Pick your own produce IN Vegas!

Mommy Vegas Idea #2

Get Fresh in Vegas!

Sorry, I’m still giggling a bit about that title! 🙂 While intentionally ambiguous, I am of course talking about fresh produce. After the post about apple processing I figured it only fitting to explore some of the better places to get apples in the first place, as I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that not everyone has access to a family orchard. So here we go, best places we’ve found to acquire fresh produce in Las Vegas:

  1. The Obvious: Grocery Stores. While I love our neighborhood Smith’s, and I must admit it has excellent customer service and variety, very little of the produce is local, and barring an amazing sale, the prices are pretty average.  If you are in to juicing, you have to check out Food-4-Less, you can get large quantities of produce for great prices, particularly when they run specials, but it’s not my favorite shopping experience.  I will admit though, when the weekly mailer boasts 5/$1 avocados or $0.50/lb nectarines, I set my aversion aside and go shopping.  Sometimes I come up with a sweet deal on kale, or tangerines, but I’ve been let down time and time again by inedible avocados, tiny little munchkin stone fruit with MASSIVE pits, and apples that lack flavor, which tends to make the deals a little less sweet.  The best value I’ve found has been at the Mexican markets in town. Granted, you do have to be a little careful, because while I’ve had some really great luck, like Food-4-Less, I’ve also seen some questionable fare.  Cardenas is a fun one, checkout what people are saying on Yelp
  2. The Trendy: Farmers’ Markets. I don’t even have to buy anything to enjoy a good farmers’ market. Up until just a few years ago, I would have said, there really isn’t one to speak of here, but just recently they seem to be cropping up all over. You have to go in with the proper mindset though. You can’t expect a Las Vegas area farmers’ market to compare to a Pacific Northwest, California, or Midwest market; you’ll simply be left wanting. That being said, there is still a great time and some yummy eats to be had, pretty much any day of the week, most of the year. Here are a few fun ones we’ve tried in the past:
    1. Fresh52 – One of the bigger markets, they have several locations open Friday, Saturday or Sunday, we’ve only been to the one at Town Square (Fridays) to date, but have heard great things about Tivoli Village (maybe a future post?). Be sure to check out their website, this is a true treasure that many people have really put a lot of fine work into!
    2. Downtown 3rd (3rd Street Farmer’s Market)- This Friday market is located in the old bus depot. It’s mostly indoors, but be prepared, it still gets rather warm in the Summer months. There is often live entertainment and plenty of venders with ready-to-eat and prepared food, making this an excellent spot for a fun Friday lunch to kick off the weekend!
    3. Country Fresh Farmers Market – On Thursdays you can catch this market in the Henderson Events Plaza on Water Street in Downtown Old Henderson (sometimes you can spot us dancing in the water feature after snagging some lunch). Fridays, this market sets up shop off Green Valley Parkway just outside The Pavilion, in the same complex as the Paseo Verde Library and Multi-Generational Center. This market is a fairly small market so it may be worth pairing with a trip to the library or a dip in one of the Multi-Gen pools.
  3. THE EXPERIENCE: Gilcrease Orchard

    Without question, the best all-around place to acquire inexpensive, fresh, local produce is the Orchard. Some may find it a little out of the way, as it is in the far Northwest of the Valley, off Tenaya a block north of Farm (7800 N. Tenaya), but if you’re looking for an inexpensive weekly outing, or maybe you want to stock-up on seasonal fruit or veggies to process in bulk, this is definitely the place.

    There are truly countless learning moments to be had on this expansive property, whether it’s as simple as discovering eggplants do not grow “eggs” (one of our sillier moments!), or chasing down a rogue grasshopper just to check out those fantastic jumping legs, city kids will definitely get their fill of wonder at this beautiful historic site.

