Information overload – that’s what my nephew, Frankie, said to his dad (Doug). “Dad, how can I possibly keep up with what’s going on in the world – it’s all too much. Isn’t there one place I can go to keep up on what’s happening?”

That was two years ago, when Frankie was a junior in high school. As luck would have it, my brother-in-law Doug was at a doctor’s office a few weeks later, and as he thumbed through the obligatory stack of magazines, he saw a publication titled, The Week: All you need to know about everything that matters.

Wow. That’s a pretty strong statement.

Turns out this weekly magazine is just that. It contains 50 pages of headlines and short articles from around the United States and the world. Top issues. Top stories. They’ve done all the work for you.

Here’s a sampling of headlines from the May 21st issue of The Week: The battle over Kagan begins (newest Supreme Court nominee); The right to display your boxers (yes, men’s boxers, a story from Britain); Oil rigs at sea (oil spill in the Gulf); North Carolina’s new food Mecca, Durham (wasn’t I just at Duke University two months ago?); Jerusalem’s Old City (in Israel)… And finally, for those who have everything, a story on T-shirts for men that hold in their gut (Spanx for men). You get the idea.

This magazine has it all. My mom subscribes, my sister subscribes (the online version). And now, after hearing about it for two years and thumbing through this edition, I think it’s time I do, too.

If you are starved for time, don’t want to watch all the negative stories and 10-second snippets on TV (would rather watch Dancing with the Stars or America Idol), would rather listen to books on tape vs. the radio, check out this magazine.

And that’s the way it is, Walter Cronkite!

Good reading!

Karen

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“Get That New Zealand Feeling” was the name of one of Frieda’s first trade advertising campaigns. After we began marketing the Kiwifruit from New Zealand, we were introduced to many other fruits from the land down under.

Frieda's Specialty Produce Passion Fruit

Passion Fruit
Those purple egg-shaped fruits came first. I remember my mom telling our customers, “Yes, it’s okay if they get wrinkled and moldy – that means they are ripe!” Well, I don’t know about the mold, but passion fruit definitely wrinkles when it ripens. The best way I’ve described the flavor is that it’s the secret ingredient in Hawaiian Punch (really, it is). After cutting in half, you scoop out the pulp to top ice cream. The most classic way to serve passion fruit pulp is on top of the national dessert of New Zealand, Pavlova.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Feijoas
Feijoas
At first we thought feijoas were the same thing as pineapple guavas. That’s what we told people for years. Actually, feijoas are not pineapple guavas, but they are like a cousin. What is interesting about feijoas (fay-joe-uhs) is that they are not picked. They must be allowed to drop on the ground (they grow on a bush). That’s when you know they are mature. I think they taste like a cross between a pineapple and a pear with overtones of spearmint. They are incredibly aromatic!

Frieda's Specialty Produce - TamarilloTamarillos
These tree tomatoes are just gorgeous. They grow on magnificent tamarillo trees and it is quite a sight to see the trees right before harvest, with the amazing bright red and gold fruits hanging from the limbs. We always say that tamarillos are an acquired taste, as they tend to have a tart flavor and meaty texture. You must peel them before eating (dropping them in boiling hot water is the best way). Even though they came to us from New Zealand, their origins are in South America. Tamarillos make a delicious sauce for ice cream when pureed with orange juice and sugar.
Frieda's Specialty Produce - Kiwano - Horned MelonKiwanos®/Horned Melons
Kiwanos are perhaps the most eye-catching of fruits Frieda’s has ever introduced. I remember after we’d been marketing horned melons for a few years, an article came out in the Miami Herald, proclaiming, “Noxious African weed appears in American supermarkets.” Our Kiwano grower, John Morris, called us from New Zealand, frightened that the sales of horned melons would cease. My mom, in her brilliance said, “John, any publicity is GOOD publicity. Don’t worry – our sales will increase.” And increase they did! We found out that kids love their slimy green interior that tastes like a cross between a cucumber, lime and banana. Kiwanos were even featured in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (where they were called “Golana Melons”). Here’s a recent YouTube video we did on Kiwanos from our Specialty Produce 101 series.

‘Tis the season for these fruits from the land of kiwi – so check them out at your local supermarket.

Karen

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Many years ago, I was invited to sit on a board of advisors of a small marketing firm, called M/S Database Marketing. My company worked with them back in the 1990s to develop some of our “cutting edge” marketing. We didn’t realize how cutting edge it was, until Information Week magazine interviewed us in 1994 for an article called, “Who’d Eat a Blue Squash?”

Joining me on this small board (there were two of us outsiders and the two owners), was Carl Terzian. Carl owns an innovative public relations firm (Carl Terzian and Associates) and is about 20 years older than me. But, interestingly, our birthdays are one day apart. (I often ask someone when their birthday is. It’s a great conversation starter.) There was something magical about Carl and even after our stint as advisory board members was over, we kept in touch.

