Archive for the ‘California Produce’ Category

Roasted Tomatoes: A Remedy for an Out-of-Season Craving

January 14, 2009

A Winterized Caprese Salad with Roasted Roma Tomatoes

A Winterized Caprese Salad with Roasted Roma Tomatoes

We always want what we can’t have. For some, that may mean wanting to drive a Ferrari, rather than a Honda, and for others, wanting the latest designer handbag rather than the knock-off sold on the street. Believe me, I have wasted my fair share of money on several pleather “Prato’s” from the corner of 17th and 5th, but notwithstanding, my wants and cravings are generally food related. I remember being quite young and sick with the flu and craving a huge chocolate milkshake, despite exhibiting all of the traditional flu-like symptoms. Today, while I may have learned to curb unrealistic cravings while sick, I find myself craving and wanting certain types of fruits and vegetables that are out of season – like a juicy heirloom tomato in January.

It has been unseasonably warm in Pasadena recently (unseasonably warm for me – perhaps 80 degree weather is normal in January, but I haven’t quite accepted that yet), and as a result of this weather, I have started craving summer produce and summer dishes. The other day I had a tremendous hankering for a Caprese salad. During the late summer months when tomatoes are peaking in their season, there are few things finer than a plate of big juicy tomatoes smothered with fresh basil and mozzarella. Mmmm….I can almost taste the acidity of the balsamic vinegar….. Unfortunately, and contrary to what the sunny and warm whether seems to be telling my palate, we are in January, not July, and those beautiful heirloom tomatoes are just not around.

Knowing full well that my desire for a traditional Caprese salad was next to impossible to have, I decided to make a winterized Caprese salad. Although grocery stores always carry tomatoes year-round, I rarely buy tomatoes in the winter because they are no where as flavorful as a tomato that is fresh, local and in season. The tomatoes at my grocery store this time of year – even in sunny California – are a few shades lighter than the deep red we see during the summer and early fall months, they are generally harder, and they always lack a lot of flavor. Why wouldn’t they – they have been sitting on a boat, a truck and a pallet in the back of your local grocery store for days.

Despite a January tomato’s bleakness, I have discovered that they are not completely useless and flavorless, and actually, can be quite tasty and satisfying with the right preparation. Roasting tomatoes, for example, really brings out a winter tomato’s flavor and tenderizes the tomato while it is roasting. For my winter Caprese salad, I roasted Roma tomatoes coated in extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

After a few attempts at roasting tomatoes, yes a few attempts, I had tomatoes that were full of flavor and very juicy. I will let the pictures below tell the story, but Roma tomatoes roast best in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. After the tomatoes have finished roasting, let them cool completely before tossing them with mozzarella, basil and your favorite balsamic dressing. A winterized Caprese may not be an exact remedy for your out-of-season cravings, but roasting winter tomatoes is certainly one way of satisfying what we can’t always have…especially in January.

Until next time…

Tomatoes Roasted for 15 Minutes Too Long

Roasted Tomatoes Take 1: Tomatoes Roasted for 15 Minutes Too Long

Too High of Heat

Roasted Roma Tomatoes Take 2: Too High of Heat


Persimmons: Not to be Confused with Small Pumpkins

December 10, 2008

The Beautiful and Wonderful Persimmon!

The Beautiful and Wonderful Persimmon!

Meet Persimmon. Pronounced, per-SIM-un, not, per-sinn-amon, like cinnamon. Seriously, what a culinary faux-pas on my part, but I blame geography. I just could not buy fresh persimmons when living in New York City and therefore, I have never had to try to pronounce the fruit’s name. Outside of perhaps the Upper West Side’s food Mecca, Fairway (on a rare day), and some of NYC’s finest restaurants, I have never seen, and obviously have never eaten, a persimmon. And yes, I now regret the last 30 years…persimmons are a mouthful of magic!

A Hachiya Persimmon

A Hachiya Persimmon

My first close encounters with a persimmon occurred at the South Pasadena Farmers’ market this October. It was only after complimenting the farmer on his cute little pumpkins did I learn that persimmons are in no way related to squash, but they are their own fruit with many different varieties. Persimmons are in season in the Fall and we generally see the two most common persimmon varieties: the Hachiya, which is recognizable by its acorn shape; and, Fuyu, which looks like a squat tomato or small pumpkin. I have yet to eat the Hachiya variety of persimmon, but I had my first Fuyu persimmon and at first bite, I was in love.