    Be sure to check their website in advance or sign-up for their newsletter that arrives neatly in your email box once a week.  They have a wide variety of fruits and veggies in the fields and orchard so come ready to work, because these treats don’t pick themselves!  If you do happen to be in a hurry or just not in the mood to scavenge the rows, there are usually some great pre-picked options at checkout (though it varies by season, you may find melons, potatoes, onions, garlic, or squash), along with various fresh peanut/almond butters, ciders, honey and more.

    Most fresh produce is $1/pound, with fresh leafy greens being slightly more, and melons, some squash and large zucchini being between $0.25 and $0.50/lb. The processed items, like peanut butter and cider, are not the cheapest around, but they’re definitely worth trying. Our faves are the apple cider and the Sweet and Gritty peanut butter. 

    Don’t forget the wagon, comfy shoes and bags or baskets for your finds!

    Happy Picking!

    -Candice

      Apples, Apples, and more… APPLES! Cheap and easy fruit processing ideas.

      Naptime Gnome Idea #1

      Manzana Mania!

      I have the sweetest memories of sitting on the counter helping my mom process apples as a kid. We dried most of them in a dehydrator. Once they were dry I helped pack the bags. Eat one, put one in the bag, eat one, put one in the bag…. luckily they always came back from Apple Hill, Ca., with a Suburban FULL of apples!

      It was the annual “girls’ trip” and the fruit, they picked themselves or purchased at roadside stands, lasted us through the year.  Since we never really ate sweets as kids, it was our version of candy. I still feel a little naughty sitting down with a bag full of dried fruit.  I REALLY love apples! I also happen to really LOVE free. So, it only follows that I REALLY LOVE free apples!!!

      As luck would have it, we have an uncanny abundance of ridiculously talented people in our family (I can assure you there is no bias here), and you will meet more of them in greater depth in the future.  But for now, and the focus of this post, the outcome of Grandpa’s green thumb, and Grandma’s organization skills and how they land ME oodles of delicious FREE apples every year. THANK YOU GRANDMA AND GRANDPA! I LOVE YOU!!!

      Between Grandma’s keen eye on the calendar, prompting time sensitive orchard tending and Grandpa’s gardening magic, their trees came up with an unparallelled bumper crop of apples. So after a day of picking, in which I somehow managed to wrangle kiddos all day, while Super Hubby (the only one, I may add, that wanted nothing to do with the picking in the first place) and Grandpa (“The Incredible”), picked enough apples to warm my little heart, but fill my laundry room with brimming vessels.

      Did you sense that little touch of cynicism towards the end, nope, not your imagination, legit – here’s why…

      Two major events have recently transpired in the world of the Nap Gnome: 

      1. The recent nap boycott, spearheaded by Little Bear, has limited the midday work session, at least until school starts in a few weeks (apparently the Gnome Labor Union has no pull in such matters).
      2. SOMEBODY inundated her beautiful new laundry room with apples!

      The coupling of these events has forced the Naptime Gnome to shift to crepuscular habits.  In the race against rapid decomposition, the apples have been painstakingly processed to more shelf stable forms all in the glow of predawn and shadows of the evening.

      Of course there was so much to do in the waking hours the Gnome was forced to allow us common folk to help a bit with the apple processing. The kidlets really enjoyed working the apple corer, and the sampling, always the sampling! So while the Gnome was originally slightly stressed at the prospect of this undertaking, it turned out that she rather enjoyed sharing the burden and the shift to cooler work hours! It’s no wonder so many desert creatures opt for crepuscular habits, who wouldn’t want to spend all their time out and about when the oven they call home is merely preheating?

      Speaking of OVEN, that brings us to the favored methods of processing said apples. While everyone else is complaining about how blasted hot it is in Southern Nevada in the Summer, the Gnome has gone and used it to her advantage, so here we go!

      Sun-Drying!

      This was actually a happy accident we stumbled upon a few years ago when I borrowed my mom’s old dehydrator (that hadn’t been used in a decade, maybe two… but is that really relevant?:). 

