Broccoli with Toasted Sesame Seeds

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Broccoli is not traditional in Indian cooking, but I used to love eating broccoli. Every Monday, I cooked my own meal of sauteed vegetables and broccoli was definitely part of the medley of vegetables. A few years ago, I stopped eating broccoli because it simply just didn’t agree with my body constitution. Satish, on the other hand, has almost the exact opposite of my body constitution and can digest most foods easily. His favorite snack is tortilla chips with salsa. In trying to eliminate all processed foods from our diet, I had to come up with fast, easy replacements for the chips. He also loves Chinese food, but we rarely ever eat it since high quality, inexpensive Chinese food is hard to find and I haven’t ventured into cooking it  for ourselves. This is a great recipe that combines salt (soy sauce), spice (red chili flakes), and crunch (sesame seeds).  I would hardly call this dish “Chinese”, but it has the flavor profile. The broccoli is full of vitamins and phytonutrients that will help your body fight free radicals and support your immune system. I sometimes  serve this over a bed of quinoa for a complete meal. Low quality broccoli can forever leave a nasty impression in your mind, so it’s very important to choose a good stalk. Organic, local, or pesticide-free varieties are your best choices. Broccoli are naturally in abundance during the winter and only last a few days in the fridge before it starts to loose color.

Sesame Seed Broccoli
serves 2

Ingredients
2 cups cut Broccoli florets
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2-3 teaspoons soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes (more or less to your liking)

Method
1. Cut and wash the broccoli under cool running water. Meanwhile bring the water in your steamer to a boil. Place broccoli in your vegetable steamer and cover. Let steam for 3 minutes. Or just add them into the boiling water and drain really well after 3 minutes of boiling.

2. While the broccoli is steaming toast red chili flakes and sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat. Once the sesame seeds start turning brown, remove quickly from heat. Toss in the steamed broccoli and soy sauce. Mix well and serve immediately. Tastes great over a bed of rice or quinoa.

Who wants to take me Asian pantry shopping, because broccoli+sesame seeds+ 365 brand soy sauce is just not cutting it for me?!

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Chana Chai Masala

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In my quest for eating mostly only seasonal and local produce, I have avoided making Indian food that requires a tomato based gravy this winter. Mainly because I have not seen any tomatoes at the Farmers Market in the last couple of months. Though, I was craving Indian food last week- in particular Chole Bathura. Chole Bathura is a dish that originates in the Northern Indian state  of Punjab. Punjab is known for their decadent dishes like Chicken Makhani, Saag Paneer, and Chole Bathura. Chole Bathura is an ultimate comfort food, perfect for a chilly, winter’s day. Chole are spicy chickpeas/garbanzo bean and bathura is deep fried bread. Since, I am not eating any fried food this month (Rule #3 of January Rules), I decided to make my own version of bread and garbanzo beans that would hit the spot. I also realized that I could make an exception and use canned tomatoes to substitute the fresh, ripe tomatoes. As long as the ingredient list of the canned tomatoes only reads tomatoes and no other processed ingredients.**

There were many firsts when I attempted to make this dish. It was my first time cooking with dried garbanzo beans and using canned tomatoes. After inquiring on Twitter and asking my mom on how to cook garbanzo beans, I decided that soaking and boiling them would probably produce the best results. This  cooking method is longer than opening a can of beans, but canned beans are slimy and often have added salt and preservatives. It also happens to be national tea month, so I added a little flavor of my own. I used a Masala Chai blend from Samovar, but you can easily make your own mix or use a Masala Chai tea bag. Carefully read the ingredients list on the tea bag, and avoid using tea that has added sugars or artificial flavors. Higher quality, fair-trade loose leaf tea will yield the best results.

