Thursday, August 24, 2017

Annual Berry Picking Trip To Vermont

Growing up in South Florida, other states were so far away.  Just to get out of the state took about nine hours.  Day trips to neighboring states just wasn't possible.

One of the perks of living here in the North Pole...ahem Upstate NY...is that I can get to other states in under an hour.  Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and several others are just hours away.  Or less in the case of VT and MA.  Over the years of living up here, I've taken advantage of proximity and made a habit out of little day trips.  It's fun to go to a new place, have a full day, and then sleep in your own bed, too.



I've made it widely known that I adore Vermont.  It really is the cutest state.  The Green Mountains and charming towns and miles and miles of old stone walls...swoon!



Every year for the past who knows how long, I've taken a day with my dad {because I've yet to convince anyone else to come with me to be honest} to go to Vermont for a little berry picking adventure.  We both love it.  It's a lovely day in the sunshine on the most beautiful berry orchard, eating and picking the most gorgeous black raspberries to use all winter.  It's definitely one of my favorite summer days!




I think the new growth on the raspberry canes, what will produce the fruit next year as berries form on second year canes, is so beautiful.  They start out a dark pink and red, eventually maturing to the green we know and love.




Those gorgeous Green Mountains make my heart skip a beat!  I don't think we could have pick a more picturesque day to play outside.  Crisp fresh air, stunning scenery, the most delicious berries, and not a soul around.



Because of the timing of berry season and summer travels, we usually end up picking on one of the last days of raspberry season.  This year it happened to be mid week.  Which was sort of a pain for my schedule as it was just two days after returning from my big Florida trip.  But the perk of going on the last day that fell in the middle of the week was that no one else was there.  I don't mean that there were only a few other people there.  I very literally mean that it was me and my father...and the farmer who chatted us up as we paid.  No other customers!  And no complaints from me as it was the most peaceful adventure that make my little introvert heart happy.





I didn't realize this shirt was so baggy until I saw these photos.  But it was hot and I was a mess of scratched up arms and berry juice so it really didn't matter, I guess.  

We normally pick two varieties of berries.  But as the black raspberries are my very favorite, we solely picked those this year.  I'm thrilled to have so many bags of perfect berries in my freezer already!



Dad loves it when I force him to take selfies.  Loves.  It.  Doesn't grumble at all.  









I take these same photos every year because they just never get old for me.  I can't imagine waking up to this view every day.  Being a You Pick Raspberry Farmer is definitely one of dream jobs.  



Part of the balance in picking a date to go raspberry picking is that blueberry season is later than raspberry season.  At least that's the case in this little corner of Vermont.  Down the road from Mad Tom Orchard, my beloved raspberry orchard, is a fantastic blueberry orchard.  As blueberries are my dad's favorite, that's how I get him to agree to come with me.  

Notice that little painted strawberry rock.  Remember when I started painting them after losing Sadie?  I have an excess.  So I bring them with me here and there to quietly place for others to find.  Every single berry rock I've placed around my Troy has been found in a day or two so I hope they brought smiles to strangers faces.  I amused myself by bringing a strawberry rock to a blueberry farm.  It's the little things in life that give us the giggles, my friends.






Raspberries and blueberries filling the entire back seat of the car.  The smell was out of this world.  It smelled like summer to me. {note: I make the same statement about the beach, sweet grass, and about a dozen other things.  But I mean it each time.  And warm berries in the back seat also smells like summer.}



The berries are in East Dorset, VT, which is just up the road from my favorite town in all of New England, Manchester, VT.  So as we always do, we headed there next for a late lunch and look around.  I flipping love this town!  And this house that is white with blue trim and the most magical display of hydrangeas out front is a thing of dreams.  That porch...oh how I love a porch!



My dad had never been to Orvis and I thought he might like to see it before we headed home.  As the car was filled with fresh berries that needed to be handled rather quickly, our stops are limited.  But I found a shady spot and dragged him inside.  

If you've never been to the Orvis store in Manchester, VT, you need to go the next time you're in the area.  It's stunning!  It's a huge property that includes a fly fishing school {on my bucket list}, the factory where they make all the flies and rods, an outlet store, and their amazing flagship retail store,  The back of the store is why I brought him there though.  It's a two story wall of windows that looks out on a pond where they teach fly fishing.  With those Green Mountains in the background, of course!