A Fuyu Persimmon - similar to a small pumpkin, right?...:)

The Fuyu persimmons can be a little tricky for naive fruitarians. With many types of fruit, like pears or peaches, we know when they are ripe because there is a softness to them. Fuyu persimmons, conversely, are ripe when they are firm and can be eaten as is – much like an apple. This really through me for a bit of a loop. Before I first tasted a Fuyu persimmon, my instinct told me that its firmness would make it as unedible as an unripe nectarine, for example. Surprisingly, while there is a definite initial bite to a ripe Fuyu persimmon, there is an immediate tenderness in the fruit’s flesh that does not necessarily have a solitary taste. Sounding sort of like a sommelier, a Fuyu persimmon has a nuttiness to it which is offset by soft hints of honey and apricot. Its just delicious!

Coming from the East coast where apples dominate our farmstands in the Fall, I had no idea that persimmons were so versatile and offered such a diverse culinary palette. A little recipe research shows that persimmons pair well with almonds and walnuts and would make a great salad when tossed with greens. The pulp of persimmons can also be used in baking, much like pumpkin puree is used when making pumpkin bread or cookies. I am anxious to try baking Christmas persimmon cookies – an interesting concept for a California cook as it gives your holiday cookie a very seasonal meaning…

So while I may have spent years thinking that a persimmon was pronounced differently and shared the same genus as a pumpkin, I look forward to exploring its flavors. Hopefully I’ll have a good persimmon recipe to share soon!

Until next time…

Overcoming Baking Fears, One Cake at a Time

December 4, 2008

German Chocolate Cake

German Chocolate Cake

In my last posting I claimed that rocket scientists and mathematicians would make good bakers as baking is a very exact science. I still believe this, but I am now willing to acknowledge that anyone can bake, so long as a strict adherence is paid to the recipe. And herein lies my problem…. I do not follow directions well. I still remember, with perfect clarity, an incident when I was in the first grade when Mrs. Peters disciplined me for not following directions on an art project. Rather than precisely coloring within the outlined picture as instructed, I haphazardly colored in the picture as I wanted to be the student who finished the project first. Unfortunately, I never learned the lesson in first grade, and this scenario, with different facts, has been played on repeat throughout my life.

Perhaps the humiliation, yes humiliation, I faced in Mrs. Peter’s class has transcended my life and I have since shied away from projects requiring an attention to detail…like baking. Fortunately, 25 years later, I am now taking on baking-related fears and learning, that with discipline, baking a German Chocolate cake is well within my reach.

On Monday, I made a German Chocolate Cake for George’s birthday, and I have to say, it was the best cake I have ever had. Seriously. Using my kitchen bible as my guide, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, I methodically worked through the cake’s recipe and made a cake from scratch. With all the cooking I have done over the years, I have never made a proper cake – one that is layered with home-made frosting – from scratch. And for George’s birthday, I wasn’t going to sell myself short with a boxed cake…even though the temptation was great. Having a lot of trust in Marion Cunningham and her epic cookbook, I got baking.

Diligently following the recipe, I completed the first several steps with ease. I successfully preheated the oven to 350 degrees, I greased my cake pans and even cut out perfectly symmetrical circles of wax paper to line the bottom of my greased cake pans. I was on a baking roll! As my confidence started to build, I carefully melted 4 ounces of Baker’s German sweet chocolate and let it cool, I creamed the butter and sugar until fluffy and even added the egg yolks to the butter and sugar mixture one at a time without incident. Well, I had one egg casualty, but it did not compromise my cake…just our floor. Reading and re-reading the recipe verbatim, I blended the vanilla and melted chocolate and began to slowly add the dry ingredients. It was at this point that I began feeling really good about my skills and suffered a baking relapse. I stopped reading each word of the recipe. And oh yes, words matter.

I finished mixing in all of my dry ingredients and my batter was smooth. The only remaining step was to fold in the egg whites and without thinking too much into it, I dumped my bowl of egg whites into the batter and watched them spread across the batter like balsamic vinegar touching olive oil, a reaction I was not expecting. After a wave of emotion passed that started with confusion and ended with utter rage, I reread the recipe. “Fold in beaten egg whites.” Hmph. I read, ‘fold in egg whites’, not, fold in beaten egg whites.

