Best Berry Picking Farms & Festivals

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the pinnacle of strawberry season here in the DC area, and the foodie tots tend to eat through our weekly market haul of berries well before I get a chance to cook with them. So a trip to the pick-your-own farm is essential for stocking up!

Here are a few favorite places to get out and pick your own berries in Northern Virginia:

strawberry patch at wegmeyer farms

  1. Great Country Farms: Bluemont, Va. (note: GCF charges admission, but is basically a farm adventure land for the kids. Check the website to see about special events.)
  2. Hollin Farms: Delaplane, Va.
  3. Wegmeyer Farms: Hamilton, Va. (see comments below)
  4. Butler’s Orchard: Germantown, Md.
  5. Shlagel Farms: Waldorf, Md.
  6. Westmoreland Berry Farms Oak Grove, Va. (on the Northern Neck, they serve barbecue fare and ice cream/strawberry shortcake in season)

foodie tots at Wegmeyer Farms, Va.

A few things to note for a successful berry picking trip:

  • Go early and ALWAYS call ahead to check picking conditions. The farms around here tend to get picked out quickly on nice summer days, and this weekend is sure to be busy.
  • Dress the kids in dark colors (or red) to avoid stains and wear appropriate footwear (e.g., not the flip flops my toddler refused to change out of. They were new, after all, and a girl can’t be separated from her new shoes.).
  • Bug spray and sunscreen/sun hats are a must.
  • You can’t plop a toddler down in a field of the freshest berries she’s ever seen and not expect her to nibble — so be courteous and round up your tab at check-out to cover any excessive in-field consumption.* And if you hope to have enough leftover for jam, you might want to buy twice what you think you’ll need.

Wegmeyer Farms is an easy under-60-minute drive from Arlington, and we love it for the younger kids in particular. The berry patch is a manageable size (and easy walking distance from parking) for younger kids. There are a couple picnic tables but unlike some of the larger farms (Great Country and Westmoreland have full-service concessions) you’ll have to pack your own lunch. {Update: Wegmeyer has three separate locations this year — Hamilton, Gilberts Corner and at Oaklands Plantation — visit their website for details.}

Hollin Farms is also an easy drive, off of I-66 at exit 23, and grows a variety of crops from berries to peaches, greens and even peanuts. They also practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) — while I’m not aware of any truly organic local pick-your-own farms, IPM farms typically use more natural/less synthetic pest control methods.

foodietots at delaplane strawberry festival

For more than just picking, two popular festivals take place this weekend, May 23 & 24 —

Delaplane Strawberry Festival at Sky Meadows State Park, 10am to 5pm each day. Take a hay-ride, listen to live music, enjoy food and crafts, pony rides, games and more. Find our recap here.

& Great Country Farms Strawberry Jubilee, 9am to 6pm (but strawberry picking only from 9-11am) and next weekend, May 30-31. Features a Diaper Derby for crawling tots, a Strawberry Princess, strawberry shortcake and much more!

If my kids leave any, we’ll be making strawberry shortcake this weekend. You?

virginia grown strawberries

*The foodie tot heard the farmer say, “Go ahead and taste ’em,” and promptly shoveled three in her mouth.

5 Local Taco Joints for Cinco de Mayo

As one-time Californians, the husband and I take our taco eating very seriously. Fortunately, we’ve staked out a number of acceptable local places over the years, and they’ve become favorites of the foodie tots as well. It’s hard to go wrong at any restaurant that provides free chips and salsa to satiate the can’t-possibly-wait-another-second-before-eating needs of toddlers and kids and tasty margaritas for mom and dad, but these in particular are our family favorites.

A photo posted by Colleen Levine (@foodietots) on Jul 15, 2014 at 4:26pm PDT

Los Tios, Del Ray: We’ve been eating here my kids’ entire lifetimes, and even though we no longer live in the neighborhood, we still get a warm welcome each time we return. It’s always loud, no need to worry about noisy kids, and a great place to celebrate birthdays — complementary ice cream for birthday kids or flan for adults. Get there early for a patio seat and then let the kids burn off energy on the playground across the street after you eat. Oh, and we always order the Tacos al Carbon, side of fried plaintains for the kids, though once in a blue moon we branch out and order something off the Salvadorean side of the menu.