Chana Chai Masala

Ingredients
Serves 4-6
1 cup dry Garbanzo beans
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
plenty of water to soak and boil the beans
1 tablespoon Masala Chai mixture or 1 Chai tea bag
3/4 cup boiling hot water
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
2 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, more or less for your tolerance
2 tsp ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces canned tomatoes**
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
One lemon, juiced and zested

Masala Chai Mixture
1 tablespoon black tea
1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces
2-3 whole cloves
1-2 peppercorns, whole
2-3 cardamom pods, cracked open

1. Soak Garbanzo beans in plenty of water overnight (at least 8 hours). Rinse the soaked Garbanzo beans. Bring 3 cups of water in a large stock pot to a boil. Add the Garbanzo beans, baking soda, and let simmer for 20 minutes, until they are soft but not mushy.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large pan on medium heat. Once pan is heated add oil and let it heat up for 30 seconds. Add onions and saute them until translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Stir frequently. If the onions start to brown, add 1 tablespoon of water. Add spices and mix well. The spices will stick to the onion and become aromatic in about 45 seconds. Mix in the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.

3. While the onions are cooking, steep tea mixture in 3/4 cup boiling hot water in a cup and cover. The tea should steep for about 20 minutes.

3. Slowly add in the tomatoes with their liquid to the pan. Stir well to incorporate spice mixture. Add the salt. After 2 minutes, reduce temperature to low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add in the Garbanzo beans. Strain tea leaves or remove tea bag from water, and pour the tea water into the pan. Mix well. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Turn off heat and mix in lemon juice and zest.

5. Garnish with cilantro or marigold petals. Serve with Basmati rice or roti.

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Finding Comfort In Indian Food- Roti and Bananas

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People think it’s strange that I don’t crave Indian food. I find it strange that I don’t crave Indian food. I don’t think of Indian food as comfort food, even though I ate it everyday for 18 years.Was it the whole trying to find balance between my Eastern and Western culture that ruined my desire for Indian food? It can’t be. Even stranger is that I love Indian food. I loved the food my grandmother made from scratch every single day. Mum split her time between praying and cooking. She took whole fragrant spices and ground them up, peeled and chopped sticky garlic, soaked and pressure cooked colorful lentils, made dough with her strength, rolled out hundreds of sweet cookies, and pickled pungent mangoes, chilies, and lemons.

Growing up in Mum’s embrace, I thought cooking from scratch was the only way. Though, I our freezer was full of things like Foster Farm chicken, hot pockets, Kellogg waffles, pizza, and other highly processed food. It left an impression that Americans don’t eat food made from scratch. My mom would pack our school lunch everyday of the usual stuff: deli meat sandwiches on whole wheat bread, Oreos, and Capri Sun juices. Occasionally, we were even  given school lunch money to splurge and eat what most of the other kids were eating. Now, I thank my parents for being a little more conscious and saving us from cafeteria school lunches. (Read Fed Up With School Lunch if you don’t know what I am talking about.)

My brother, cousins (who lived across the street), and I would find Mum in the kitchen when we came home from school, making late afternoon chai for Dada or a snack for us. When I was bit older, I learned my grandmother liked peanut butter (the smooth kind) as much as I do. She also loved jam over jelly (just like me). So when I think of comfort food, I think of peanut butter and jam sandwiches and roti smothered in butter and wrapped around a banana. My grandma and I loved eating bread slightly toasted and covered in melted butter, peanut butter and jam, and roti with butter and bananas.  Together.

Spelt Flour Roti with Cinnamon and Bananas

Traditional roti is made with Atta, whole grain wheat. I have started to experiment with different flours that are less processed and has inherent superior nutritional qualities. We eat buckwheat rotis more often now, but it’s a bit tougher and is not as fluffy and soft as traditional roti. This recipe uses 1/2 the amount of whole grain spelt flour and 1/2 the amount of milled whole wheat flour. The result is a much softer roti that balloons up on the stove, which is a good thing. This is a simple snack that you can have part of your breakfast, after school, or post dinner. Rotis can made a day ahead of time, but just cover well and store it in the fridge. Warm them up on a skillet or 10 seconds in the microwave.

