Alright – first things first – my driver (who will fully admit to this too), made a few boo-boos on this trip.  Firstly, he told us that it was only a 2-2.5hr drive, in actual fact, he should have added an hour to the total time.  It was a combination of his choice of road, coupled with the fact that the (extended) monsoon season here, has seemingly done real damage to the road surfaces – to the extent I was almost texting Col from the back seat and asking him to check the price of a flight to India for my lovely Chiro, Dr Jo.

Secondly, I’m not hugely thrilled at the fact that we ended up atop a mountain, surrounded by aggressive guys demanding money, on horses, so close to the car that their tails swept along the paint.  But anywhoo.  My friends driver tells us that this isn’t ‘normal’ practice at Table Land, maybe it was an ‘off moment’, but I know for sure, that I won’t be going back here.

Mahabeleshwar is a small town a couple hours from Houston, it’s pretty much famous for it’s strawberries, and, while it wasn’t strawberry season while I was in town – I was reliably informed it was only a matter of time before they’re flooding the shelves here in Pune.  They were right, strawberries have landed in Pune – and they’re tasty!  I’m excited, berries here are SO epically expensive, but, I digress.

Having done a little research before heading out the road, I had a short list of places that I wanted to visit.

First on my list? Was a boat trip around Venna Lake.  Venna Lake is one of the major tourist attractions of Mahabaleshwar, it is surrounded by trees on all sides and you can hop in a boat and take yourself on a tour.  There’s two options, you can either take yourself out on a paddle-boat tour, or you can have a guy come on the boat with you and row you around the lake.  You can take a full loop (30 minutes), or a half loop (15 minutes).   We took the 500r, dude doing the hard work, full loop around the lake (because I wanted to see the whole way around! LOL!) option.

Let’s just call a spade a spade, there’s very little by way of safety.  The boats are a little rickety, ours even had the occasional little leak and if you’re expecting life jackets – you’re in the wrong country – this is India, it’s all just a bit ‘thrown together’.  That said? I never once felt unsafe or like I was doomed!  The Boatman told us that the lake is 100 feet deep and this is the natural water that is supplied to Mahabalshwar as well as Panchgani and the lake was foggy and serene.

At the turning point, there’s a temple, you can’t disembark, or get out for a nosy, but you can get a decent enough picture as he’s rowing by.  You also pass-by a park up on the banks as you ‘sail by’, we didn’t pay it a visit, but it looked like a good park from the water.  Even Lewis enjoyed the trip around the lake, he was quiet, well behaved and our ‘guide’ even let him row the boat a little bit.  He was a happy boy. After we disembarked, we happened upon another item on my ‘to do’ list for Mahabeleshwar, strawberries and cream.  It’s a sickeningly sweet cup of syrupy strawberries, ice cream and a whipped, cool-whip-esque type whipped cream imposter – Lewis loved it.  From here, we went to Mapro garden – another jewel in Mahabeleshwar.  Where we took a beautiful walk around the gardens, snapping any number of photo ops as we went – Lewis and I both loved the various props and contraptions to climb in to for snaps. For lunch, we ate in the Mapro cafe, we ordered the (cheap) mocktails (they didn’t have diet coke) which were INCREDIBLY syrupy sweet, (but Lewis loved them, what kid wouldn’t? Basically we drove for hours and let our kid consume inordinate amounts of sugar) we ordered fries (which were delicious – though luke-warm at best), soup (none of us liked) and a pizza – which had way too much seasoning on it, but Col and I managed to eat it.  Reasonably priced, stupidly slow from some counters, and quick from others, it was a mix of hot and cold food by the time we all got to sit and eat.

After lunch, we took a walk through the Mapro shop – full of mapro products and goodies, from chocolate covered nuts, to syrups and gummy sweets – all at a 10% discount AND with taste testing to boot!  We picked up some delicious chocolate covered nuts, sweets for trick or treating, a jar of strawberry jam (couldn’t come and NOT get something strawberry-y) and a couple gifts for people for Christmas.

It was a lovely couple hours spent in a quiet, peaceful and beautiful place.  There was space for Lewis to run riot, you got to watch the farmers out back on the farm, tending to the premature strawberries, (and even the toilets were pretty clean!)  The views were incredible, the food was decent (and cheap) and the we absolutely lucked out on the weather, because it was cool, overcast and rained almost the entire way home.

We didn’t get everything that we wanted to do, done, in Mahabeleshwar and I could definitely see myself going back there in the (near) future (BRING ON THE STRAWBERRIES!) despite the intimidating beginning to the trip, and the drive alone was pretty to look at, if you’ve not yet gone for a visit, I think there’s enough to justify the trip – especially if you’re inclined towards horse riding.

The answer to my prayers…Houston Farmers market number II!

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you’ll have seen my post about Sugar Land Farmers Market, last Saturday.  I’d definitely consider it more of a mini-craft market than a farmers market, so my search to find the best place to buy fruit and veggies continued.

One of my newest friends Tammi, invited me out to another market, she guaranteed that it would be better than the Sugar Land one, it also happened to be the same market that a Twitter buddy of mine had recommended, so I looked it up, Canino Produce on Airline road.

Busy market place

It’s about a 35-45 minute drive from my house to North Houston/The Heights.  As distance and ‘time to get there’ goes in Houston, it probably falls on the ‘below average’ side of the scale.  But let me tell you it was well worth the trip!