Folding in beaten egg whites is critical for German Chocolate cake. A German Chocolate Cake, while decadent and rich, is supposed to be fluffy and light. Beating an egg white allows the protein in the egg white to expand, which in turn will give a cake more volume…hence the fluffy and light characteristic of German Chocolate Cake. Since I did not beat my egg whites, as the recipe instructed, and not wanting to start over, I decided to beat the whole batter, with the incorporated egg whites, for about a minute on the highest setting of my Kitchen Aid thinking that maybe the eggs’ protein would expand. While it seemed at times that my Kitchen Aid was about to launch itself off the counter because it was going so fast, the method really worked. I frosted the cake with the traditional coconut and pecan icing and enjoyed a very fluffy, very light and very tasty German Chocolate Cake.

The fluffy German Chocolate Cake!

The fluffy German Chocolate Cake!

So while my lack of attention to recipe details did not ruin the cake this time, I did learn an important baking lesson. A methodical baker is a successful baker.

Until next time….

Marion Cunningham’s German Chocolate Cake
4 ounces of Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup of butter
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with buttered wax paper. Melt chocolate in boiling water. Cool. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in vanilla and chocolate. Mix the flour with the soda and salt, then add alternatively with buttermilk to chocolate mixture, beating after each addition until smooth. Fold in beaten egg whites. Pour into the three prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes before turning out one to a rack to cool. Frost only the tops with frosting.

Marion Cunningham’s Coconut-Pecan Frosting
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

In a saucepan, mix the evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened, about 12 minutes. Stir in the coconut and pecans. Cool until thick enough to spread, beating occasionally. You will have enough to fill and frost a 9-inch three layered cake.

Harvest Meals: Part II

November 26, 2008

There is so much to do in preparation for the Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, but I wanted to quickly write about the tasty harvest meal George and I had for dinner last night. As I previously wrote, I went a little hog-wild, or legume-wild I should say, at the Alhambra Farmers’ Market on Sunday and pretty much bought a farmers’ market sampler platter of vegetables. Wanting to eat and cook as much of the produce as possible before Thanksgiving, as it most likely will not get eaten afterwards, I created a culinary plan to make “harvest meals” every night this week.

Sunday night, as my previous posting indicates, was somewhat of a success. The blackberry-red wine reduction was a culinary travesty, but our roasted vegetables and plum tart were huge successes. On Monday, I had good intentions of making a ratatouille with the fresh zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes I bought, but due to an unanticipated, and fortunately very short-lived illness, George had to take over cooking Monday’s dinner and he passed on making the ratatouille. He did make a mean taco and we saved the ratatouille for last night.

Sauteed Ratatouille

Sauteed Ratatouille

So…Ratatouille. Admittedly, I wanted my ratatouille to resemble Remi’s ratatouille in the movie Ratatouille, but I decided to simplify the ratatouille recipes I found and just make more of a ratatouille hash. Chopping up an onion, a few small zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes, I sauteed the vegetables in a little olive oil and seasoned them with salt, pepper, pepperincino flakes, oregano and a lot of fresh basil. It wasn’t bad! It was a very light and very fresh side-dish that was served next to baked chicken breasts. Of course the ratatouille could have been so much more, but for a quick and easy mid-week harvest meal, it couldn’t have been more perfect. So keeping in step with the culinary theme this week, a huge dent was made in our agri-rator (a refrigerator full of agricultural produce) and in the spirit of the Thanksgiving week, another harvest meal was had!

On deck for tonight’s harvest meal….something with green beans!

Until next time….

PS – As a quick aside, I did remember to properly salt my eggplant for the ratatouille. I began salting the eggplant about an hour before I was ready to use them. The salting process really makes all the difference – my eggplant was actually edible this time!

Harvest Meals: A Week of Thanksgiving

November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I really love this time of year. In the third week of November, I usually start to feel a magical buzz in the air, which always seems to have a crescendoing effect up to Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it is a holiday that is not materialistic or greedy, but one that simply brings family and friends together for a meal. Thanksgiving, historically, was a harvest meal celebrating the cooperation between the English settlers and Native Americans in 1621 in which thanks was given to the successful bounty of crops. I really love Thanksgiving’s symbolism and while most Americans are not literally giving thanks to a successful crop season each year, our Thanksgivings – or at least mine – truly does symbolize a harvest meal.

