Beautiful Autumn Foods

I haven’t been super active at blogging again- I find that sitting in a chair for too long to be painful nowadays. Being 7 months pregnant, I need to constantly stretch my legs and hips. However, it hasn’t stopped me from shopping at the farmers markets and eating well. I haven’t had strange cravings so far. My husband hasn’t had to run around the city in the middle of the night to satisfy my cravings. I am not sure if its just my well trained eating habits, but I’ve had no desire to binge or eat foods I normally would not eat. In May, I couldn’t get enough of blueberries. Throughout summer, I did have an insatiable appetite for all melons. Right now, I want everything pumpkin, cranberry, and apple!

Here are photos of all the foods I am enjoying right now. I do love this season and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite meals of the year. I am especially looking forward to November 28th this year!

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I hope you have been following me on all the other social media channels, as I am very active there.

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Farmer’s Market Finds: Orange Raspberries, Gravenstein Apples, and a Field of Lavender

I had a crazy June- teaching six classes weekly at Mission High School, going to school, commitments for each weekend, and life in general had me on my toes. I am looking forward to a more mellow July. The first weekend of July was perfect. On Sunday, Satish and I went up to Sebastopol to visit one of my instructor’s farmhouse. Nori has a large lavender field that needed harvesting and she invited her students for an u-pick. On the way to her farmhouse, we stopped by the Sebastopol farmers market. Nori had told me it’s large and I thought it would be a good idea to pick up lunch to eat at the farm.

apples

For the last three years, I have mostly only highlighted farmer’s markets in San Francisco. It’s always a good surprise when I do visit farmer’s market outside of the city. Even though apples and pears will not be available at most farmers markets until late August, Sebastopol’s farmers market already had these fruits. The town is known for their Gravenstein apples and you can see apple trees all over  town.

raspberries

There were all sorts of berries, such as these orange raspberries. They are sweeter than red raspberries.

chiliChili peppers.

Plums

These are all varieties of plums, which I haven’t seen in the city’s farmers markets. Definitely eating the rainbow here!

Photo Jul 07, 12 38 43 PMThese huge things caught my eye- I thought they were large oysters or seashells. Turns out they are mushrooms. Wild.

entertainmentThe Sebastopol farmers market is run every Sunday in the town’s plaza. They have entertainment such as belly dancers, too!

After getting fruit and food to eat and share at Nori’s farmhouse, we made the short drive over there. Nori’s place is gorgeous, with lavender bushes lining the driveway up to the house. I had brought a book to read out poolside while I bathed in the warm sun that San Francisco desperately lacks. Though, I got too caught up in the conversations and touring the farm to pull out by book. Nori is growing a few varieties of squash and apple, pumpkin, jicama, strawberries, loganberries, amongst the vast lavender field. I, somehow, did manage to get sunburned shoulders.

pumpkin

loganberriesI would declare loganberries my new favorite fruit, except they are so hard to come by. I can’t wait to have my own farmhouse. One day.

lavenderThere are two varieties of lavender on the property. The Grosso variety (pictured) is much darker and fragrant. It also gives out more essential oil than the Provence variety. Lavender can be used in cooking. My favorite way is to add a few sprinkles to omelettes and asparagus. Lavender has a very calming effect and is recommended for people who are feeling anxious, nervous, or stressed. While in college, I used to rub lavender oil on my stomach to ease symptoms of IBS.

There were thousands of bees throughout the fields. Bees are so crucial to our environment and food supply and it was really nice to see them buzzing happily. They are actually quite harmless. Checkout the Instagram video I took while picking lavender. You can actually here the harmonious buzz of the bees.

Photo Jul 07, 3 37 27 PMWith a tiny bundle of lavender next to my bed, I will have a restful night’s sleep. I am using the rest to make lavender salt and to give away to friends. There is nothing more therapeutic than sharing!