I’m not sure if Carl does this with everyone he meets, but every year on October 23 (my birthday), a hand-written note arrives from Carl. He always asks how I am and tells me what city he is writing from and often tucks in an article about what he is doing. Carl is the master of getting articles written about him and his firm, because his area of specialty is networking. Some call it business match-making. Carl hosts hundreds of networking meetings every year for groups of 15 to 20 business professionals in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The only purpose of these meetings is for people to network and make business connections.

Back to Carl’s annual notes to me. After more than 16 years, Carl has made sure that we have stayed connected.

How many of us would benefit from keeping in touch with those people that we meet? LinkedIn and Plaxo are just two of the social networking sites that make this easy. (In fact, LinkedIn’s tagline is “Relationships Matter.”) Although I am registered on both these networking sites, I still choose to drop a personal note or card to many of my colleagues and friends. And I do my best to remember their birthdays, too. It’s a great way to really stay connected.

Karen

Please share your own tips for staying connected by clicking on “comments” below.

I am so glad that watermelons are “back in season.” Yes I know that they seem to be available all year round, but as my 16-year-old daughter Sophia has told me, “Mom, why do you keep buying watermelons in the winter? They don’t taste sweet – it’s not their season.”

So, frankly, I avoid buying watermelons until the weather has warmed up. In the last two weeks I have purchased two seedless watermelons and it’s almost time to put them on my weekly shopping list.

Seedless watermelons bring back such memories for me, because it was my mom, Frieda who first introduced and started marketing them back in the late 1960s. Yes, it’s been more than 40 years since Frieda’s started selling them! As I recall, the same couple (Art and Joyce Hood) who introduced Frieda to Pearl Onions – also brokered a small melon deal. With his cowboy hat and boots, Art seemed like a 7-foot-tall giant to 10-year-old me. He would drive in from the desert where he had found the first seedless watermelons.

Mom had a heck of a time marketing them to supermarkets in the beginning. After all, weren’t those inedible black seeds part of the fun of eating watermelons on a hot summer day? That’s how watermelon-seed spitting contests got their start! (Even seedless watermelons still have a few small, white seeds.)

Years later, there were other growers who got involved, and we started receiving watermelons from Central America. Then there were the Mickey Lee and Minnie Lee (Sugar Baby) personal-sized seedless watermelons. (Maybe they were invented at Epcot Center on the Disney property in Orlando?)

And of course today, there are many seed companies and growers who produce some great seedless watermelon varieties. And shortly, we will have Yellow Seedless Watermelons! (We used to distribute Orange Seedless Watermelons, too, but it seems they were not good producers, so all the commercial growers in the U.S. stopped planting them.)

We are all spoiled by the seedless varieties – it’s no wonder they have become so popular. In fact, today, the majority of watermelons grown in the United States are seedless.

Now, don’t get me started on how watermelons can grow if there are no seeds to plant. Go here if you want to know that!

Karen

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I launched this blog three months ago, and it’s been gratifying to get many positive comments on the content. I have received some criticism, too… Thank you for your honesty. That’s how I can make the blog better.

Some have posed questions to me:

• Why did you start the blog?
Answer: Primarily to share the stories behind the 400-plus unusual produce items Frieda’s has introduced to the market.

• But you write about more than produce…
Answer: I’m fortunate that my path crosses daily with so many interesting people – and I always seem to learn a lesson. So I wanted a vehicle to share those lessons.

• Who is your audience?
Answer: Lifelong learners and anyone who eats produce… I guess that is everyone on the planet?

I want to be sure that what I am writing about is resonating with you. So, if you have an idea for a topic on this blog, please post your comments to the blog or reply to this email.

Also, I need to ask a favor. If you like what you’ve been reading, please forward “What’s On Karen’s Plate” to your friends, family and colleagues. Invite them to subscribe via email, too! The more the merrier.

Passing it along is what I call “viral marketing.” Instead of trying to figure out a complicated marketing scheme – I figure it’s best to share this blog with all our friends and your friends. I see jokes being circulated around the globe every day. People like you and me find a joke funny, so we share it with five or 10 friends or to our entire mailing list. Why not share a blog that talks about healthy foods and top-of-mind ideas the same way?

Thanks for considering my request!

Karen

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The California tree fruit (aka stone fruit) season has started, but in my humble opinion, it’s too early to find flavorful fruit in my local supermarket. (As a produce distributor, you might assume I get my fruit from our giant warehouse, but my mom always taught me that it’s better to go spend money in our retail customers’ stores.)

So, back to picking a good-tasting peach, nectarine, plum or pluot. I like to wait until late May or early June before I buy stone fruit at the market. The flavor and sweetness seems to be superior.

Here are some tips:
1. Buy stone fruit at room temperature. That way you can smell the aroma of the fruit. I have always found that if the fruit smells like I want it to taste, I usually have a good experience.

2. Make sure the fruit has good, well-rounded shoulders. The “shoulders” are the top of the fruit that surround the stem end. If they are NOT well rounded (not plump looking), then the fruit was probably picked prematurely and it will never ripen properly.