District Taco, Arlington, Alexandria & DC: We have the original Arlington location of this beloved local chain conveniently located between home and the kids’ tae kwon do studio, so you’ll find us here often. The kids take their quesadillas with guacamole, rice and beans, while mom appreciates fish tacos (Tuesdays and Fridays) and the Boylan’s cane-sugar sodas (or bottled Jarritos sodas) for a treat.

Taqueria Poblano, Del Ray & Arlington: These popular taco spots make a fantastic margarita and have LA-style deep-fried tacos. The duck tacos are my favorite, and we always get a side order of jicama to share. Best to plan to eat early, though, especially at the smaller Del Ray location. (Look for the special spicy chocolate sorbet for dessert!)

Tacos de Jaiba Azul! #softshells @tacobamba A photo posted by Colleen Levine (@foodietots) on Jun 1, 2014 at 4:15pm PDT

Taco Bamba, Falls Church: When we’re craving something more authentic/unique, Taco Bamba fits the bill. Located in an out-of-the-way spot behind the Tyson’s Whole Foods, chef/owner Victor Albisu turns out classic and seasonal special tacos. My personal favorites are El Beso (yes, tongue) and soft shell crab, while the tots stick with flautas and El Gringo. Bonus: house-made horchata or agua frescas and elote. (Note: this is primarily a take-out spot with limited counter seating.)

Chaia, farmers markets, DC: Currently only available at farmers markets and occasional street festivals, Chaia’s fabulous vegetarian tacos will soon be available at their first retail spot in Georgetown. The flavors vary with the season but are always served on their homemade corn tortillas. For now, seek them out at FreshFarm Dupont Circle (Sundays) or White House (Thursdays) markets.

What’s your family’s favorite taco spot?

Asparagus and Egg Pizzas

An updated take on pizza for spring … fresh from the farmers market!

My kids, no surprise to anyone who knows my husband and I, are true night owls. The boy has suddenly become a voracious reader, thanks in great part to the Spirit Animal series he devoured over the past couple months. We’d just concluded our year in Hogwarts, reading the Harry Potter series aloud each night, and this was the first series he really got into reading on his own. Now, we have to pry the books out of his hand at least twice each night to get him to turn off the light and go to sleep. The upside of their pushing the limits on bedtime is that they tend to sleep in later, and we’ve reached that sweet spot of parenting where they don’t need our attention the second they wake up — at least on the weekends. On the downside, it means we were late getting to the market this past Sunday and my good mood at getting to sleep in was quickly turning sour at missing asparagus for the second week. After we made our other purchases and were walking out, I saw the vendor at the end had a huge cooler labeled “asparagus.” I leaned over to confirm it was, in fact, empty — only to have the vendor announce, “Oh, we still have some if you need it.” Hallelujah!

asparagus ramp and egg pizza | foodietots.com

I’ve written before about the fickleness with which the foodie tots approach asparagus each year, alternately loving and hating it. A few weeks ago, we’d gotten some (non-local) asparagus in a veggie delivery from our dairy farm and the boy declared it one of his top favorite vegetables. The girl, however, is on an off-year with it. Likely thanks to Instagram, I had pizza on the mind and decided to make asparagus and egg pizzas. Not wanting to go back out just for pizza dough, I had the revolutionary idea to make it from scratch. I followed Mark Bittman’s Basic Pizza Dough recipe and am now completely embarrassed that I’ve never made it before. It came out perfectly, after just an hour to rise, and handled beautifully — so much better than store bought. (If you’ve already mastered this simple bit of kitchen alchemy, indulge me.) The dough comes together quickly in a food processor, no kneading necessary. It can be frozen, so I plan to make another batch ASAP to keep on hand and ready to pull out the next time a pizza craving strikes.

homemade pizza dough | foodietots.com

Now about the eggs. We only buy cage-free eggs from free-range chickens from local farmers. I’ve done the side-by-side comparison of grocery store eggs and local eggs, and the yolks are visibly, shockingly bright orange next to the bland yellow of grocery store eggs. Pastured eggs have nutrition benefits too — “2 1/2 times more omega-3s and twice the vitamin E in the eggs of pasture-raised hens,” according to a Pennsylvania State University study. And I will never believe that confined chickens are happier than chickens with access to fresh air, no matter what the Big Chicken industry would have your believe.