      So here’s the back story, after getting all the trays loaded with cleaned, cored, skinned and sliced apples (insert dance of joy here). Situating the dehydrator out on the back patio (so it wouldn’t unnecessarily heat up the house), plugging it in, loading it with said trays, turning it on and… CLICK… what?… Try that again… CLICK… uh oh.

      It was in that moment, that it occurred to me, while standing in the backyard in VEGAS in AUGUST, that we lived in a great big dehydrator (ok, I know, should have been a little quicker on that one).

      So I removed the tiles from our patio table to allow better air flow, set the trays in the sun with a fan blowing over the array to keep the flies away (which turned out to be overkill as not even the flies will brave Vegas in August, even to snag a free lunch), and presto, Mother Nature’s dehydrator! The following year and hither to, I simplified to no fan, and just a big sheet of solar screen (purchased at the Lowe’s end of the year sidewalk sale for a couple bucks) laid out over the tile-less table to allow for more apples. About 6 hours later, perfectly dried apples, ready to bag!

      I prefer to bag them in plain paper lunch bags as they are less likely to stick together and they also make for cute, fast and simple gifts with the addition of two holes and a bit of ribbon. The little plastic bag pictured below represents one apple. That’s right, about 12 slices with a standard cork-screw corer/peeler (like this one) adds up to one apple… be careful with your portions… very… very… careful! Unless, of course, you are looking to, um, get things moving.

      Fruit Leather
      Fruit leather, fruit strips, or fruit roll-ups, whatever your family calls them, I don’t think I’ve met a kid that doesn’t appreciate one now and again, and again, and again! The best part is they’re super easy and you can use up all the scraps to make them!  


      Basic Fruit Leather Directions

        1. Fill a blender about halfway with peeled and pitted fruit. The corer mentioned above is great for this too.
        2. Add juice (you only need enough to allow the fruit to blend smooth), if the fruit is drier you’ll need more.  With apples I usually end up adding almost enough juice to cover, but start blending with about half that much and add as needed to keep things mixing.
        3. Pour onto a smooth (the smoother the better), non-stick surface. I use silicone mats on cookie sheets. But you can also cover cookie sheets with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
        4. Spread the mixture evenly to about 1/4″ thick. Any thin spots could result in holes, but pouring too thick may not dry completely and may not keep.
        5. Place in the sun, away from trees where things may drop on it (or worse, get bird bombed!)
        6. Dry until it peels cleanly from the surface (they take the better part of the day in dry weather). If it feels tacky to the touch in the middle, you got some time to wait gnome-girl.
        7. If they are not dry by nightfall, bring them in and store in the fridge overnight and start again in the morning, or place in the oven at 100℉ (38 – 40℃) until dry. Otherwise you may end up with sampled goods once the mice come out to play! ~ Unfortunately, I’m speaking from experience… darn mouse!
        8. Once dry, peel and cut to desired shape/size, roll in plastic wrap or place in a sandwich bag.  

        These keep at least a year. We’ve never had one make it much longer than that, simply because I have to hide them just to get them to last THAT long. So their actual shelf-life is still undetermined by us. I just like to have them around until the next apple season!

        MIX IT UP!
        Try mixing various fruits and fruit juices. This year we thawed some cranberries that had been hiding in the freezer since Thanksgiving and juiced them to add to the apples. The result was quite tasty. We also juiced the last of the grapes from our vines to make apple-grape.  The third variety we played with this year was mostly apple and apple juice mixed with a handful of thawed mixed berries. So far, “apple-berry” is Little Bear’s favorite!
         

        Make your own juice
        You can use store-bought juice if you like, but we usually have so many mangled apples that we like to juice the ones we’ve cut boo-boos out of and use the thick juice (too thick to drink without straining) in the blender with the dry pithy apples, as they do not stick together well enough to peel nice “rings” apart to dry. I also juice the skins that come off the corer and 2/3’s of the core (I toss the seed portion). The pithy waste makes a great addition to compost or you can run it down the garbage disposal.  I once attempted to make cookies with it.  I was unpopular with the dessert monsters for some time to follow.