The product list is extensive, there are plenty of vendors to choose from and when you go, go prepared with a pocket full of one dollar bills, because this place is cheap!

Buckets of veggies!

Each stall has flower-pot like buckets lined with plastic bags and filled with fruit and veggies.  When you shop, you pull the bag out of the pot and hand over a few bucks.  From memory, grapes were $1.50/lb, strawberries $2/bucket, bell peppers $2/bucket, some places even had a $1 table, buckets of okra, zucchini, green bell peppers and other yummies for only $1!

Like I said, it’s cheap!

Across the street from the market, is the most dangerous place I’ve happened upon in Houston, in three years.

It was a bakery, we hoped it’d be some kind of sandwich place, but when we got inside, it was so much more.

Tortilla station

I stood inside the door and told the girls I’d wait there.  But the longer I stood smelling those smells and seeing people piling trays high, the less I could stand it!

I grabbed a mah-oosive pizza tray, a set of tongs and I started to load up.  I got half a dozen lunch rolls for Col (hot and fresh out of the oven) for 30c a piece, I got half a dozen of the smaller rolls for 20c a piece to make mini garlic bread loaves with dinners, I got two huge macaroons, a giant snow ball, two cookies and a custard filled pastry all for around six bucks.  Bargain!

The cabinets don’t provide much protection…

Cakes, tortillas, bread rolls and walls lined with glass cases filled with pastries, cakes, flans, muffins and cookies – at seriously low prices.  It was fantastic!

Fresh bread rolls

Linds and I split a roll on the way home, it was hot, crunchy and the bread inside was light, fluffy and delicious.  The boys have just had paninis made with them and they both enjoyed them immensley.

I’m going back on Monday with Magz, to do *actual* shopping as opposed to just a reconnaissance trip.  I can’t wait – and I’ll definitely tell y’all about that when I get back.

I can’t believe it’s taken me THREE YEARS to find this place, it’s going to become a regular in my weekly pilgrimages!!!

Sugar Land Farmers Market

As a ‘foreigner’, I’m not particularly accustomed to the idea of ‘farmers markets’.  At home we have a big weekly market in Belfast (St. Georges market), but here in the US, it’s a common occurrence to have a local farmers market.

When I went to visit Amber last year, she took me to a local farmers market, stalls and stalls of fresh produce for reasonable prices, foot long fresh loaves of various types of bread, seasonings, spices, sauces and any number of crafts.  It was great! I came away with bags of stuff and didn’t spend an extortionate amount of money either.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Sugar Land has it’s own year-round farmers market, the Imperial farmers market.  I decided that this was the weekend to give it a shot, I was there for opening, just after 9am and most of the vendors were set up and selling.

It was smaller than I expected it to be, there wasn’t a whole big selection of stalls, but I picked up a few things to try out here at home.

Fresh fruit and veggies

Firstly, I hit up Round Rock Honey, where I picked up a couple mini bear-shaped bottles of honey for $2 a piece (gifts for people).  It was the sample sized bear-shaped bottles that sold it for me over the other honey producer there at the market.

Plus they were friendly, the guy serving was explaining to a couple of women how to ‘fix’ honey, if it’s gone funky.  FYI put it in the top rack of your dishwasher on a hot wash, it’ll fix your honey right up!

Next up I went to Cin Chili, they have any number of bottled sauces available, varying from mildly spicy, to pretty darn spicy.  Since I’m on Slimming World, I’m not overly sure of sauce syn-values, so I decided to go with some of the seasoning that they had out (they’d done pretzels coated in the seasoning that were yummy).

I went home with a little tub of seasoning – which I put straight to the test, some in mine and Col’s omlette and some in Rowan’s panini – we all thought it tasted lovely, and it’s a place I’ll most definitely go back to when I run out!

They smell delicious!

Finally, I hit up Ohh La La candles, where I picked up a few of their candle warmer blocks.  I could have done with one of every flavour – they smelled lovely, and the girl behind the counter was very friendly and accommodating.  I’ll definitely be a repeat customer here!

As I walked through the market, I was struck by just how strong the ‘hard-sell’ is here in Texas, maybe cause the place had just opened and there wasn’t much footfall, but everyone was thrusting samples under my nose, and they seemed genuinely miffed if I didn’t try their wares, or, worse still if I did try them and didn’t want to buy them.

The prices also weren’t great, at least in Iowa the prices were very comparable (or better) to store prices and you got a lot of (good-sized) produce for your dime.  However, $5 for a small basket of potatoes or the same price for a small punnet of pears, $6 for a small loaf of garlic rosemary bread or $3 for a single croissant, $5 for 4 mini-cupcakes?

It’s all a little ‘steep’ for me.  I mean, I get that they are independent business people, I get that they are trying to make a living, but if the product is priced ‘right’, chances are I’m not only going to buy it, but I’m going to become a repeat-customer.

I mean those ‘Ohh La La’ wax bars for my candle warmer, they were the same price as a Scentsy bar, however, I bought the ‘ugly’/discount bars and I got them cheaper than the own brand Walmart blocks and, as such,  like I said, I’ll definitely be back to their stall!

This week’s task will be to research some of the Houston city farmers markets and pick my next one to visit next weekend!