Ingredients: Serves 2-3
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup milled whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup warm water
1 tbsp flour – for rolling and dusting
1 large banana or 2 small bananas- Fair-Trade

Directions

1. In a mixing bowl, mix flour, cinnamon and salt well. Add oil and mix until all lumps are gone. Add water a little at a time, while kneading the flour, to form a soft dough ball. The dough ball should not be sticky or wet. On a plate, place the 1 tablespoon flour for rolling and dusting.

2. Heat non-stick skillet or tava on medium heat. Divide into golf ball size balls. Take one ball and press lightly it between your palms, to create a flat disk. Dip the flattened ball into the coating flour and roll it out into a thin disc with a rolling pin on a flat surface. Keep dipping the roti into the dry flour to prevent it from sticking to the rolling surface.

3. Rub off excess flour from the roti and place it onto the hot skillet/tava. Flip to the other side once you see bubbles appear on the surface (about 40 seconds). Allow the second side  to cook for 10-15 seconds. Meanwhile, turn the next stove on high heat, gently pick up roti with tongs, and place on open flame. The roti should balloon up and remove quickly. Place the cooked roti into an insulated container and smear it with ghee/butter (optional). Repeat the process for the remaining dough.

4. Peel the banana(s). Cut the large banana in half. Place it on the edge of one roti and roll it up to eat like a burrito.

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A Meatless, Unprocessed Christmas (With Pumpkin Soup Recipe)

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Satish and I drove down to LA last Wednesday to spend the Christmas holiday with his sister and family. I had planned to make the Christmas Eve dinner as I really want to create tradition for Satish and I.  This entire  meal was going to be vegetarian, since my sister-in-law is a vegetarian and with all respect doesn’t like meat cooked in her kitchen. Therefore, I had packed up all of my key spices, herbs, oils, and favorite kitchen tools. I almost packed up my most versatile pan, zester, and spatula, but decided I could live without them. (Later, I learned I can’t live without the zester.) It’s tough cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. I had plans to visit a farmer’s market in LA for the main ingredients.  LA has at least 120 farmer’s markets happening during the week, so there is hardly no excuse to not go.  I curiously went to the Westwood farmer’s market on Thursday, with high hopes of finding all of the ingredients I needed for the Christmas Eve dinner.  I was disappointed to find that it was a sparse market, but I still bought kale and parsley. Later, I met my dear friend for tea and hot soup. She suggested we stroll through the farmer’s market nearby, but time seemed to slip by at the Jewish bakery as we sipped our tea, flirted with the rows of baked goods, laughed, cried, shared, and reminisced. By the time we were ready to leave the bakery, it was dark and I needed to rush back to avoid being stuck in traffic. Of course, I didn’t listen to our GPS, made a couple of wrong turns, and missed the closest 10W onramp. Awhile ago, I stopped getting upset with myself for making wrong turns and getting lost and started enjoying the new route I created. Due to the wrong turns, I happened to drive by the La Cienega Farmers Market. Since, I was crawling in the local traffic, I got to look into the farmers market held at the parking lot of the La Cienega Plaza Shopping Center. It was beautiful. The sun was already gone, Christmas lights were bright, food trucks, fresh flowers, all amidst red break lights. Peering, I saw berries, popcorn, chestnuts, citrus, and greens. I was surprised by the berries…maybe it’s the mild, spring like weather in SoCal. I was tempted to pull into the driveway and finish shopping for the ingredients needed to make the next day’s dinner. Though, I knew that every minute I waited to get onto the highway would be to risk being stuck in major LA traffic. I sighed and kept driving.  The next morning, I woke up early and rushed to the nearest Whole Foods in hopes of avoiding the last minute mad dash for groceries. I had a simple grocery list: pumpkin, Delicata squash, arugula, eggplant, spinach, ricotta, feta, and Parmesan. The Whole Foods in Santa Monica has a very tiny fresh produce section so I drove to the one in Brentwood. Surprisingly, most of the Whole Foods in West LA are much smaller in general. I nearly had a panic attack when I couldn’t find half of the fresh ingredients that I needed. The problem was solved easily by asking the grocers, who went into the back to get what I needed. (I had not made a back-up dinner menu)…

