Wednesday, April 7, 2010

10 Fun and Delicious Reasons Why You Should Visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for Wildflowers

wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park  0048

It's that time of year again, when Southern Californians get themselves all in a tizzy over springtime wildflowers (or colorful weeds, as this New England native calls them).

The mecca of Southern California's wildflowers is Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California's largest state park and home to some of the most spectacular wildflowers around.

wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park 0055

We recently took a road trip to Anza-Borrego to admire the wildflowers, and even I was impressed. So pack up your car and head over to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park soon before the flowers are gone. Go mid-week if you can to avoid the heavy weekend traffic.

Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park:

1. On the drive to the desert valley, you'll pass idyllic pastures with scores of roaming cows, many of whom will moo personally for you.

mooing cows in Julian, CA

2. You'll spot flowering cacti so intensely colored that they look neon. You'll also take an absurd number of pictures as you roam through the desert collecting sand in your shoes.

flowering cactus in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park  0009

3. Along the way, you'll stop to smell the flowers. And if you're (un)lucky like my mother-in-law, you'll have someone (like your son, Jeff) there to capture the moment with a picture of you, and a daughter-in-law (Susan), who will post it on her blog.

smelling the wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

4. You'll forget all about the picture when you spot a great, little roadside stand in the heart of the valley selling fresh fruit. You'll buy a box of plump, sweet, fresh Medjool dates, half of which will be eaten by the passengers in your car on the ride home.

buying Medjool dates in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

5. You'll buy enough citrus to feed a scurvy-stricken militia. (A 15-pound bag of freshly picked pink grapefruit is $4!)

fresh grapefruits and oranges

6. You'll stop in the quaint town of Julian, where you can roam historic buildings and do some antique shopping.

Old Town Julian, CA

7. You'll treat yourself to a piece 'o pie at the famous Julian Pie Company. Just be sure to call first, because the last thing you want to see after you've spent the entire day anticipating a big slab of warm Dutch apple pie with cinnamon ice cream is this sign:

Julian Pie Company in Julian, CA

8. You'll end the day by having your picture taken among a sea of yellow daffodils.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

9. When you get home with your 15 pounds of pink grapefruit, 10 pounds of navel oranges, 5 pounds of blood oranges, 3 pounds of lemons, and 1 pound of kumquats, you'll start searching for recipes online to use them all. Save yourself some time, and try these recipes featuring citrus:

Chili-Lime Fruit Salad
Honeyed Orange Ginger Muffins (Quat, optional)
Orange, Walnut, and Chocolate Chip Muffins
Glazed Meyer Lemon and Blueberry Cream Scones
Camembert and Kumquat Chutney Toasts
Wild Arugula and Blood Orange Salad with Prosciutto
Warm Bulgur Salad with Beets, Fennel, and Oranges
Tilapia with Zesty Blood Orange and Mango Salsa
Shrimp Tacos with Citrus-Avocado Salsa
Orange Delight Cookies
Italian Almond and Orange Torte with Blood Orange Compote

10. If you've got some soft or bruised oranges, don't discard them. Juice them and make a blood orange vodkatini or this lovely Italian Blood Orange and Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary.

juicing blood oranges

The olive oil in this cake makes it exceptionally moist, while the rosemary and blood orange juice and zest add earthiness and tang. It makes a simple yet sophisticated mid-afternoon snack with a glass of wine and some fine cheese.

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary
Yields 8-10 slices
Print recipe only here.

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup whole milk
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
The zest of 2 small blood oranges
The juice of 1 small blood orange (about 2 tablespoons)
3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Coat an 8-9-inch loaf pan or 9-inch round pan with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until well blended, about 1 minute. Whisk in the olive oil and milk.

4. Whisk the egg mixture into the flour mixture until thoroughly blended. Gently mix in the rosemary, orange zest, orange juice, and black pepper.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for about 15-20 minutes before removing the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.