But when it comes to eating eggs, the male half of our family doesn’t like runny yolks, only scrambled. Thankfully the girl is coming around to my side, although that often means she’s swiping the yolk off my plate if I’m not careful.

making asparagus and scrambled egg pizza | foodietots.com

Most of the egg-topped pizzas you see have the whole egg with runny yolk, but I knew that wouldn’t go over well. I was afraid the scrambled eggs would dry out in the oven, so I cooked them on the stove only until just beginning to set. For the kids’ pizzas, I put the eggs on the pizza before cooking — they came out well done but not dry. (The brown crust is from the parmiggiano on top.) For my and the husband’s pizza, I cooked it half-dressed (oil, cheese, asparagus, ramps and radish) for 10 minutes, then added his scrambled eggs and my whole egg to the already hot crust. After another 6 minutes, his eggs were still soft and my white was set.

asparagus and scrambled egg pizza | foodietots.com

And yes, the girl swiped a piece of my runny yolk pie.

asparagus egg and ramp pizza recipe | foodietots.com

For the recipe below, I’ve written it as prepared with scrambled eggs. If you want runny eggs, see the note at the end. I also added ramps, but I’ve omitted them from the recipe due to their fleeting availability. Thin slices of garlic or green onions will lend a similar flavor, if desired. (I plan to make this again with garlic scapes, when they’re available.) I also added a few thin slices of an early radish from our garden.

Recipe: Asparagus and Egg Pizza

Makes: 3 personal-sized pizzas, or 2 regular

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch pizza dough (“Basic Pizza Dough” recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup half and half (or whole milk)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound asparagus
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • sea salt and pepper

Instructions:

1. Prepare pizza crust as instructed. Divide dough into 2 or 3 balls and set aside to rest while preparing toppings.
2. Preheat oven (and pizza stone, if using) to 450 degrees.
3. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Wash asparagus and trim ends. Cut into about 2-inch pieces. Prepare a separate bowl half full with ice and water. When water boils, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and asparagus and cook for 2 minutes. Immediately remove asparagus and place into ice water for a minute, then drain and set aside.
4. Melt butter in a frying pan over medium low heat. Add eggs and half and half (or milk) and whisk together. Cook, stirring frequently, until eggs just begin to thicken. Turn off heat.
5. Roll out pizza crusts and place on baking sheet or parchment paper. Brush each with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with a base layer of parmigiano cheese. Spoon scrambled eggs around the pizza, then arrange asparagus over. Sprinkle with another generous dose of cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper.
6. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until crust is golden and eggs are thoroughly cooked (will be firm to the touch.)

Note: To make with whole, runny eggs, skip step 4. Prepare pizzas and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully crack eggs onto the pizza (it helps contain the whites if you push asparagus to make a border on two sides). Return to oven and bake another 5 to 6 minutes, until eggs are white and mostly firm.

Pretty in Pink Picnic with Spring Radishes

Happy Spring! We were in Florida over spring break and I was afraid we’d missed the annual DC cherry blossoms blooming — but it turns out they were much later than usual, so we still had a chance to pack a tea party picnic and enjoy eating under the beautiful blossoms. In years past we’ve been able to sneak down on a school day before the crowds of tourists invade, but no such luck this year. The foodie tot was eager to take her new bike for a spin, so we parked on the Potomac side of the Tidal Basin where the path was a little less crowded and biked down towards the Memorial Bridge to find a good picnic spot.

biking dc cherry blossoms | foodietots.com

I made cherry blossom green iced tea (from The Republic of Tea), sweetened with honey, to drink. To eat, we made pink radish and butter sandwiches with — of course — pink salt. The foodie tot was skeptical when I insisted on planting radishes in our garden, but couldn’t help but be intrigued when I picked up a bunch of small pink and lavender radishes at the farmers market.

