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Mhays' and Sparky's Excellent Strawberry Adventure

Mhays' and Sparky's Excellent Strawberry Adventure
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  • Mhays' and Sparky's Excellent Strawberry Adventure

    Post #1 - June 19th, 2008, 5:10 pm
    Post #1 - June 19th, 2008, 5:10 pm Post #1 - June 19th, 2008, 5:10 pm
    On our own for an afternoon, I decided to take advantage of the unseasonally cool weather and find us some strawberries right off the plant. As the pickins up North were slim, we opted to head southwest to Indiana. I don’t like to drive on highways on a good day – but, especially on a beautiful cool summer day when the alternatives are so wonderful. Therefore, we opted to take the first course of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour , and followed Lakeshore Drive through to 41 to 12/20, Indianapolis Boulevard, through to Highland, IN. Though I’ve driven this route previously, I had forgotten the beauty of the parks and marinas south of Hyde Park.

    So, after a fairly short drive, we found ourselves in Highland, at Johnsen’s Blue Top Drive-In, still going strong and apparently hiring up for the summer – rumors of their imminent closing were rebuffed by our young carhop. Although Johnsen’s has been pretty much documented here, I took some more shots of the outdoor seating area and the signage.


    Sparky loved the kitch of the place (not to mention the vintage Star Wars pinball machine inside) and, as it was windy, we opted to eat inside the car. He actually made our young waitress blush by shouting, sparky voce (an antonym for sotto voce) “The service in this place is GR-EAT!” and, after the appetite increase from channeling Tony the Tiger, dug in with abandon to a nicely charred hot dog, seasoned fries, sherbet and a Green River soda. I, briefly channeling Davydd, ordered a pork tenderloin sandwich, a very nice rendition- breading a bit heavy for perfection, but still quite good.

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    After a nice lunch, we turned the corner onto Ridge Ave (or Rt.6) and drove for about 8 miles to Johnson’s Strawberry Farm in Hobart. (feel free to insert your favorite double-entendre about Johnsons here) Johnson’s is a large restaurant/farmstand/garden center and at first I was concerned we’d be headed into the land of corn mazes and pony rides, which was fortunately not to be.

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    The farmstand at the moment had, of course, strawberries and a few other local products, along with a few veggies like tomatoes and zucchini. The garden center put our Gethsemane to shame, with a whole series of little “rooms” with fountains and animal topiaries – but of particular interest to LTHers was a large section of herb plants, in particular a large variety of basils, including two varieties of purple Thai basil.

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    We explored the stand and adjacent bakery a bit (where I was a bit disillusioned by the strawberry pie: it was the variety where fresh berries are held together with strawberry glaze, of which I am not a fan – though, a few of the other pies looked promising.) I asked where the U-Pick area was, and was given directions that went something like: drive out back past the white barn, over the river and through the woods…we passed a field of pumpkin plants, some raspberries and some sweet corn, tomatoes and peppers which are probably waiting their turn for U-Pick. Driving around the corner, we came upon the requisite handmade sign, and another, offering the 6-for-5 deal (this being counted in gallons) It was busy, even for a Wednesday - I can't imagine what the weekends must be like.

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    Sparky and I had a fabulous time picking our two gallon’s worth and having bruised-strawberry wars - nothing like collecting more delicious red berries than you can eat right off the vine - from a sitting position.

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    I packed our booty in a cooler I’d brought for that purpose, and we headed directly North to Gary – the closest beach, at Marquette Park. This experience was an education, to say the least. The park is beautiful; old art-deco statues and park buildings, and it’s been lovingly maintained - there’s a large playlot right by the beach with a lot of quite new equipment. The beach itself has, albeit in the distance, one of the best views of the Chicago skyline available without venturing onto the lake itself.


