Picking strawberries (friday foto finder: red)

Now that June is around the corner, that means that we are approaching strawberry season here in New England. The days of strawberry picking come and go quickly here, with the picking season typically lasting only a couple of weeks.

I love to take the kids to nearby farms to pick fruit. I love that it lets them see where their food comes from.

There’s also nothing quite like eating a freshly picked ripe red strawberry, warm from the hot sun.

The local berries don’t last as long once picked as the store-bought ones–they can spoil in only a day or two after being picked. Happily, we have no problem using them all. They always disappear far too quickly, seemingly no matter how many we pick!

This week’s friday foto finder challenge is to present something red. Red things abound in my photo library, yet I had a hard time choosing. I find I have too much to say about too many of my photos. I want to have time to tell the stories that go with the images. So I picked these red berries to share with you.

If you feel like seeing (more) red, check out the other entries on the friday foto finder blog.

Enter the Dragonfruit

On my trip to Hong Kong last August, the morning of the start of the conference, a group of attendees and I arrived at the conference venue in search of breakfast. Winding up in a little cafe in the sprawling convention center, we purchased a variety of baked goods and hot beverages. A colleague of mine also bought a container of mixed fruit slices. Mingled among the identifiable slices of melon and pineapple were a couple of rectangular white slabs, speckled throughout with little black dots. My colleague was kind enough to share her fruit, doling out slivers of the mysterious thing to the half dozen of us sharing the table. I had a little nibble, and found it to be pleasant: quite soft, a bit like a cross between a cantelope and a watermelon in texture, and with a bit of crunch from the seeds. Perhaps it was the presence seeds, but the taste reminded me a bit of kiwi, but much milder. Someone at the table was able to suggest that the fruit was a dragonfruit. I had no idea what such a thing was, or would look like outside of a container of mixed fruit slices. (But I did have a strong suspicion that it didn’t grow in rectangular slabs.)

A couple of days later found me on a fairly cringeworthy bus tour, which in retrospect did get me some good photos and a few stories to tell. It also landed me in front of a fruit stall, where (among other fruit options) there was a big stack of brightly colored dragonfruits (identified to me by my tour companion). I bought one.

While I intended to eat it, I admired it primarily for its looks. Here are a couple of photos of it as it posed while waiting for the cringeworthy bus. (Actually the tour bus wasn’t the problem. The tour guide was.)

It wasn’t until a couple more days had passed that I had a chance to try it. Here it is, back in my hotel room, sitting on a hotel towel. In spite of its resemblance to dragon scales, I found that the skin to be surprisingly easy to cut with the dull standard plastic knife I had.

It sliced up easily, revealing the the flesh inside with its speckling of black seeds. (I hadn’t been sure yet whether I’d gotten the same kind, as there is also a variety with red flesh inside, and a similar-looking outside.)

I seem to recall that the skin slipped off the fruit easily, but I have no supporting photographic evidence. I didn’t eat the skin, in any case. (I don’t actually know whether one can or should, but I have the impression that people don’t.)

(Sadly, this particular dragonfruit was more photogenic than it was tasty. It didn’t have even the hint of the kiwi-like tartness of the earlier fruit I’d sampled. In fact, it didn’t have much flavor at all.)


More dragon things to come…

a bushel and a peck

One of the pick-your-own farms we frequent announced that they’d be open this weekend for apple-picking. Typically the picking season wraps up at the end of October, but this year (in spite of the freakishly early snowstorms) the hard frosts have been taking their time. The result is an extended apple season.

I knew I’d be tired after my travel day yesterday, but the weather was gorgeous today and I thought a day out in the fresh air would be good for all of us. Phoebe, however, really didn’t want to go. She had in mind to spend the day at home doing art projects. I think it’s great that Phoebe can get so involved in doing art projects, and I don’t want to discourage her. But I really, really wanted to go pick apples! It was a last, totally unanticipated, opportunity.

John was pretty worn out from his week of single-parenting, so he was happy to stay home with Phoebe. However, Theo did want to go, so off the two of us went.

It was a ridiculously beautiful afternoon. It was sunny with temps in the low 60s. Not even a hint of chill in the air. We got to the farm around 3 in the afternoon, and the light was turning golden.

While many of the trees had long ago finished dropping apples, there were several varieties that were still going strong. Among them, Empire apples, which is possibly my favorite variety. They are tart and crisp when freshly picked, make a very smooth buttery-textured apple sauce, yet keep firm enough when cooked to work in apple crisp. Empires are a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious, neither of which I actually particularly like. I find that McIntoshes get pretty mealy, and unless very freshly picked, I don’t like them for anything beyond making apple sauce. (They also tend to get too mushy when cooked for apple crisp.) And Red Delicious? What can I say. Possibly my least favorite apple variety. Ubiquitous in school cafeterias and sorry hotel buffets, they are often mealy and sickly sweet without a hint of tartness, and with a bitterness to the skin that makes me gag. They are useless for cooking because they are too firm, plus they don’t taste good. It is a complete mystery to me how these two lackluster parents could have produced such outstanding offspring.