Farmers Market Finds: Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

I’ve been to the grocery store at least four times this past week. I know, it sounds ridiculous right? It wasn’t because I hadn’t planned properly or was cooking up a storm each night. I started a new job as the nutrition and culinary instructor for Mission High School’s summer school program. I am teaching a total of 150 students each week basic nutrition and cooking skills. It really is a great program to introduce these students to concepts delicious yet healthy foods. Last week, the students made kale and goat cheese frittatas and strawberry protein smoothies. I have to admit, I got a little ambitious introducing kale and goat cheese to the students at once on the first day of class. Most of them did not know what kale was and some of them were really grossed out by the fact that goat cheese comes from goats. Lesson learned.

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This week, I am going to teach them the importance of reading labels and choosing foods with as few ingredients as possible. Instead of using canned or bottled pasta sauce, they can make their own sauces and pestos from scratch using local, fresh ingredients. I bought cherry tomatoes and the ingredients to make basil pesto from the farmers market today. I will try to Instagram how everything turns out tomorrow during break or after class.

20130609-161311.jpgMy trunk full of tomatoes and ingredients for Monday’s meal.

Even though its been super windy and miserably gray in San Francisco, the farmers market is full of bright colors. I love to get a bag of mixed salad greens from Happy Boy Farms, because they always top the bag with edible flowers. Edible flowers also contain antioxidant properties.

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Farmers Market Finds: Stunning Apricots

I didn’t spend too much time at the market this week. These brilliant hued apricots caught my eye. They actually look like peaches.

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It was also nice to find several varieties of cucumbers. I picked up these lemon cucumbers. Maybe it’s the warmer weather, but I’ve had major cravings for crunchy food with high-water content. I’m looking forward to melon season.

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Anything caught your eye this week?

Farmer’s Market Finds: Heirloom Tomatoes and Boysenberries

I skipped the farmers market last week, because I was in LA. If I had more time, I would have made it a point to go to the Main Street Farmers Market in Santa Monica. Not to buy groceries, but just to visit an old favorite from when I lived in LA.  Usually, my time in LA is spent eating with friends at the latest hotspots or at my sister-in-law’s place. This time, we just decided to stroll Abbot Kinney (one of my favorite places) and go with the flow. My friend Katrina suggested we eat at Axe, a restaurant supporting local farmers and sustainability. The food was exactly what the body and soul needed that day. I love eating out at restaurants that inspire me to replicate the meal at home, which is exactly what we did a few days later.

restuarantA soul satisfying brown rice bowl with fresh vegetables, wild Alaskan salmon, and sesame lime dressing. I am going to make this over and over again until I can perfect the taste. I will try it will all sorts of protein sources- tofu, garbanzo beans, chicken, and other types of fish.

veniceAbbot Kinney in Venice, CA.

A few friends, Satish, and I went to Half Moon Bay yesterday, a scenic 45 minute drive from the city. On the way to a brunch, we ended up stopping at a farm stand.

farm stand

We were a little surprised to find fruit like mangos and bananas (not local) at the stand, but they did have plenty of local, non-organic produce too. Most people assume that cute, farm stands off-the-road are all organic, but it’s always a good idea to look for the organic sign or label and ask about the farming practices. This farm stand was situated right next to a farm, but it was unclear if they were related. Half Moon Bay is really beautiful!

farm

Lately, I have been craving green leafy vegetables and blueberries more than usual. I actually managed to get to the farmers market early today and was rewarded with plenty of eggs, asparagus, and squash blossoms. There were even boysenberries, which I don’t normally see at this farmers market. Boysenberries look just like blackberries, but they are larger and more tart. They are also a cross between blackberries, raspberries, and loganberries, thus having a reddish color to them. The tartness makes them less popular and are not commercially available. I think they make great desserts.

berries

As we are edging closer to summer, more and more stone fruits are available and the first of the heirloom tomatoes. I couldn’t resist getting some of the tomatoes, despite knowing that it is a little early for their season. Tomatoes taste like sweet fruit when they are harvested in July-September, when the weather is dry and hot. Nevertheless, I already used up half of them to make a delicious, thick tomato sauce to eat with eggs for Sunday brunch. I call the sauce my Magic sauce, because I can use it a thousand different ways.

tomatoes

tomato sauce

My tomato magic sauce.
plumsPlums are a purple food. I love the darker, juicier versions, where you have to eat them over the kitchen sink.