In the fall, Orvis does the most breathtaking pumpkin display out front.  People like up to take photos because it's so perfectly New England.  





As always, the day was a great daycation with my sweet Dad.  We laughed a lot, ate a lot, and took in the sights and sounds of the mountains.  And now my freezer is stocked with berries to enjoy all winter.  I'm a happy camper!

XOKK

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

These People Raised Me and I can't Wait To Go Home To Florida


Oh Florida.  The place I called home from ages two and a half until I was 20.  The familiar places and spaces and faces that raised me up to be the quirky human I am today.

As a teen, I swore I would leave for college {I did!} and never return {also true}.  As a 20-something, I lived in fear of running into my past {my mother...not some shady past...I was a goody two shoes for sure}. I went back to my home state only when necessary because of a wedding.  






But it changed when Bestie Florida had the oldest kid in the bunch, Godson J.  Instead of being in knots before heading down south, I was in knots at not seeing my people more than once or twice a year.   I softened on my home state.  Slowly, over time, it once again felt like home.




Also, as of yesterday, I am 39.5 years old.  I remember when my parents were nearly 40 and it seemed ancient.  They had me when they were 30 and 31 and my entire life I told myself I would definitely become a parent sooner than they did.

The humor is not lost on me.

I think though that age has softened me too.  As well as losing my Sadie a year ago.  Time feels more tangible.  And kids grow up so fast.

So do the adults.  

I only get to see these sisters once a year and so much happens in that time frame.  A million conversations and thoughts and giggles take place in my absence.  I know I am missing them all and it makes my heart sad.

I took hundreds of photos on my annual trip to Fort Lauderdale this year.  We went on big and small adventures and I snapped a picture of everything.  But I failed, miserably, to get a good photo of all of us together.  




Regardless, I think what I want to most remember are the conversations we had in the kitchen or sitting by the pool or around Godsister's dining room table or in the car.  The little, seemingly nothing moments that always create the biggest impression.  The warm fuzzies that get me through the 72 months of winter until I go back down to hug them again.  






The first time I heard Ed Sheeran's song Castle On A Hill, it brought me to my childhood neighborhood in Ft. Lauderdale.  Immediately.  These people raised me and I can't wait to go home.  I have tears singing that lyric to myself as it just hits a cord of love and comfort deep down in a place that I never imagined would exist all those years ago when I swore I would run far away from that town.




I realized the other day that one of the things I love the most about being around my sister friends is the comfort that comes from a similar upbringing.  I'm not sure that would make sense to anyone who hasn't gone far from home {be it a place or people or all of the above}.  But when you are nowhere near people or places that traced your childhood, it can at times feel wobbly and daunting.  It's such a relaxing feeling to be with people who saw your footprints in the sand.




I'm not sure what the future holds for me.  Part of me wants to move back down to Florida tomorrow.  Part of me is terrified.  But all of me knows that my heart will always beat extra for the people who feel like family.  And I'm so incredibly grateful to have these amazing adult relationships as a result of our wild and free, always up in a tree childhood.

XOKK


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Florida Travel Adventure To The Fruit and Spice Park

For years, I've dreamt of visiting the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead, FL.  A park that includes over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and nuts from tropical and subtropical climates around the globe.  Spread over 35 acres, guests are allowed to wander about and taste varieties that are ripe.  It's a bit of a park mixed with sort of a wild, hunter and gathering game.  

It's amazing.

But Homestead is about a hot minute north of the Keys.  It's not super close to Fort Lauderdale.  But it's definitely worth a visit and was a surprising highlight of my trip for everyone!




I was nervous about this one as it was my only real request for the visit.  It was HOT and with kids in tow, I wasn't sure how this would pan out.  I wasn't entirely sure what to expect myself, even having read about the park for years.




When you walk in to buy your tickets {incredibly affordable!}, there's a display of fruits that are currently ripe for you to sample.  It was a fun way to start sort of an unknown adventure.  Of this display, but far our favorites were the Mamey Sapote and the Olosapo.  My least favorites were the Red Mangosteen {a disappointment as I expected to enjoy it but it was so tart and astringent} and the Bilimbi.