Wow, who knew I had so much to say about an apple variety?

In any case, it was remarkable how many apples were left on many of the trees. (In fact, I remarked on it frequently. I must have said “Wow, I can’t believe how many apples are left on the trees!” about 30 times.) Theo and I had a great time wandering and easily filled up our 2 half-bushel bags. (Actually, Theo picked maybe 5 apples. But he also didn’t interfere with my picking progress, so that’s productive in my book.) Then we headed to the playground for some sunset playtime.

And now I have a bushel of apples. I think my work may be cut out for me.

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Life is butter

Life is butter, life is butter
Melancholy flower, melancholy flower
Life is but a melon, life is but a melon
Cauliflower, cauliflower.

        (source unknown)1

1Well, the source where I first saw this was on a whiteboard on a dorm room door when I was a freshman in college. It tickled my fancy then, and it stuck with me since. I seem to recall googling the origins at some point, but wasn’t excited about what I found.

apples and crisp fall days

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Big bins of apples.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I love the fall. I especially love fall in New England, with the stunning foliage and trips to pumpkin patches and apple orchards. (And you know we’re big fans of Apples in this household.)

On Sunday we paid a visit to a local apple orchard that has an apple tasting each year.

We’d been apple-picking at this orchard in previous years, but I wasn’t sure what to expect for the tasting. It turns out that it was a very low-key event, with not too many people. But there were a whole lot of apples.

Inside the barn/farmstand building, they had set up a long row of wooden bins, each with a different kind of apple. In front of each bin was a little bowl with apple slices, and attached to each bin was a tag with the name of the variety, and bits of information about the cultivar and its history. I felt like I should have taken notes. (For example, I wish I could remember to tell you which kind was the most popular apple in the US in 1900.)

I knew that the orchard claims to grow over 50 varieties of apples, but I thought they’d perhaps have a dozen or so available to taste. I was quite impressed that they had probably closer to 2 dozen kinds out on display with samples set out for tasting. It turns out the folks at the orchard store apples that are typically only available earlier in the season specifically for the tasting weekend.

In spite of all the varieties, I ended up choosing a couple of bags of some familar apples: Macouns (a Mac variety) and Empires (which I love for making applesauce). And now I should have plenty of apples to make an apple crisp.

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The orchard has this gigantic walk-in refrigerator. I wish had someone in there for scale.

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Apples of my eye.

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Theo, post-smooch-from-Phoebe.

a supplemental banana

My laptop is restored, thanks to John, and it’s been back to the grindstone. (And while Phoebe does appear to have an intestinal bug, so far, John and I both seem to be resisting it.)

In any case, no time for a ThThTh list. Instead, I hope this supplement to last week’s banana list will tide you over:

Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and assistant Beaker demostrate the banana sharpener.

going bananas

With work keeping me crazy busy, and life in general pulling me in all sorts of directions, it’s no wonder I feel I’m going a bit bananas. And what with yesterday’s big banana-related news, it’s no wonder I’ve got bananas on the brain. Seeing as I don’t have a whole lot of time tonight, this ThThTh list may be on the short side. So please feel encouraged throw in your own bananas.banana_bunch_1.png

A small bunch of bananas

  • banana split. An ice cream sundae characterized by a banana that has been split in half lengthways.
  • The Tattooed Banana: a blog devoted to “the emerging appreciation of banana art.”
  • Banana Yoshimoto. A Japanese author. Not actually a banana. Her first novel was Kitchen.
  • Bananarama. An 80s musical group. They weren’t bananas either. Actually, the members were all female.
  • Yes, we have no bananas.” A song that was a hit in the 20s. (…we have no bananas today…)
  • The Banana Boat Song.” A song made famous by Harry Belafonte. Here’s a clip from the movie Beetlejuice with the song:
  • top banana. An expression meaning “head honcho” or “big cheese.” Has origins in burlesque performances.
  • slipping on a banana peel. A common slapstick-type sight gag. (cf. this batch of cartoons.) For further insights into the phenomenon, check out this insightful post, which also led me to this fabulous banana-peel-slipping-related dialog from the 1966 Batman movie:

    Batman: [reading a riddle] What has yellow skin and writes?
    Robin: A ball-point banana!
    Batman: [reads the second riddle] What people are always in a hurry?
    Robin: Rushing people… Russians!
    Batman: So this means…
    Robin: Someone Russian is going to slip on a banana and break their neck!
    Batman: Precisely, Robin!

  • Banana in the tailpipe: a prank involving shoving a banana up the tailpipe of a car, causing the engine to stop. Made famous by a scene with Eddie Murphy in the movie Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
  • This may come as a shock to you, but I find the word banana itself to be funny. (Yes, much like the word pants.) I might even go as far as saying that I find banana to be an inherently funny word. This may be part of why bananas are featured in a lot of jokes. Some of them remarkably silly. I found a page of banana jokes that someone posted on a joke blog, and lookie what I found there:

    Knock knock
    Who’s There?
    Banana
    Banana who?
    Banana Pants.

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