Green Beans

I am not a fan of green beans. For some reason, I just cannot get the bland taste from the school cafeteria out of my head. Truthfully, the real problem lies in the fact that I don’t know any good recipes for green beans. I love it at restaurants, just not to cook with. At my husbands request, I bought a couple of handfuls of them. I just don’t know what to do with them. Please share any recipes! 

Farmers Market Finds: Mother’s Day

It was gorgeous day at the Farmers Market. Everyone seemed livelier, maybe because the sun was briefly out and it was Mother’s Day. There were more people than usual too. I was in bit of a hurry and could not chat much with familiar faces or stop to take beautiful photos. I needed to pick up a few ingredients and quickly prepare for our Mother’s Day picnic and hike. Though, I was delighted to find lots and lots of squash blossoms. We are going to eat amazing frittatas and snacks this week!

squash blossomsSquash blossoms are the flowers of zucchinis. They are delicate and are a special treat. The blossoms go quickly at the market and don’t last long in the heat or fridge. I usually use them up within a few days of buying. They can be eaten raw, slightly sautéed, or stuffed and fried. The blossoms come off as exotic, so it’s fun too serve them at a special meal. At restaurants, I loved eating them on pizzas, but it’s hard to find speciality gluten-free pizza. 

blueberriesI couldn’t resist taking a photo of these beauties.

A tradition only started last year, my brother and I choose a local state park to have a picnic and hike with our parents. We thought it would be a nice way to spend quality time with our parents and get them to hike, something they normally do not do on their own. We try to keep the hike moderate, so it’s enjoyable for everyone. Walking amongst the giant trees sparks interesting conversations. It’s also a nice alternative to worrying about reservations and dining out.

treesThis year, we went to Roberts Regional Park in Oakland. We live nearby so many state parks, but have not visited half of them. Mother’s Day is our new reason to explore the parks and trails around us.

picnic

After a small, homemade picnic, we went for a moderate hike. We had pea pesto marinated chicken, turkey stuffed bell peppers, poha (spiced flattened rice dish), lentil and chard pilaf, dolmas, spicy hummus, mangos, and cherries. A very ethnic and delicious picnic.

treesI am so thankful to live within half an hour of these beautiful redwoods. The air was amazing.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

Farmers Market Finds: Blueberries, Cherries, and Nectarines!

I was totally blown away at the farmers market today. My most favorite fruit ever is in season! Blueberries. I love blueberries. They are just so beautiful, taste heavenly, and are a purple food. Blueberries rate among the highest in fruits and vegetables for antioxidants. Researchers have found that the compounds in blueberries reduce the effects of age-related conditions (e.g. Alzheimer’s and age-related macular degeneration). Blueberries act in the same ways as cranberries to promote urinary tract health. They are also full of fiber, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and are low in calories.

blueberries

Blueberries are one of those foods that you should buy organic. The blueberries I bought today are not certified organic, but the farm is in  transition and it will take them sometime before they will become certified. I also bought the blueberries from Serendipity Farms, who is selling it on the behalf of another farm. Jamie, the farmer, has become my friend over the years. I trust her and visit her stand weekly.

When Jamie posted a picture on Facebook about their first crop of blueberries, my mouth started to salivate. I immediately wanted to make buttermilk blueberry pancakes (gluten-free, of course), compote, salads, and top them with my homemade granola. I just ended up eating the entire basket of blueberries with my husband and dad. Next week, I’ll find more interesting uses for them.

blueberries

Spring is really short at the farmers markets. Summer and winter produce last for months and months, but ramps, green garlic, asparagus, and English peas seem to only be around for two short months. Even though it’s foggy and cold in San Francisco, it has been really hot in the farm country just outside of the city. Which means, the early arrival of summer produce. This week there were stone fruits, zucchini, squash blossoms, and three varieties of basil!

cherriesCherries from Hamada Farm

The intermingling of spring and summer produce at the farmers market is going to make for some delicious meals. Checkout my Pinterest boards for recipe ideas.

