a grocery store. It is a destination in its own right.

Derek first discovered Phoenicia back in the fall, and he suggested that we check it out together. The first time we were there we only did a quick look through and got drinks to go from the cafe inside, but we both knew we had to come back and thoroughly look around.

So, Phoenicia, located in downtown, is first and foremost a grocery store, but there is only the basics like meats, fruits and vegetables. Don’t come here looking to get everything on your shopping list like toilet paper and cat food. Their website describes themselves as “Houston’s one-stop gourmet, international food experience with more than 10,000 products from more than 50 countries.” It is most definitely an international food experience, but also an international people experience too! I think I must have heard four or five different languages spoken there.

Today we decided to go have lunch there. They have a bakery and cafe inside, as well as multiple deli sections. I decided to go Greek, and I got spanakopita and stuffed grape leaves. I also got a honey and lavender scone to go. Derek got a turkey, bacon and swiss sandwich with a brownie. The meal selection is expansive. It is hard to decide what to want because it all looks so good!

There is a section to eat inside, but there are also tables outside so we ate our food outside. There were tons of people there, most looked like they were with colleagues on lunch break from work.

After we were done with lunch, we decided to peruse the aisles. I was really impressed with all the selection, and happy to see tons of Kinder chocolate and Walker shortbread cookies. (Yum!) I was intrigued by the middle eastern section, and they had a ton of loose leaf teas that I will definitely have to purchase in the future. They have a upstairs section that has some more food, a bunch of kitchen gadgets and cookware, and a huge wine selection.

My recommendation is that if you know someone who is a food connoisseur, you could do some gift shopping for them at Phoenicia!

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Crawfish season

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Crawfish season runs March through May. I happened to look at a post on the Houston Chronicle’s website for the best places to eat crawfish, and one of the places, Hungry’s had a midweek special Crawfish on the Patio special, which is perfect because my days off are midweek, plus the restaurant was nearby.

We went one night a few weeks ago, and it turned out to be quite the experience. We got a pound of crawfish for $7, which was a great deal. A pound seems like a lot, but the amount of meat inside each crawfish is small, so you have to eat a lot of them to get your filling. The meal is also served with corn on the cob and potatoes.

The crawfish are served whole, legs, head, eyes and all. It was a little weird and took some getting used to!

There is a technique to getting the meat out. I actually looked up YouTube videos on it in advance! You have to put two fingers on the head, and two fingers from another hand on the tail and you twist and pull apart. The meat is in the tail.

We found out that some people suck the head to get the fat and the juices out, but that seemed a bit to much for us, so we skipped that part. If you feel we’re truly missing out, please let us know!

The meal was seasoned with cajun spices, which, while they were good, was a bit too much for me. I wasn’t feeling the spices inside my mouth, but rather on the outside of my lips, which started to burn after a while! At one point I was close to crying.

Apparently crawfish, also known as crayfish, crawdaddies, mudbugs, can be found just about anywhere near a body of fresh water, but Louisiana supplies 95 percent of the crawfish harvested in the U.S. Being so close to Louisiana, Houston gets to reap the benefits. I’m glad we went. It’s good to try something new, and we’ll probably go back for more each season.

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