After getting a great latte at Caffe Luxxe (which was recommended to me on twitter), I was ready to start cooking. The menu was simple but I wanted to give myself ample time and not rush to finish during the end. The starter was a rather easy pumpkin soup spiced with cumin and cinnamon. I had an incredible pumpkin soup at Garibaldi’s earlier this week, which was the main inspiration. I had even made it on Tuesday, using my beloved Fairy Tale Pumpkin. Next on the menu was the Squash and Pomegranate Salad, Kale and Quinoa, and Garlic + Bread (inspired by Little Star Pizza). The main course was a variation of my vegetable rich lasagna. My niece helped me make the pistachio cookies that I made for 18 Reasons’ cookie swap, which would be dessert along with rich, hot chocolate.

Cumin Scented Pumpkin Soup

1 medium Sugar or Fairy Tale pumpkin (4-6 lbs)
olive oil for coating pumpkin
4 large garlic cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons cumin, fresh grounded
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1/2 stick of unsalted butter or 1/3 cup olive oil
6 cups water, approximately
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup Creme Fraiche (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Cut pumpkin in half, discard the stem, seeds and stringy pulp.  Rub oil over the pumpkin, coating well. Place the pumpkin cut side down on the prepared pan. Tuck 2 garlic cloves under the cavity of the pumpkin. Bake pumpkin until it is very tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once the pumpkin is cool enough to touch, remove the peel. Cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces so it’s easier to puree.

2. In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the cinnamon sticks. Once the cinnamon sticks open up, add in the cumin and ground cinnamon. Cook for 30 seconds. Remove pot from heat.

3. Puree the pumpkin in batches by adding in 1 cup of the pumpkin pieces  with a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add water to reach a consistency of your liking.

4. Put the pot back on the stove-top and heat on medium. Once the soup is heated thoroughly, add salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the Creme Fraiche. Taste and adjust seasoning.

 

Pumpkin Soup garnished with Sage

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Farmers Market Find: Blood Oranges and Traditions

Last Monday, Satish and I walked over to the Marina Middle school to pick up our first Christmas tree as a married couple. It was really exciting and I even made up a Christmas tree song while we carried it back home. Even though I am of Indian ethnic origin, my family always celebrated Christmas. It was more about embracing the American culture and spending time with family than religion. My family went all out with the decorations, presents, and food. On Christmas Eve, my many aunts, uncles and cousins would gather at my parent’s place and it would just be a big family gathering. The food was really interesting in the sense that we didn’t eat ham, squash, or green bean casserole. We had  Mexican fried rice, enchiladas, Chinese soup, frozen corn, a large variety of Indian dishes, and turkey. So the turkey and frozen corn were the only traditional, “American” food at our “American” holiday gatherings.  Since my parents grew up in India, enchiladas and Chinese soup represented traditional American food to them. Christmas had to have been my most favorite time of the year, when everyone was so happy and together. Now, I look forward to this time of year so I can make the food that is available seasonally and create my own traditions.

 

Our tree!

Our tree decked up with simple ornaments.

Between holiday parties and my parents and brother-in-law visiting, I am going to make really easy dishes that require no time or attention and am making large batches to stretch throughout the week. (I also want to spend the little free time testing out a healthier, gluten-free cookie recipe).  I caught the first sighting of blood oranges today at the market! Blood oranges are one my most beloved fruits. They are extremely seasonal and gorgeous. When just right, they have the perfect balance of sweet and sour. One of my most memorable experiences with blood oranges was at Ella’s Restaurant. Every winter they serve a 6 ounce glass of pure blood orange juice that is a brilliant blood-red color. The juice is worth the long wait at Ella’s and this year I will make my own!

 

Blood Oranges- Hamadas Farm

Stinging Nettle were also sighted!