Photo May 05, 11 56 47 AMSpring onions, sugar snap peas and zucchini from Happy Boy Farms.

Photo May 05, 11 54 31 AMNectarines from Ken’s Top Notch

squash blossoms

I absolutely love squash blossoms as well. They have a delicate, nutty flavor and taste great on salads, pizzas, and frittatas. However, I refused to buy these since they were unnecessarily packaged in plastic bags. Major environmental fail.

kale blossoms

Kale blossoms are also a short-season food. Cook them like you would broccolini. Happy Boy Farms.

What is your favorite super food?

Farmer’s Market Finds: The Color Purple and Antioxidants

All I could notice at the farmers market this weekend was the color purple. It reminded me of my high school English teacher, who asked us to look out for the color in nature. We were reading The Color Purple by Alice Walker in class. All of us agreed that purple was a rare color in nature. Though, I completely disagree with that conclusion now.

purple turnipsPurple turnips

I have always kept Mrs. Kindle’s observation in mind and subconsciously seek out the color purple wherever I go. The color purple is everywhere, especially at the farmers market – year round. Fruits, vegetables, and plants get the purple pigmentation from anthocyanins, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that prevent oxidation (which is what happens when a sliced apple turns brown). Oxidation causes free radicals to form and free radicals cause damage and death to cells. Some free radicals are formed through natural processes, but free radicals can “spiral” out of control and disrupt living cells. To put it in a very simple manner, when the levels of free radicals in your body become disproportionate (due to aging, poor eating and lifestyle choices, and environmental triggers) disease and cancer happens.

purple radish asparagusPurple asparagus, chive flowers, and purple radish

Antioxidants protect your body from the harmful effects of free radicals. Eating foods rich in antioxidants prevent and delay cell damage, which in turn prevent cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and immune dysfunction. Luckily, there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants available year round. It’s important to eat a variety of foods, because not all foods contain all the antioxidants your body needs. Supplements do not provide the same benefits as eating whole foods do. Antioxidants in purple foods particularly help boost memory, slow down the aging process, prevent heart disease, and prevent and shorten the duration of colds.

Purple lettucePurple lettuce

Purple foods in the Spring
ArtichokesAsparagus, blueberries, chive flowers, chocolate mint, purple top turnips, radishes, and spring onions

herbs Chocolate mint and chive flowers

Other purple foods by season: 

Summer
Basil, berries, eggplants, figs, lavender, peppers, pluots, plums, and tomatoes

Fall/Winter
Dates, grapes, potatoes and olives

Year Round
Beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, endives, kale, kohlrabi, lambsquarter, lettuce, orachi, and radicchio

purple asparagusWhat are your favorite purple foods? Which purple foods did I leave out? Please add in the comments. 

5 Really Good Reasons To Eat Seasonally

Eating seasonally makes me feel happier and there are traditions around seasonal food around the world. In India, mango season is celebrated religiously. Actually, most people in India refer to seasons by the foods available at that time of the year. Having grown up in the United States, I didn’t really experience the joys of seasonal eating, since most foods were available year round. Though, I distinctly remember mango and green flat bean season, since my family made a huge celebration out of them. These foods were bought at an international market and were internationally imported foods. I have never appreciated fresh food as much as I do now until I started eating them in season. That is when mango and bean season clicked and I gained a better appreciation for how the world works.

dino kale garden

Aside from culture, there are many reasons to eat seasonally. From a health perspective, eating fresh, seasonal food makes the most sense. Hopefully, the points I make below are enough to convince you to include seasonal foods in your life.