        Sweeter Treats
        I’ve read recipes in the past that add sweetener like honey, granulated sugar, corn syrup or agave.  I’ve never tried sweetening with anything but juice, but if you find yours are too tart, it may be worth a try! For a lower sugar leather you can use water instead of juice, it just evaporates off and leaves the fruit behind, but it tends to be less pliable.

        Add some protein
        I also tried a few with yogurt (basically did a generic smoothy recipe with plain yogurt, frozen bananas, apples, berries and apple juice). I liked the result, but I think I was the only one in the house that was a fan. You have to make sure you do not go too thin when pouring, as it cracked very easily while drying.

        Apple Sauce

        We’ve tried various apple sauce recipes and methods over the years, and honestly, I don’t think you can screw up apple sauce, but some are definitely better than others. We are not into canning, mostly because it’s a pain and requires more sugar than I like to use, but we freezer can as an alternative.

        Last year Mom and I attempted my grandparents tried and true recipe using a “Squeezo,” after two batches we decided that was way too much of a mess and we seemed to be loosing as much product as we were making.  The recipe we liked best was a crockpot method we found on the internet and I used a similar one this year.

        You’ll find I NEVER strictly stick to a recipe, so here is the link to the inspiration, and below is the method we used:

        • Fill a standard Crockpot with peeled, cored, sliced apples
        • Add 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar (OPTIONAL)
        • Cook on low until soft (5 – 6 hours)
        • Stir periodically
        • Add cinnamon to taste if desired
        • Mash with a potato masher or toss in the blender or mixer to make a smoother sauce
        • Pour into jars, let cool, and store in the freezer (lasts at least a year in the freezer, a week or so in the fridge)

        My favorite variety was 1/2 cup of sugar and about 1 tsp. of cinnamon and left chunky.

        Baby Food and Baking Apple Sauce
        We always do some no sugar/no cinnamon added. I like to freeze these in ice cube trays to use as baby food and for baking (the best part is when you want to make cookies just take out as many cubes as you need – measure your tray recesses by pouring water into one cubby and dumping into a measuring cup – and let them thaw in the mixer for a half hour and then add the rest of the ingredients. My ice cube trays are 1/8 cup (larger than average) so I never have to “measure,” just grab and toss!

        Instant Dessert All Year!
        Apple crisp is only moments away! Also great as apple compote on pancakes or waffles. The sweeter varieties can be spread like apple butter too. The dessert monsters around the house liked the full cup of sugar with a bit more cinnamon, left chunky, and then baked in a pie plate with a buttery crumble on top. YUM!

        Hungry? There’s an App(le) for that!

        ENJOY!

         P.S.:Do you have a favorite apple recipe? DO SHARE!!

        Silverton Aquarium and Bass Pro Adventure!

        Mommy Vegas Idea #1

        Get Wild in the Great Indoors!

        In the mood for a picnic, but worried the kids may melt? How about moving the party indoors, with some not-so-wild, wildlife?

        If you haven’t yet checked out “The Best Free Attraction in Las Vegas,” it’s time!  The aquarium at the Silverton is beautifully maintained and offers some fun educational perks. If the kids get into The Little Mermaid, this is a must. The mermaid shows are fun for the little ones and if you time it right, you can catch the feeding show on the same visit.  Check their website for up to date show schedules, as they do change seasonally.

        The shows both feature divers that interact with the crowd from inside the tank. The feeding shows also feature a knowledgeable docent that helps field questions from the audience.

        Get there a bit early to get the kids up close and personal. We like to pack a low-mess lunch to enjoy tank-side while playing “I spy.” My 14-month-old Little Bug even gets in on it, pointing at every pretty critter that happens by.