Weekly Dinner Plan:

Monday:  Lentil salad, Butternut Squash and White Carrot Soup
Tuesday: Arugula salad, Cumin Cauliflower, leftover soup
Wednesday: Grub Crawl!
Thursday: Cumin Cauliflower, Chicken Kebabs
Friday: Dinner out
Saturday: Leftovers + Holiday Parties
Sunday: Friends and Family Brunch + Holiday Parties

Miscellaneous Cooking
Savory Muffins
Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Pesto
Pistachio Cookies (gluten-free)
Earl Grey Cranberry Sauce with Dates

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Don’t Hate The Brussels Sprouts (with recipe)

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Brussels sprouts are my new favorite vegetable and they are in season right now! You might just be turned off from the title of this post, but I urge you to give fresh Brussels sprouts a try. I can’t remember the actual moment I fell in love with the cute yet oddly shaped vegetables, but it was only a year ago. Last winter, I noticed them in the grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants. I must have ordered Brussels sprouts at one of San Francisco’s  gourmet restaurants and decided that I had to recreate the dish at home. Aside from being super nutritious, they are really delicious if cooked properly. Another added bonus: Brussels sprouts take just as much time as cooking pasta and don’t require lots of prep work. Follow these simple Brussels sprouts tips to get you started on a positive relationship with the little green veggies.

1. Buy fresh and seasonal Brussels sprouts.
2. Use real butter or high quality olive oil.
3. Steam or boil them for at 3-4 minutes to remove bitterness
4. Add roasted nuts and seeds to enhance flavor and texture.  Try pecans, hazelnuts, or pine nuts.
5. Dried fruits and lemon juice also enhance flavor and texture. Try cranberries, pomegranates, or dried figs.
6. Lemon zest and lemon juice enhance the flavor of almost any dish, without fail. Use fresh lemons.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Dill and Dates

Recently, I went to a cooking demo given by a friend, Teresa Piro, at We Olive SF. Teresa combined dill with Brussels sprouts, which inspired me for this recipe. This dish is elegant to serve as a side dish for a holiday meal yet simple enough to eat on a regular basis.

Ingredients
2 lbs Brussel sprouts, washed and trimmed
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil*
4-5 medjool dates, quartered
3 sprigs of fresh dill, washed and finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh (Meyer) lemon juice
½ cup of pecans, toasted and coarsely ground
1 tbs flaxseeds or sesame seeds
Sea salt
Pepper

Method

1. Fill a large pot ½ full with water. Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the  Brussels sprouts to the boiling water and cook for 3-5 minutes. Or steam them using a vegetable steamer for 5 minutes.  Drain the Brussels sprouts in a colander and rinse under cold running water to stop them from cooking any further. Cut Brussels sprouts in half length-wise and set aside.


2. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts and a pinch of sea salt and cook, stirring often, until edges begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Pour lemon juice over sprouts and stir well. Toss in the pecans, flaxseeds, dill and dates. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*You can also use a pure lemon flavored olive oil

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Farmer’s Market Find: Brussels Sprouts

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I debated going to the market today, since I have a fridge full of leftovers from Thanksgiving. Satish and I both want to keep our meals fairly light this week since we are still digesting our Thanksgiving dinner. I doubted the market would have been busy like last week, so opted on going and enjoying the quietness. There were less farmers today too; perhaps they were gone for rest of the season or just today. I bought a lot of Brussels sprouts. I never was a fan of Brussels sprouts or at least I thought I wasn’t. I actually never even encountered Brussels sprouts until my early 20’s, but I knew I didn’t like them because the kids on TV always hated them. So like broccoli, I thought it was another gross vegetable that no kid on the planet would want to eat. Then I saw just how cute they were at the farmer’s market a couple of years ago and started to cook with them. They are sooo good! I can’t understand why Brussels sprouts have such a bad rap. Anyway, they are super easy and quick to cook too. My favorite way to eat them is cutting them in half, cooking them on a skillet for 5 minutes, then tossing them with lemon juice, olive oil,  pecans, salt and pepper. I like to add shaved Parmesan cheese or dried cranberries when craving a heavier meal.  Cooking Brussels sprouts involve minimal patience and culinary skill. Brussels sprouts are related to the cabbage family and are best when in season. Try picking them in the same size so they cook at the same time. Smaller ones that are tightly closed are best. At the farmer’s markets and some grocery stores, you can buy them with their stalks still intact. This will keep them fresher longer, but storing loose Brussels sprouts in an air tight container will work too.