Godson J was on a mission to find and taste a Jackfruit.  They were in prime season and if I am being honest, it was one of the biggest draws for me too.  I've read about them, seen YouTube videos, poured over Instagram posts about them, and known about their exquisite flavor for years.  Do you remember eating Juicy Fruit gum as a kid?  The flavor of that gum is based off Jackfruit.  Godson J was all too pleased to pose next to this one ripening in the Park Store before we set off on our adventure.




Right outside the entrance I spotted something I've wanted to try for years {this bit about me wanting to try things is going to be a running theme in this post...so prepare yourself}.  Ice Cream Bean.  The brown, sort of fuzzy pod falls from the tree when ripe.  You open it up to find fuzzy white pods that look questionable at best.  I knew exactly what it was though so I was thrilled to taste.  It's said to taste similar to vanilla ice cream, and that's pretty accurate.  The texture though is a lot like fairy floss or cotton candy.  It's strange to wrap your head around the flavor and texture combination.  But we all liked it and it was the perfect start to our adventure.




We never figured out what Goddaughter E is holding here.  But she was such a rock star at foraging!




So let me explain how the Fruit and Spice Park works.  You are allowed to eat the fruit.  BUT...you may not pick anything.  You are only permitted to eat fruit that falls to the ground, which is what fruit does when it's ripe, contrary to popular belief.  And you are not allowed to take fruit off the property.  It's fine to find it, carry it around, and eat it while there.  But you are not allowed to take it home.

I knew the rules and packed plastic utensils in my purse.  They proved so handy.  What I did not anticipate was how disgusting we all were at the end.  The sweat, dirt, and fruit juice combination left us all dreaming of a bath.  Next time I will bring an entire pack of baby wipes.  Live and learn.




We spotted Jackfruit all over the place.  On the tree and unripe, as well as off the tree and overripe.  







The Fruit and Spice park includes 70 varieties of bananas.  Not 70 banana plants {they're a plant, not a tree}, but 70 different kinds of banana plants.  

Hold please while I shimmy up my soapbox for a moment.  Guess how many varieties are represented in the average grocery store?  Guess.  Did you guess?  

If you said more than one, you're incorrect.  

One variety, the Cavendish Banana, is what you see in almost every grocery store.  Be it a non organic or organic banana.  And 100% of those, that's right, both non organic and organic, are gassed in order to ripen them.  They're picked so early and then gassed to manipulate when they ripen.

And those Cavendish bananas are in no way, shape, or form in your grocery store because of flavor.  Actually nothing is in your produce department because of flavor.  Not one thing.  They are there because they check all the boxes of shipping and aesthetics.  They look nice.  

Scooting off my soapbox...




Bestie Florida isn't the biggest banana fan but we were all blown away by the amazing flavors we tasted.  I'd love to taste more {she doesn't know that I've also had my heart set on going to a banana specific park for years too} to get a feel for the different flavor profiles.










I took a lot of photos, thinking I would remember everything, but in the weeks that have passed, I sadly don't.  Hopefully we'll go back again so I can get a better feel for the different fruits.  I think this is perhaps a Canistel fruit, which is also known as an egg fruit. 




Above though was definitely a Sapote tree of some sort.  Perhaps Mamey Sapote, my new favorite fruit?  Hard to tell.  It was one of the fruits listed below.




I knew Jackfruits were huge.  But was just blown away seeing them in person.

For those who asked me on Instagram, this is not Durian.  Which is known in a lot of places as Stinky Cheese Fruit or Stinky Feet Fruit.  This is not that.  It's in the same family, I believe, but not the same.  

Jackfruit though, is amazing.  It grows up to 100 lbs and hangs onto the side of the tree.  Zoom in to see the bumpy, almost spiky, texture.  It's the largest edible tree fruit.







Above and below is a Sausage Tree.  It's an African species that fruits all year round.  The flowers are nocturnal and pollinated by bats in Africa.  In Florida though, they're typically pollinated by hand.  Sausage fruits are not edible.  They are however, giggle inducing.






The Sausage Tree flowers are just as wild looking as the fruit!




I was delighted at how the kids got so into foraging for new fruits!  We all jumped into the experience and rooted around on the ground for new things to taste.  It was a wild and free day and I felt about seven years old again!