3. It’s OK if the fruit is hard. It will ripen at room temperature. When I bring fruit home from the store, I leave it out on the counter in a closed brown paper bag. The brown paper bag provides the perfect self-ripening conditions. Years ago, the California Tree Fruit Agreement (the marketing order that represents our state’s fruit growers) encouraged retailers to give away fruit ripening bags. These bags were just regular brown bags, with printed instructions on them. Don’t let your fruit get too soft when it ripens – then it will be mushy. It should give to gentle pressure.

4. Only buy enough fruit that you can eat in two to three days. On my counter, I find that the fruit ripens rather quickly, so I am better off going to the store more frequently, and ripening it at home in the brown paper bag.

5. If it’s convenient for you, buy fresh peaches, nectarines and plums and pluots (cross between a plum and an apricot) at your local farmer’s market. Most farmers will give out free samples, so you can taste before you buy. The only downside of buying fruit at the farmer’s market is that you have to use it within a day or two. I find that it does not last much longer.

Do you have any fruit-picking secrets? Please share them by posting your comments directly on the blog.

Tree fruit season starts now and there will be plentiful supplies of fresh-picked, domestically-grown fruit all the way into September and even October. Thanks to breeding programs and the seasonality of the fruit, there will be dozens — maybe hundreds — of varieties during these next five months, each variety lasting for a week or more.

The most important thing, though, is for you to eat lots of fresh fruits (and vegetables) while they are in season. Not only do they taste good, they are good for your health!

Karen

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Recently I was sitting at a dinner – a Red Dress Gala put on by my daughter’s sorority – and I noticed that my new friend, Kathy, only served herself a plate of vegetables, passing on the meat and chicken.

I had to ask, “Are you a vegetarian?” She told me yes. Then of course I asked if she had any concerns about getting enough protein in her diet.

She proceeded to tell me that she actually gets plenty of protein. She eats beans. I asked her about tofu – yes, she eats tofu. (I had to ask her that question, so I could tell her that Frieda’s has been selling tofu for more than 30 years. We were actually the first company to introduce water-packed tofu to mainstream American supermarkets.)

And of course she eats Edamame (pronounced “Ed-a-mah-may”) – those lovely green pods that are served warm and salted at Sushi bars.

Many of us may be toying with the idea of adopting a more vegetarian lifestyle. And certainly if you have teenage kids, you will be hearing more and more about becoming a vegetarian. Just last week my daughter told me she decided to become one.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is so healthy and such a great source of vitamins and trace minerals. But you must make sure you have enough protein in your diet to maintain your strength and energy levels.

Good non-meat sources of protein include: beans and nuts (but watch out for the fat), tofu and other soy products. Personally, my favorite is a tofu “eggless” salad that I get at my local Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. It looks like egg salad, but it’s made with tofu and is quite tasty.

And what about the meat-analog products made from soy that are sold as veggie hot dogs, veggie cheese, veggie chicken nuggets, veggie burgers, etc? Depending on where you live, you can find them in your produce, deli or frozen food case. Veggie “meats” are a nice change of pace… Wouldn’t it be a healthy change to serve veggie hot dogs and veggie burgers at your next barbecue?

Also, if you are a fan of Mexican food, you probably enjoy Chorizo – that full-fat crumbly Mexican sausage that you fry up and add to eggs, burritos, etc. Did you know there is a low-fat, vegetarian version of Chorizo? It’s called SOYRIZO® (of course). And, in most cities, it is sold in the produce or deli department.

Frieda’s has been marketing and distributing Soyrizo® for more than 10 years and we fell in love with its authentic texture and flavor. We receive so many complimentary letters and emails – so we know it’s good.

There are so many tasty ways to move toward a vegetarian lifestyle. And you don’t have to limit yourself to salads and steamed broccoli – although I love both!

Are you a part-time or full-time vegetarian? Please share your ideas with me!

Karen

“Did you get that in writing?” That’s what I always ask my friends, family, acquaintances or colleagues when they tell me that they were disappointed with how things went at a new job or position.

You know what I’m talking about. You took a new position with a company, based on your conversation with the hiring manager. Then when you go to work for the company, and shortly afterward, the hiring manager is gone. There is no written documentation of your original conversation, and you find out that you don’t have the benefits you thought you had, you don’t have the vacation time you were promised and your “great new job” turns sour.

Here is the advice I have given dozens (maybe hundreds) of times:

1. When you are considering a new position, ask for the offer in writing. They shouldn’t be offended that you ask for this. Actually, at my company, I began doing this years ago, after I heard horror stories (some within my own company) of misunderstandings. If the company or hiring manager is not willing to put their offer in writing, I would reconsider whether I want to work with/for that company.

2. If you had a conversation, and want written confirmation, send a “confirming email.” Something like: “I just want to confirm my understanding of our recent conversation about the potential position we discussed.” In bullet points, list what your understanding is, and then ask for them to reply with any corrections.

3. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for this. It’s business — it’s not personal.

Even consider using this in your personal relationships. If you have a high school or college student who has agreed to achieve or complete certain items, in exchange for getting their driver’s license or a trip, put that agreement in writing. It’s amazing how it changes performance.

Karen