Ahhh, Spring. Everything seems to wake up this time of year. Butterflies flit about freshly planted gardens, early birds try to one up each other while catching that poor worm, and Mother Nature's bounty stretches its leaves skyward while bringing the brilliance of color back into our lives.
Carlsbad, California provides its own color show at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. Devoting 50 acres to the cultivation of the Tecolote® Giant Ranunculus, springtime brings ribbons of spectacular colors stretching behind the Carlsbad Outlet Mall just off of I-5.
From mid-March through early May the beautiful Ranunculus transform the otherwise dry coastal hills into fields of coordinated color. A working farm, the flowers themselves are harvested for market, while the plants work to produce additional bulbs which will also be harvested and some replanted.
Flowers of white, yellow, orange, red, pink and purple are grown in the rows providing the brilliant colors, and anyone can walk along the paths through the fields for a close up look. A highly popular tourist attraction, many locals also make annual visits to the flower fields and have years of flower photographs documenting the growth of the kids (I'm one of those locals).
Rumor has it from some of my native Carlsbad friends, that the fields used to be just that, fields, not an attraction. Many have fond memories of running through the brilliant colors while playing hide and seek amongst the flowers. Today, however, one needs a ticket ($11 for adults - but check for deals or use your AAA card) to enter the event. The property, though, includes so much more than flowers.
A must stop, is the Sweet Pea Maze lined with my beloved sweet pea blossoms. Seemingly easy to navigate, even adults will make a wrong turn or two as they maneuver through the fragrant rows of flowers. Taking my Girl Scout Troop to the fields a number of years ago, the girls spent over an hour running through the maze, re-entering after completion and then helping others who seemed to be lost. Always a popular stop for kids and adults alike.
Another favorite stop has always been the "Carlsbad Mining Company" where kids of all ages can try their hand at sluicing for treasure just like the original California 49ers. Liv still has a box filled with polished rocks from her years of mining adventures at the fields. Put on by a local Gemological Society, the volunteers are always smiling and eager to help identify what rock or gem your particular treasure has born.
While walking through the fields is indeed a treat, little ones as well as elderly visitors may have difficulty navigating the dirt paths and hills. Luckily, antique tractor wagon rides are available allowing everyone to get around the property. Yes, the rides to come at a $5 fee, but the kids have always loved them and for those not desiring a walk the antique wagons are a fun option.
Entering the property, kids will be given a "passport", a little booklet directing them around the property. To keep the little ones motivated and moving, stations have been set up throughout the event where you can stamp your passport. Fill up your book with stamps and you get a discount at the Mining Company when you pan for your treasure. Kids seem to run from station to station so excited to get the next stamp.
Leaving the fields yesterday, I simply couldn't pass up that Strawberry Lilikoi Spread, and sweeten up our day it did. A simple oatmeal bar spread with the jam and then baked with an additional crumble over the top brought spring right into our kitchen.
Strawberry Oatmeal Jam Bars
Sweetened with jam, these hearty oatmeal bars made for a delightful spring treat. Perfect for a picnic, Easter Dinner, bunco dessert or simply a sweet breakfast, the ease of preparation will make these bars a regular in my kitchen.
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 (generous) tsp salt
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup butter, softened and cut into small squares
3/4 cup (generous) Carlsbad Gourmet Strawberry Lilikoi Spread (or your favorite fruit preserve)
1/3 cup chopped strawberries
Preheat oven to 350º. Spray an 8 inch square pan with cooking spray and set aside.
Combine the brown sugar, flour, baking soda, salt and rolled oats, stirring to combine. Drop the butter into the flour mixture and rub with your fingers or a pastry blender to from a crumble. Press about 2 cups of the mixture into the prepared pan and spread the jam over the top. Sprinkle the chopped strawberries over the jam and then sprinkle with the remaining crumble mixture, gently pressing the crumble into the top of the jam.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the bars are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Allow the bars to cool before cutting into squares or desired shapes.