The anticipation and preparation of Thanksgiving is almost has much fun as eating the meal itself. This year, while I am not hosting Thanksgiving or preparing the turkey, I am making a few side dishes. I am very excited for my role this year, mostly because I feel like I have graduated from sous-chef or kitchen helper to “chef contributor.” I take my role seriously and have well-researched the types of dishes I want to prepare, focusing mainly on recipes that can be made from fresh and local ingredients.

Brussel Sprouts - Alhambra Farmers' Market

Brussel Sprouts - Alhambra Farmers' Market

After deciding on a brussel sprouts dish and perhaps a cauliflower gratin of some sort, I made my way to the Alhambra farmers’ market. Alhambra, a town nestled between San Marino, South Pasadena and San Gabriel, offers a farmers’ market every Sunday that is a real treasure trove of fruit and legume wonders. Although I was at the farmers’ market to buy just the few items I needed for my Thanksgiving side dishes, the spirit of the the harvest got me a little produce-happy. Quickly forgetting that it is a short week due to the holiday, and that we are traveling this weekend, I bought enough fruits and vegetables to last us two weeks. Armed with fresh plums, pears, and blackberries, a few varieties of basil, four pounds of brussel sprouts, a head of cauliflower the size of a garbage can lid, a few pounds of string beans, heirloom tomatoes, baby zucchini, and the list goes on…I left the farmers market feeling the need to give thanks to my bounty of crops.

While I think George is slightly skeptical of the farm that is now residing in our refrigerator, I have devised a culinary plan in which George and I will honor Thanksgiving’s symbolism by having a harvest meal every night this week. And our meal last night did just that. Using the fresh blackberries, I made a blackberry-red wine reduction and served the sauce over sauteed pork chops. This recipe idea, while admittedly novel, is not one that I would recommend. The reduction was bitter and almost a bit acidic, and even though the ingredients seemed so benign, (shallots, wine, chicken broth, blackberry puree and salt and pepper), the sauce did not come together as I hoped. Fortunately, the rest of our dinner did and we enjoyed perfectly roasted potatoes and carrots and a fresh salad that incorporated the heirloom tomatoes I had bought earlier in the day. And for dessert, well that just took the cake…or tart!

A Beautiful and Tasty Plum Tart!

A Beautiful and Tasty Plum Tart!

Check out this plum tart! Not only did it actually look beautiful, but it was a simple recipe that accentuated the flavors of the fresh plums. The filling was simply quartered plums placed symmetrically around the tart shell with a sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and lemon juice batter poured over the plums. The tart was so tasty and thankfully off-setted my blackberry reduction debacle.

Our Sunday night dinner may have made a dent in our produce-laden refrigerator, but it also jump-started this important holiday week. While George and I will have another harvest meal tonight, The Alhambra Farmers’ Market – and the local produce Southern California has to offer – certainly puts the meaning of Thanksgiving into perspective this year.

Happy Thanksgiving and until next time…

Egged-On By Eggplant

November 18, 2008

Beautiful Baby Eggplants

Beautiful Baby Eggplants

I have been going a little gung-ho with the local farmers’ market recently. My seasonal clock has not quite adjusted to the California growing season, and I just cannot get over that I can still buy local produce this late into November. I’m used to buying brussel sprouts and perhaps a few lingering heads of cauliflower this time of year in New York, not the variety of fruits and vegetables that are still adorning the farmers’ markets in the Pasadena area.

I have scouted out many of the farmers’ markets in and around Pasadena and discovered these beautiful organic baby eggplants at the Old L.A. Farmer’s Market in Highland Park. Highland Park, which is just minutes down the 110 Freeway from Pasadena, is one of the oldest settled areas in Los Angeles. Nestled right next to the Arroyo Seco, Highland Park seems to be a culturally diverse, hipster kind of community, and reminded me a little of Astoria Queens, without the el train.