Brussels Sprouts on their stalk

Weekly Dinner Menu
Sunday: Stuffed Peppers (turkey and gravy), Arugula Salad (pomegranates, goat cheese, pine nuts)
Monday: Squash and Pistachio Quinoa, Kale Salad
Tuesday: Mixed Lentil Pilaf, Brussels Sprouts Salad, Roasted Beets and Persimmons
Wednesday: Turkey Tartine with Cranberry Sauce
Thursday: Sip, Snack and Shop on Chestnut Street
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Dinner at a friend’s place

How was your Thanksgiving?

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Farmer’s Market Find: The Thanksgiving Table

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The power was out in parts of the city last night due to a brief, yet tumultuous storm. I was thoroughly exhausted from organizing and hosting the Music and Pancake Benefit for Doctor’s Without Borders, Pakistan and just wanted to sleep for all of Sunday. Though, I woke up at 8AM this morning, temperatures were in the 40’s, and I really tried talking myself into staying under my covers. But, I knew if I did, it would be at the cost of my farmer’s market Thanksgiving menu. So I got up, finalized what I really wanted to make for our Thanksgiving dinner, put on my puffy down jacket and woolen hat, grabbed my reusable grocery bags, and headed out the door. I was so glad that the clouds were clearing and the sun was coming out stronger, because I had big plans to create a festive Thanksgiving table arrangement with Phantom Floranista and I did not want to fight the Lighting Gods.

I haven’t been to the Fort Mason farmer’s market in 3 weeks, so I was really curious to see all of the new additions and the familiar farmers.  Just saying hello every Sunday to these farmers and farmhands has become the equivalent of keeping in touch with friends (without social media channels). It’s very heartwarming and real.

I have to admit, today was the earliest I have been to this market in a long time and it was really quiet. However, by the time I made it to Rio de Parros Organics to buy their colorful carrots, they were all sold out! I am planning on making roasted carrots and potatoes, instead of mashed potatoes. I was  also really hoping to get fresh herbs from Hollie’s Homegrown, but she wasn’t there. I wonder if she is returning this year. My backup plan is to go the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Tuesday.

Olives were just harvested in Northern California and this really is the time to buy olive oil. Olive oil is the freshest and even more nutritious right at harvest, and the taste is just divine. I did a little olive oil tasting last weekend at Long Meadow Ranch and I was convinced that fresh olive oil is the way to go. California Olives and Olive Oils is at the Fort Mason Farmer’s market every Sunday, selling fresh olive oils, uncured olives, cured olives, and lemons. Today, I tasted olive oil that tasted just like the whole Piccholine olives. I don’t think I ever tasted an olive oil that tasted so close to form.

These Viking Potatoes would make a beautiful side dish.

I picked up tiny apples (Rainbow Orchards and Billy Bob’s Organics), mandarins (Ken’s Top Notch Produce) thinking they would make  simple appetizers or snacks,  a pomegranate (Hamas Farms) for a salad,  and a pumpkin (Swank Farms) for a side dish, but they all ended up as accents for my special Thanksgiving table arrangement.

I bought my first Fairy Tale Pumpkin. I’ve never cooked any type  of pumpkin, but this one just called my name. Also, the farmhand from Swank Farms explained the cooking process, which was no different than of a butternut squash. So I carried home my 8 pound Fairy Tale Pumpkin, eager to show Satish and make a home for it.

The mandarins, apples, and pomegranates became the accent pieces on my Thanksgiving table arrangement. The Fairy Tale pumpkin took center stage.

 

thanksgiving table

I got these little guys with the intention to use them for the table setting.

What are your Thanksgiving plans?

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