Summertime is fair time, and the first fair of the season is Petaluma's Sonoma-Marin Fair, which takes place at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds from Wednesday June 19 through Sunday, June 23. The Sonoma-Marin Fair is not quite but almost a county fair, and offers a wide range of fun and exciting attractions, competitions, events, and activities for the entire family.
This year the Sonoma-Marin Fair celebrates all things canine with its theme "The Dog Days of Summer." There'll be dog-related demonstrations and activities, performances by the K9 Kings Flying Dog Show, and of course the fair's famous World's Ugliest Dog Contest, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
You'll also see livestock shows, agricultural exhibits, chef demonstrations, a destruction derby, and more. Of course there are also traditional carnival rides, including a kiddie carnival for younger children.
And what would a fair be without live music? The Sonoma-Marin Fair has numerous musical acts on its schedule, including country acts the Marshall Tucker Band, Kellie Pickler, Kix Brooks, and '80s rockers Loverboy.
When the temperature rises, one of the things we often cool off with are aguas frescas, those refreshing traditional Mexican-style drinks made from various kinds of fruit. You don't have to go to your local taqueria to get them, either—they're inexpensive and easy to make at home. Kids love them, and they're a healthy alternative to sodas and other soft drinks.
We often make aguas frescas with melons, usually canteloupe or watermelon; whatever we happen to have on hand. It's a great way to use up all that watermelon that's been sitting in the refrigerator, which is what we made out latest batch out of. You can use other fruits, like strawberries and even pineapple, but melon tends to be an economical choice, and a tasty one, too.
Here's what you need to make melon agua fresca:
8 cups of canteloupe or watermelon, including seeds, cut into small cubes
Right about now is the peak of California's strawberry season. It's a great time to get fresh sweet strawberries at the farmer's market, a local strawberry farm, or even the supermarket if you're in a pinch.
We like to visit farm stands like Stony Point Strawberries just north of Petaluma on Stony Point Road (you can't miss it—It's a little shack sitting out in the middle of a strawberry field). We love to try samples and always end up buying a huge amount of wonderful bargain-priced strawberries.
After eating our fill last weekend, we found that we still had plenty of strawberries left over. The presence of vanilla ice cream in our freezer led us to our course of action: make fresh strawberry milkshakes.
Making strawberry milkshakes couldn't be easier, and everyone loves them. Using fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream instead of just strawberry ice cream give the shake a fresher, fruitier flavor that really captures the essence of the strawberries.
Summer's almost here, and one of the season's time honored traditions for children is swimming lessons. Not only are swimming lessons a fun way to get some exercise and cool off on a hot summer day, but they're essential from a safety standpoint.
Below is our list of local Marin County providers of swimming lessons for children. Although many of the facilities listed are private clubs, unless otherwise indicated, all locations offer public lessons open to all. Most programs require pre-registration; follow the links or call to sign up or for more information. As always, if you have a favorite swim class or teacher that you think should be added to the list, let us know by leaving a comment or contacting us.
This June, Marin's own boys of summer return to downtown San Rafael's Albert Park for another season of professional minor league baseball! The 2013 San Rafael Pacifics season begins on Tuesday, June 11, and runs through August 25.
Albert Park's intimate setting is the perfect venue for old-fashioned, family-friendly, and affordable local baseball. We're so lucky to have this team here, and maybe they'll repeat their championship-winning 2012 season! General admission tickets are just $10, grandstand reserved and box seats are $20, and dugout seats are $25.
Kids 12 and under can join the Rookie Club, which offers a variety of benefits, including free admission to all Sunday home games and pre- and post-game activities like playing catch with the team during warm ups. Rookie Club membership costs $25 and includes a T-shirt, membership card, and discounts on team merchandise and Silbermann's ice cream (San Rafael's Silbermann's Ice Cream is the Rookie Club sponsor).
Late summer marks the start of apple season, and plenty of the tasty and popular fruits can be found in the North Bay, especially in the area around Sebastopol in western Sonoma County, which is famous for its Gravenstein apples. Even more fun than eating and cooking with apples is heading out into an orchard and picking your own!
If you're not lucky enough to have an apple tree growing in your backyard, then head up to one of the local apple farms that offers a u-pick experience. It's a fun family outing, and prices and quality are usually bettter than you'll find in the supermarket. There's nothing quite like an afternoon on the farm, too.