Feeling right at home in my Queens away from Queens, I couldn’t resist buying these baby eggplants despite the fact that I generally steer clear of them unless prepared by someone else. I find eggplant to be a lot of work and I lack the patience to properly salt and soak them to remove some of the vegetable’s natural bitterness. However, these baby eggplants were so purple, so fresh and so delicious looking, and averaging about an inch and a half to two inches tall and roughly an inch wide, I anticipated them being tender and sweet and not as bitter as the larger eggplant we commonly see in the market. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

My plan was to slice these baby eggplants width-wise, season them with salt, pepper and paprika and sauté them in a little olive oil. This is my go-to preparation with many vegetables, especially yellow squash and zucchini. I really love sautéed vegetables and seasoning them with paprika really adds a nice flavor when blended with the olive oil. So I got to work on sautéing my eggplant, foregoing the laborious salting process. Big mistake. Due to my eggplant naiveté, I did not realize that salting eggplant not only tenderizes the eggplant meat, but pulls out some of its water content making it less permeable to absorbing oil used when cooking.

A few minutes into sautéing my eggplant, I found that I had to add more olive oil because the eggplant had absorbed all of what was in the pan, and despite using a non-stick skillet, my eggplant turned crispy and stuck to the pan’s surface. Although my eggplant did not cook into tender slices of perfectly seasoned eggplant, I did learn two important culinary lessons. First, eggplant, no matter its size should not be subjected to culinary short-cuts. And second, I may have inadvertently invented something new – eggplant chips! Perhaps my culinary disaster could turn into a snack-food revolution?!

Until next time…


October 24, 2008

The phrase “Drill Baby Drill” may be on some minds recently, but not on mine. I’m chanting, COOK BABY COOK! I have been feeling so inspired to cook recently and have been loving the preparation of putting together a quick and simple week night meal or a more elaborate Sunday night dinner. I have a few ideas as to the genesis of this inspiration – it may be my proximity to great southern California produce, or perhaps all the free time I have as I am unemployed, or it could be the windfall of culinary gadgets my husband and I received for our wedding. Selfishly speaking, one of the best things about getting married – aside from George, of course, is the wedding registry.

The concept of a wedding registry was first developed in 1924 by the Marshall Fields department store in Chicago. At that time, the concept of a wedding registry was limited one; it was a means for engaged couples to share their selected china and silver with their guests. Today, a wedding registry is the “super-sized” version of the 1924 model. Registries today provide engaged couples with a carte-blanche to request anything and everything relating to the kitchen – from food processors, to everyday flatware, or to a pink silicon spoonula. It is also customary to register for bedroom items like new linens or blankets, or even bathroom essentials like towels and shower curtains. And while the registry was originally thought of as a means for couples to ask for a few nicer items for the home, it would not be uncommon to see an engaged couple today registering for a honeymoon or a flat-screen plasma TV.

Although my wedding registry did not include home electronics (to George’s dismay) or a trip around the world, we did register for everything for the kitchen, except for the kitchen sink, of course! What started as a culinary fantasy became a culinary reality thanks to our very gracious friends and family. We now have wonderful kitchen tools like a pasta maker, roasting pans, beautiful serving platters, and the pièce de résistance – fabulously sharp knives (no pun intended, but I know firsthand…I already had a cooking calamity and lost my index finger’s finger nail….).

As I have been trying to test out all my new tools and utensils, I had an idea for a Caprese salad, which not only allowed me to break out my new food processor, but take advantage of the beautiful heirloom tomatoes at the local farmers’ markets. When tomatoes and basil are in season, there are few things better than a traditional Caprese. Gorgeous tomatoes layered between sliced mozzarella and fresh basil…seriously, what more could you want? Well, how about a little bit of basil in each bite?

A Stacked Caprese

A Stacked Caprese

My twist on the traditional Caprese is two-fold: first, I prefer a stacked Caprese – mainly for aesthetics; and second, and most important, I infuse basil throughout my Caprese by using it in a dressing, rather than placing it haphazardly on the salad. Using my new food processor, I made a dressing for my Caprese that resembled a pesto. I begin my chopping one whole garlic clove and several handfuls of basil. To that, I add the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper to season and enough olive oil to thin the mixture into a salad dressing. I find that the fresh lemon juice really pops the basil flavor, which in the affectation of the Oprah–yodel, makes the dressing fabuLOUSSSS….