        If you go in the evening, you may want to round out the evening with dinner at one of their restaurants. We had great luck at the Seasons Buffet (checkout what yelp has to say).

        Want an extra dose of educational fun, but lacking in the Marine Biology department? Camp-out near the scrolling informational kiosk (see first pic). Read the posts and then go “fishing” for the finned feature!

        When you’ve had your fishy fill, head over to Bass Pro Shops to check out the other tanks and their extensive collection of “stuffed animals.”

        Need to spice it up a bit, or keep the kids busy a little longer? Try out our Mommy Vegas Printable (MVP) Scavenger Hunt!

        Bass Pro Shops Scavenger Hunts

        Click to access and print!

        Happy fishing… and hunting too!

        -Candice

        Let’s start at the very beginning…

        Mommy Vegas and the Naptime Gnome…. WHHAAAT? 

        I’m the kind of person that get’s bored easily, this coupled with my desire to learn new things, try just about anything, and spend as little money as humanly possible, has led me to explore my surroundings in a slightly more active way than some have the time or inclination to. I also like pretty things, and I don’t let my cheap, I mean “thrifty,” side hinder my potential to be surrounded by pretty things, both in our home and away. These tendencies have spurred me to think outside the box a bit and be more creative, making old new and creating fun even where it may be hard to find.

        While working in community outreach education and teaching I became even more interested in the sites and activities available in and around the Las Vegas Valley. Before I became a mother I was able to share this information with hundreds and even thousands of children on a weekly basis. In the past few years my audience has shrunk substantially, but I still love sharing our adventures and discoveries with friends and family, often to find people have no idea how much there is to do here. In fact, I’m regularly shocked to hear people woefully report how little there is in Las Vegas for families.

        In the last few months many of my friends and family, and even a few random people I’d met while out and about, had suggested I start a blog. After the first two suggestions I thought, “Why would I want to add to the mindless, unreviewed, strictly-void-of-the-editorial-process babble already in existence on the web?” After the fifth or sixth recommendation, I started to do some market research: What is to be found in the wide world of blogs anyway? After sifting through countless blogs, mostly those written by stay-at-home moms, what I found was a pool of educated, insightful, interesting people, with so much to share. There were, of course, plenty of daily journals and accounts obviously devoted to keeping the family/friends in the loop too, but I became excited to possibly join a community of moms that have found a way to share and be heard, while still learning from others, often in the same wee hours I keep. You know, those hours when it’s inappropriate to pick up the phone or visit any place reputable.

        I have to admit, with every suggestion that I write a blog, I started to wonder if people really thought I was interesting enough that I should share with others, or if I was so boring that they preferred I find an outlet that could easily be ignored! So here’s hoping for the prior, and in an attempt to avoid the latter, I’ve narrowed my vast interests to just a few categories… what we do when everyone’s awake… and what happens when most everyone is asleep! Doesn’t sound like it should narrow it down much does it?!  Well, with any luck, it should leave us with things to do for family fun (the Mommy Vegas part), and DIY projects around the house (that’s where the Naptime Gnome comes in).

        So the “Mommy Vegas” bit is clear, “…but what’s with the Gnome?,” you may ask. 

        First a little background: 

        So I have a confession to make. We have a bit of a Gnome problem around our home. We began noticing it around the time my husband and I moved in together. We shared a precious bear-cave on the edge of town and loved every moment, but our time together was limited as the hubby had recently taken a job with beaucoup responsibility and a hefty commute and I was living at, I mean, attending grad school, teaching and doing research. We were like ships passing in the… no actually, the nights where the BEST! It was the short moments of putting away dishes, packing lunches, and general household stuff that we didn’t connect on at first. I had moved into his place, so all of his belongings had a home, but our lack of time together meant mine found homes in his absence. 