radish and butter sandwich | foodietots.com

She made peanut butter sandwiches as back-up, but she did admit that the radish sandwich was pretty tasty. My kids will eat butter like it’s its own food group, so using it to make new vegetables enticing is a no-brainer. The butter pictured comes with our milk delivery from South Mountain Creamery.

radish-and-butter-sandwiches-foodietots

If you don’t have a local source for fresh butter, look for a cultured butter — it has a richer, tangy flavor that is divine on toast and also adds a great flavor to roasted veggies. But I must warn you it’ll be hard to go back to the regular old sticks from the supermarket. (Though we do buy those for baking.)

pink tea party picnic | foodietots.com

My French breakfast radishes in the garden will be ready to eat very soon — how do you like to use radishes?

ralph lauren polo dress | foodietots.com
What the Kid(s) Wore: I picked up this flare-skirted, petal pink Ralph Lauren dress on sale at The Purple Goose in Del Ray — she loves it for twirling! Worn with bike shorts, of course, for biking and her new very favorite ever “Twinkle Toes” Skechers. Oh, and the coral leather bracelet is from Hanna Andersson.

Spring Pea and Chevre Souffle {#SundaySupper}

Anyone else wake up to snow on the first day of spring? Thankfully not enough for another snow day, but still. March is always full of crazy weather here in the mid-Atlantic; it was 70 degrees on Monday, before the snow! But as the weather eventually warms up, new fresh produce will soon be appearing at the farmers market. Peas may not be ready quite yet — we just planted them in the preschool garden this past week — but chickens are laying eggs! And it’s kidding season, which means fresh goat cheese (chèvre) from local farms, too.

peas egg goat cheese recipe | foodietots.com

My dish for this week’s Sunday Supper Spring Fling combines all three of these early spring foods in a light dish that’s the perfect counterpoint to all those months of braising and stews. A souffle takes just a little more effort than a quiche, but it is an impressive dish to serve guests or just enjoy around the family table. To make a standard souffle, you prepare a bechamel sauce (butter, flour, mustard, milk), add egg yolks and beaten egg whites. Cheese is standard, and I’ve double-down on the green here by mixing in both a pea and tarragon puree and whole peas.

pea and chevre souffle | foodietots.com

You could serve this springy souffle as a side to a roast chicken or even Easter ham (green eggs and ham, aha!), but I served it as a vegetarian main dish with a big salad. Divide it into four smaller ramekins to make individual servings, or use a souffle pan or large round baking dish.My foodie tot is the designated egg cracker in my kitchen so she’s always game to help me with a dish like this — getting to whisk those egg whites in the mixer is even better.

Recipe: Pea and Chèvre Souffle

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup peas (thawed, if using frozen)
  • 6 fresh tarragon leaves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 5 ounces goat cheese
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 2 large egg whites
  • pinch sea salt

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter or oil baking dishes — either 4 10-ounce ramekins or a 2-quart souffle pan or round baking dish.

2. Boil peas in a small pan for 4 minutes. Drain and scoop out 1/2 cup peas, reserving for later. Place remaining cooked peas and tarragon leaves in small food processor and pulse until pureed. (May need to add up to a tablespoon of water to help smooth the puree.)

2. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, mustard powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash of black pepper and cook, stirring, until smooth and golden. Slowly whisk in milk and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until thick. Remove from heat and crumble goat cheese into pan, stirring. Add 3 egg yolks and stir until mixture is smooth. Stir in pea puree and reserved peas.

3. Beat egg whites at medium high speed until soft peaks form. Add a pinch of sea salt and beat until peaks become stiff.

4. Fold egg whites into the pea/bechamel mixture and scoop batter into prepared baking dish(es). Bake for 25 minutes for small ramekins or about 45 minutes for large souffle, until puffed, brown on top and set (if it jiggles a lot, continue baking for a few more minutes).  Serve immediately.

spring pea and goat cheese souffle recipe | foodietots.com

(PS Those daffodils were my taking a stand for spring despite the snow Friday. They sure brightened the kitchen!)

Read on for links to many more fantastic dishes to welcome spring from the Sunday Supper bloggers!

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