Have you ever tasted fresh tamarind?  It's pretty common in South Florida in drinks or dried or in candy, but this was my very first time tasting it fresh.  If you're unfamiliar, it has a very sweet/tart taste to it.  I love it, but it's probably a bit of acquired taste.




Goddaughter E is holding the holy grail of bananas.  It was the sweetest, creamiest, most delicious banana any of us had experienced.  But we have no idea what variety it was.  Sad but true tales of foraging.  We loved it though!






Above is the worst photo that I regret not staging better of the best fruit I tasted all day.  One of my new favorite fruits, actually.  The Mamey Sapote.  It's known as the Pumpkin Pie Fruit but both Bestie Florida and I thought it tasted like sweet roasted sweet potato.  Either way, it was flipping amazing!  The texture, color, and flavor were delicious. 

But an amusing note is that when I found this, I quickly realized my plastic cutlery were not going to open it.  So I threw it down on the ground to get it open.  I can't stress enough how the five of us {three adults and two kiddos} embraced this out of the box experience.  We had a ball!




Wildlife.  We've all seen bigger but I thought y'all might not be used to seeing Iguanas so I snapped a few pics.  They're such a ridiculously invasive species but there's also something cool about looking at a dinosaur up close.






As much as I enjoy lychees and longans {we were able to try them that day but I've also had them many times in the past as they are common in Chinese dishes}, you don't get a lot of bang for your buck.  But it was fun to taste them fresh from the tree all the same.






No idea what this yellow flower is but it was so unique.  Can you see how many flowers are on the same stem?  I've never seen anything like it.

I really only have two complaints about the Fruit and Spice Park.  The first is that there aren't water fountains or water stations of any kind scattered about.  We brought water bottles with us but could have easily consumed more.  The second is that not everything is labeled.  Some things are easy to figure out, but then you can go rows of trees and not spot a single sign to tell you what you're looking at.  




I loved this Tropical Asian greenhouse.  Not only was it awesome to see so many varieties but I thought the dome of the greenhouse itself was lovely.  




We were sadly there at the end of mango season.  There were tons of mangoes on the ground, but even with five sets of eyes, we never found one that was edible   Oh well, next time.  I ate about one mango a day on my trip, so it's not as if I was short on mangoes.  It would have been fun to taste test other varieties though!




I forget what these are called.  Wax Apple, maybe?  Maybe not?  We had mixed reviews.  Little Sister liked it, I was meh on it.  They were plentiful though.  And pretty.






The property at the Fruit and Spice Park is stunning.  Laid out really well, easy to walk around, and lots of space to explore.  






Sadly, we never found a ripe Jackfruit for Godson J to taste at the park.  So we did a quick Google search and headed Robert Is Here Fruit and Farm Stand.  This place is famous and if you are ever in the Miami, Homestead, or Keys areas, you need to go experience the rare and exotic fruity wonders.

By this point though, we were all on our last legs.  We had an amazing time at Fruit and Spice Park but were hot, sticky, and exhausted.  All I really wanted was to get J his Jackfruit and myself a giant iced coffee.  They sadly had no coffee.  How one can be this close to Little Havana and not offer some sort of coffee is beyond me, but they had just about every variety of rare fruit one could imagine so I shall forgive them.  We got the Jackfruit and headed home.  We were soooo far south at this point and all needed some AC and a shower.




The verdict on the Jackfruit was mixed.  No one hated it.  {How's that for a glowing review?}. I have seen so many videos of people praising the deliciousness of Jackfruit that I expected to love it.  I'm a fruit person so it's rare I don't get excited about things.  But it was just sort of okay for me.  Actually, I think that's how we all felt.  It wasn't as sweet as I expected.  It wasn't the flavor I expected.  It wasn't the texture I expected.  It was just okay.  I don't think I would buy it again, to be honest.  There are a lot of other things I loved a whole heck of a lot more.  I'm glad we all tried it but don't need to run out to try it again.  




All in all, our day at the Fruit and Spice Park was outstanding.  I loved the park, I loved my time with my favorite people, I loved feeling so free to wander around and get dirty, and I loved that we all had this first time experience together.  It was an adventure I would do all over again in a heartbeat!

XOKK

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