        It was all going swimmingly until I started noticing my stuff mysteriously disappearing, it started small: the ENTIRE carton of ice cream I had just dipped my little spoon into for a little taste, the re-purposed plastic containers I saved to pack delightful leftovers to brighten lonely lunches, the lightly used ziploc bags I washed and placed back in the drawer for reuse, the LIDS, only the LIDS, of my “reusable” water bottles, you know, the fancy models with “Aquafina” and “Deja Blue” emblazoned on the sides, and the list goes on. Ok, I was a bit of a hoarder. He started noticing strange things as well, socks being paired and rolled before being tucked into their drawer, projects being started and left to be finished (sometimes for inappropriately lengthy periods), and so forth. WE were never home enough to have committed such OBVIOUSLY grievous crimes, and our time together was so precious we never had a moment to bring up the incidents.

        One day, while cursing a blue streak of my finest British expletives (its probably critical to imagery to remind you I am 100% made in the USA) in the throws of artfully disemboweling the kitchen cupboards in search of a single yogurt container lid, or possibly a margarine container, I finally decided to confront my assailant(s). 

        It wasn’t a long correspondence, just a sticky note that went something like: 

        “Dear Kitchen Gnomes, Please be so kind as to refrain from ingesting our food storage containers and their accompanying accoutrements.” 

        Proud, and admittedly a bit smug, I crammed my lunch into a NEW Ziploc bag (the HORROR!) and headed out. That evening it became clear that war had been waged in my absence, the note featured a large jagged portion resembling the relief of a dental arch… some gnome had taken a BITE out of my note! The hubby was just as astounded at the response, that’s when we knew we had a gnome problem. 

        Over the years, as with any other pest, we’ve taken measures to reduce our run-ins with the gnomes, making accommodations like acquiring an inexpensive, matching set of compactly stored plasticware, and now that we have recycling pickup in the neighborhood many of the things I had trouble parting with have found their way to the bins. As I began to hoard less, the gnomes seemed to move on to greener pastures. 

        Until that is, the kids started moving freely about the house. In recent years our little gnome problem mushroomed into a full-blown infestation: car keys in the backyard, TV remotes in the freezer, cell phones in the cat’s water bowl, a menagerie of stuffed critters in the laundry shoot, and you don’t even want to know what they sneak into the washer.

        But the gnomes haven’t been all mischief, in fact, we’ve discovered one that collects all the recycling and garbage and makes sure it gets to the curb – LOVE that gnome – I get a glimpse of him now and then… he’s pretty cute! My other favorite does all sorts of handy things around the house, but only once the kids are in bed. We’ve named her the Naptime Gnome. 

        Life is good since her arrival. Though it sometimes takes a few naps for projects to meet completion: a garage sale find ceiling fan may take two naps to refinish and one to hang, while the driveway was stained over the course of 2 weeks of naps (although it did take her almost a year to finally finish the laundry room, but we won’t hold that against her). Slowly, one nap at a time, our house is becoming a home.  Over the years the gnome has Venetian plastered, refurbished and installed light fixtures and ceiling fans, laid mosaic tiles and installed back-splashes, built or refinished various furniture pieces, laid and stained concrete, done some minor plumbing, sewn curtains, throw pillows and various other items, landscaped and gardened, processed homegrown foods, installed artificial turf, built trellises, refinished cabinets and painted just about anything that will hold still and even a few things that won’t (poor dog).

        Though few know about our gnome problem, many visitors to our home have been curious about how certain things came to be. So instead of boring them with the details of how our gnome can’t seem to leave anything alone, I’ve decided to cave to the prompting from friends and family (to bore them less in person ;), and burrow my own little mark into the blogosphere to share some of our creations, finds and adventures, and hopefully be lucky enough to share in some of your own ideas and adventures!

        So, what’s the best place for fresh fruit in Vegas? Which parks have the best splash pads? What will the Naptime Gnome do next? Stick around and find out, and don’t be shy about sharing your own ideas and questions!