I simply pour a few teaspoons of my basil dressing over my stacked Caprese and enjoy. This salad could be served as a side dish to grilled fish, chicken, or steak, or could even be served on its own as a first course. Either way, it is a refreshing, seasonal twist, on a traditional Caprese, which could not be accomplished without my new food processor! And with that, COOK BABY COOK!

Until next time…

The Flavor of a Local Farmers’ Market: Bittersweet

October 18, 2008

Pomegrantes adorned the farmers' tables!

Pomegranates Galore!

I am so excited to share my adventures and discoveries at the South Pasadena Farmers’ market, but before doing so, I want to provide a bit of context for this blog – as this is my first posting. Life was quite copacetic for me until Memorial Day weekend this year. Up until then, my then fiancé, George, and I were living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, planning our September 2008 wedding and enjoying a relatively comfortable way of life as I was working as an attorney and George was working for a big company downtown. Two days before the kick off of summer, George was asked by his company to relocate to Los Angeles and take a new job. The decision was an obvious one and in the midst of wedding planning, George moved to California. I would continue to work through the summer and join him after our wedding.

The summer fortunately passed quickly, we had a beautiful wedding in my hometown on Long Island, and two days after our wedding we boarded a plane that would take us to a new city, a new way of life and to new challenges and obstacles that a few short months prior were not in our wildest thoughts. I am now a resident of Pasadena, CA, living in an apartment that is three times the size of our New York City apartment, and driving a car rather than riding the 3 train. As my life changed radically in such a short time, this blog is about this transition, its challenges and successes, but through it all, how I am finding comfort in what I like best – food and cooking.

As this is my inaugural posting, there is nothing more appropriate to write about than the produce California has to offer any gourmande like myself. Since I arrived, the buzz around town is that the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market (SPFM) is the place to be on Thursday evenings. Located on Mission Street and Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena, a funky suburban town that has a vibe similar to Park Slope in Brooklyn, the South “Pas” Farmers Market is truly a produce Mecca. Similar in style and layout to the farmer’s market to end all farmers’ markets – the Union Square Farmers’ Market in New York City – the SPFM offers produce and variety that one could never find on the east coast – or at least outside of some specialty store.

A beautiful example of a West coast produce wonder!

A beautiful example of a West coast produce wonder!

Walking around the SPFM was nostalgic as it reminded me of New York, but exciting and new in so many different ways. For one, it was a quiet experience – the sounds of taxis and buses were not there, and the smell was different – the smell of basil infused exhaust could not be detected at all… The smell was instead sweet, one of fruits and heirloom tomatoes combined with a scent that I am not familiar with yet – perhaps it was palm tree? While the Union Square Farmers’ Market in New York is magical – a calm oasis of sorts in an otherwise busy metropolis, the SPFM – at least for now – will be a challenge to my culinary routines and comforts.

This time of year in New York, the farmers’ markets are laden with apples from the Hudson River Valley, eastern Long Island and New Jersey. While recipes of apple crisps and apples pies are fresh in my mind, Southern California, and especially the SPFM, offers new ideas for fall recipes and creations. Among the farmers’ tables at the SPFM were varieties of fruits and vegetables that I have never seen, or would never have the occasion to see at a farmer’s market back East. Artichokes, black figs, white radishes, rainbow chard and edamame pea sprouts lined the farmers’ tables. A large pear quash and pomegranates were veritable gastronomic wonders to me, but common place for SPFM customers. An orange orb with a little green stem similar to a small pumpkin struck my interest, and during my conversation with its farmer, learned that it was a type of persimmon that “tastes like bar soap when not ready to be eaten.” There were many varieties of lettuces, from baby greens to arugula to frisee, all of which were so clean and fresh looking. One lettuce farmer, from Living Lettuce Farms in Reseda, CA ( explained that the lettuce was so clean because it is grown hydroponically, which is essentially a farming technique in which the plant is grown in nutrient-infused water, rather than soil. Absolutely fascinating! I also discovered later that night that with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a few minced shallots, hydroponic lettuce becomes a tasty side for any dinner!

While my culinary wheels were churning at mach speed and my tastes buds salivating during my time exploring the SPFM, my experience was bittersweet. It was a reminder of what I have left and the challenges – both in life and in the kitchen – that lie ahead.

Until next time…