Apple season begins in late July or August with local favorite Gravensteins, and continues through the late summer and fall with varieties like Golden Delicious (September and October), Granny Smith (October and November), and Fuji (October through December).
Twin Hill Ranch outside of Sebastopol has been a favorite place for school and family outings for over 60 years. They offer u-pick for apples Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm. Check in at the ranch's store to pick up your baskets and learn about the different varieties of apples available, and then head out into the orchards to pick your fruit. You'll find several varieties including Gravenstein, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith. Twin Hill Ranch is not certified organic but their apples are grown pesticide-free.
U-pick season runs from August throughout the fall, until the apples are all gone. The cost for u-pick apples here is $1 per pound; you can pay with cash or credit card. The country store at Twin Hill Ranch also offers goodies like apple bread (our favorite), fresh apple juice, pies, cookies, jams, and jellies. There's also a picnic area with a spacious lawn.
Chileno Valley Ranch grows organic apples—all of which are blind taste test winners—and provides them to local markets like Toby's Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station and the Organic Farmstead at the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross. You can visit the ranch for u-pick from Labor Day weekend through the month of October. Varieties include Orin, Pinova, Molly's Delicious, and Jonathan's Pride.
U-pick takes place on Sundays only from 10 am to 4 pm, and apples cost $2 per pound. Make sure you call ahead before you go: (707) 765-6664. They also raise grass-fed beef on the ranch.
Gabriel Farm is a family-run, certified organic farm in Graton, just north of Sebastopol. They grow a variety of apples including Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Gala, Rome Beauty, Fuji, and McIntosh. This season they're making u-pick an activity for their CSA members only; you can join at the farm by purchasing a membership. A share consists of a case (6 half-gallon bottles) of their Asian pear juice ($35). U-pick takes place on weekends from 11 am to 4 pm or weekdays by appointment.
Every year at the end of summer we head up to western Sonoma County in search of ripe apples to pick. Apple-picking season in the Bay Area starts in late July or August and runs throughout the fall. Local favorite Gravensteins kick off the season, and you can work your way through Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Rome, Braeburn, Fuji, and other varieties over the fall. This is one of my favorite things to do in August, and we always end up with plenty of apples for making things like apple pie, apple crisp, and apple sauce, and of course including in school lunches, too.
Last weekend we visited Twin Hill Ranch outside of Sebastopol to pick apples. You might be familar with Twin Hill Ranch from the holiday season, when they're a destination for Christmas crafts and holiday goodies. You can, of course, visit them at any time of year, and apple-picking season is a great time to do so. Right now, they still have Gravensteins available for u-pick, as well as Golden Delicious, and Pink Ladies.
Twin Hill Ranch has been around for over 60 years, and their apples, while not certified organic, are grown without pesticides. The ranch is an active apple processing and packing facility, and their country store share space with conveyor belts, crates, refrigerators, and other equipment. They're also set up to welcome visitors, though, with a picnic area and a large lawn where kids can run and play.
It's late summer, which means that delicious blackberries are now readily available at the farmer's market. Blackberries also grow wild throughout Marin, so they're free and plentiful if you know where to look (and don't mind the occasional jab from a blackberry thorn). The kids love to go pick blackberries at this time of year, which we usually end up eating out of hand. If we have enough left over, we try to make a blackberry dessert like this old-fashioned buttermilk skillet cake.
This cake is best made in an old-school cast iron skillet. If you don't have one, go get one—cast iron pans make everything you cook in them taste better, and they're virtually indestructable. You can cook with them at home, take them camping, and eventually pass them down to your grandkids! You'll find them at the hardware or sporting goods store for around $20 or so. They even come pre-seasoned, so you can use them right away.
Chili is one of those meals that can be on the hearty, heavy side and not something you necessarily want to eat for a summer dinner—except for this fresh and healthy version. For this summer chili, I lighten things up considerably and take advantage of fresh summer produce like the zucchini growing in our backyard garden and sweet corn.
Serve this chili with a variety of toppings and add-ons so each diner can customize it to his or her taste. You can make it vegetarian (or vegan, really) by omitting the ground turkey and doubling the amount of beans and squash. Either way, it's delicious! And our kids even eat it, too. There's probably no reason you couldn't make this year-round, either, although you'd have to subsitute frozen corn for the fresh.