    That being said, you can’t help feel that the remainder of the skyline must weigh heavy on the citizens of Gary: on either side of the beach, stretching almost as far as the eye can see, are the factories that can be seen from the highway as well, curved like smoke-fingered arms reaching around to pull you in. Though they’re miles away, their presence alone makes the beach claustrophobic. It’s a grim reminder that the pristine Chicago lakefront comes at a price, paid for us by the citizens of Indiana. I commend the City of Gary for keeping up the lakefront park so well, despite this unavoidable reminder of the symbiosis between their City and this giant, unlovely, pragmatic behemoth.


    Fortunately, all of this was lost on Sparky, who just likes to play in the sand.

    Back on the road, we ended our day at Spring World, where I had my first experience navigating a “that for Chinese people” situation. There was no language barrier, but I had great difficulty convincing my waitress that I knew what tripe was – I finally succeeded saying “tripe, yes” and drawing a spiral on my stomach with my finger (which fortunately was received well) Unfortunately, they also did not offer the dishes I wanted to try in a reduced-heat fashion, so Sparky and I wound up with excellent lamb brochettes with cumin, chive dumplings, tofu “french fries” and crispy duck. We were also good-naturedly rebuffed on soup dumplings and a soup pictured with all the ingredients separate, including duck – it wasn't clear if they were out, or if we just weren’t Chinese enough. All of it was excellent and very welcome after such a long and tiring day.

    What was the highlight of this extremely busy and adventurous day? Well, for me at least, it was driving home to the sweet tune of Sparky reading recipes aloud and planning future meals from Roald Dahl's cookbook, Revolting Recipes.

    (edited for redundancy and spelling)
    Last edited by Mhays on June 20th, 2008, 9:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #2 - June 19th, 2008, 5:31 pm
    Post #2 - June 19th, 2008, 5:31 pm Post #2 - June 19th, 2008, 5:31 pm
    Obviously, Sparky has one of the best Moms in the world.
  • Post #3 - June 21st, 2008, 11:14 am
    Post #3 - June 21st, 2008, 11:14 am Post #3 - June 21st, 2008, 11:14 am
    MHays, a very pleasant read.

    Just as we've pretty much sworn off corporate meat this year, I'm thinking we must do the same with corporate strawberries. I used to think I didn't like strawberries; then I had a farmer's market pint and realized the problem was that for years I'd been eating shipped-before-ripe, white-in-the-middle, bland berries shipped from some fruit factory thousands of miles away. We bought some strawberries today at the OP Farmer's Market, and I just love that I can press them against the roof of my mouth and they just squish into juiciness, being perfectly ripe and ready to eat.

    Re: Spring World. I've been on the receiving end of the same nonsense at Little Three Happiness; I suppose we have only our fellow Americans to blame (i.e., they get food they hadn't expected and put up a stink), but what does it take to get a restauranteur to understand you know what you want so please bring it? Well, apparently, hand signals help.
    "Don't you ever underestimate the power of a female." Bootsy Collins
  • Post #4 - June 21st, 2008, 3:28 pm
    Post #4 - June 21st, 2008, 3:28 pm Post #4 - June 21st, 2008, 3:28 pm
    Thank you both. :oops:

    Yes, although Spring World seems even less ready to make accomodations than LTH; (this is not a criticism; it's one way to ensure an authentic experience,) next time I go, I'll bring at least one other adult to vet the heat level. I at least didn't have to take C2's tack of offering to pay whether or not I liked it (which I would have done.) Another (minor) issue for us at the meal: nothing but chopsticks, with which Sparky isn't adept. I didn't try asking for a fork or spoon, so I take the heat for that one, but I wound up feeding him some of the time.

    As for strawberries, we have been lucky in the smaller stores we frequent, as long as they're in season: Marketplace on Oakton has often had strawberries almost as good as these, solidly red in the middle and full of flavor. Funny, the green ones we picked ripened up in a way that grocery-store strawberries never do.

    With our two gallons, we had fresh berries on our cereal for two days, I made and froze a pie filling of strawberry-rhubarb pie (frozen in aluminum foil inside a pie tin for easy use later,) three jars of strawberry-rhubarb preserves and two jars of strawberry preserves.

    We are definitely repeating this day next year!