1. Variety. Cooking with the seasons breaks up the monotony of your meals. There comes a time at the end of each season, where I cannot wait for the arrival of new crops. I become bored with the flavors and crops by eating them at home and at every  local restaurant all season long. It almost makes me want to stop eating the vegetables and fruits altogether, which I suspect is the case for many people. However, by shopping at the farmers market, I am constantly introduced to new vegetables and fruits which help stave off boredom on the plate and palate. Even dining out at local restaurants becomes exciting, be able to experience and taste what the talented chefs can make with the seasonal food.

strawberry lentils

2. Healthier. There are many health benefits to eating in season. Vegetables and fruits have the most nutrients when they are at their peak ripeness. The antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in the food starts to decrease as soon as they are picked. Vegetables and fruit that are grown to travel long distances (1,500 miles on average) are picked before they can develop their full range of nutrients. Fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits usually travel a lot less and are exposed to a lot less heat and light (both degrade delicate vitamins). Also, you can buy seasonal food in its whole, unprocessed form, instead of canned or frozen varieties. Canned foods are usually soaked in sugars, salts, BPA and are highly processed. Frozen foods are a pretty good option when you do not have fresh food available, however, there is a bit of processing and nutrient loss that goes on when freezing the food.

3. Environment. Seasonal produce usually means local produce, which is also great for the environment and local community. As pointed out in #2, local foods travel a lot less and are fresher, thus they retain much of their nutritive value. Fewer green houses are produced and less fuel is used in transporting local food. Food that is closer to the source also has less, if any, preservatives and pesticides sprayed on them and are unprocessed. The best place to find local, seasonal food is at the farmers market or by subscribing to a CSA. Though, if these are not options for you, look for the local sign in the produce section of your grocery store. More and more grocery chains are catching on to the fact that people want higher quality food. Spring does not arrive in San Francisco at the same time it does in New York City; seasons change at different times everywhere. Seasonal food gives you the opportunity to connect with the land you live on and the people who grow your food.

4. Wide Range of Nutrients. This one is a slight combination of #1 and #2. Eating seasonally ensures you are eating a variety of nutrients. A magical vegetable or fruit that has all the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, and fiber your body needs just does not exist. There are some pretty powerful fruits and vegetables out there, but even they lack a little something. Thus, it’s important to eat a variety of food and the best way to avoid eating broccoli year round is to eat the food that is in season.

5. Taste. Quite simply, food grown in its rightful season tastes better. If you are not convinced, do a taste test. A winter tomato, grown indoors or in hot houses, does not taste anything like a tomato grown under the hot sun, picked right off the vine just before it got to you. The better the fruits and vegetables taste, the more likely you will eat them. The more you eat them, the more health benefits and happiness you will gain. Give the vegetables and fruits you wrote off a second chance, by eating them in the season they were always meant to be grown.

tomatoes

Just shortly after experiencing seasonal food, I started to anticipate what the newest food will be at the farmers market. A partial reason, why I started Farmers Market Finds. I look forward to each season equally. Towards the end of winter, I start to look forward to asparagus, strawberries, and English peas. By mid-June, I can almost taste the heirloom tomatoes, peaches, and squash blossoms. And, by the end of September, I am making roasted butternut squash and thinking about Thanksgiving. In February, I am obsessing over blood oranges and kale.

What is your favorite food season and what do you anticipate eating most?  Please share your culture and food traditions with me. 

Farmers Market Finds: A Few Basics

I am participating in San Francisco’s very first food hackathon this entire weekend. Thus, no trip to the farmers market for me. I will have to stock up my fridge with fresh produce tomorrow. I will leave you with a few snaps of veggies and fruits I always keep stocked. Happy Sunday!

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Tatsoi- is a cross between broccoli and spinach. Tastes amazing steamed and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

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I always keep mixed cooking greens on hand. They are versatile and make great main and side dishes.

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Kale- need I say more!

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Lemons brighten up any dish and are handy to keep around. I also drink warm water with a squeeze of lemon every morning to get my system going.

Which vegetables do you normally keep around?