I would imagine that most of us were not around on December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy. That was the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu.

The only reason that I know something about Pearl Harbor, is that when I took an oral interpretation class in 7th grade, I had to pick a speech and give it to the class. The speech I chose was that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, given on December 8, 1941 to Congress.

During our recent visit to Hawaii, I had the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor for the first time. In my more than 40 years of traveling to Hawaii, I wonder why I never visited this amazing place of American history.

The Pearl Harbor historic park is made up of several different memorials which are all part of the recently dedicated WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Although the main visitor center was under construction during our visit, there were still so many things to see and experience. We watched a 20-minute film that gave us an overview of the events of December 7, and the place was adorned with many banners highlighting soldiers, survivors and heroes.

We also visited the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, and were able to board the sub and tour the interior. (First launched in 1942, the Bowfin sank many enemy ships during the war and was nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.”) I highly recommend the audio tour, as it really explains the details of how the sailors lived and how the submarine functioned. It is an amazing piece of technology for being more than 65 years old. (Also on the Pearl Harbor campus is an aviation museum with actual airplanes that were flown during that time period.)

However, the most moving part of visiting Pearl Harbor was taking a boat over to the USS Arizona Memorial. The USS Arizona Battleship was bombed the morning of December 7 with hundreds of crew members on board, and it sank right in Pearl Harbor. What is so touching and meaningful about this memorial, is that it was constructed right over the hull of the actual wreckage site. As you stand there (many of us had tears rolling down our cheeks), you can see the rusted remains of the ship in the water below – which is the final resting place for many of the crewmen.

USS Arizona Memorial - Photo by Oakley Boren

The memorial is operated by the U.S. National Park Service, and it was amazing to hear the guides announce that NO CELL PHONE usage (including NO TEXTING) would be permitted on the ferry boat to the memorial, or while in the exhibit building. There were many teens and adults on our boat, but I heard no grumbling about this announcement. All of us were so moved by being on the actual site of such a disaster that it just added to the mood of somberness.

USS Arizona Memorial - Photo by Oakley Boren

History comes alive for us when we have the opportunity visit places like Pearl Harbor. On your next visit to Hawaii, I encourage you to take a full day and visit this important historical site. Even if your kids whine or complain, it is such an important part of our history, and so many people gave their lives that it is a “must-see.” The beach and the Mai Tais can wait.

Respectfully,

Karen

While vacationing on Maui last week, we decided to take a day trip over to the island of Oahu. My husband Garry asked if I could get a private tour of the Dole Pineapple Plantation there, since I am a member of the produce industry. So, I emailed my longtime friend, Mike Cavallero, an executive with Dole, and he was kind enough to arrange a tour for us. (Garry read that over 1 million people visit the plantation every year and go through the biggest maze in the world.)

It was a sunny day and the tradewinds were blowing mildly. It was a perfect 86 degrees. We hopped in a farm vehicle and headed for a tour of part of the largest pineapple plantation in Hawaii – lead by Dan Nellis, operations director. We learned a lot about how pineapples grow. It takes about 18 months before the first crop comes off. A second crop will take an additional 14 to 18 months.

But, the big question of the day was, “How do you pick a pineapple?” or rather, “How to you pick a pineapple that is ripe and will taste awesome?”

I already knew that you DO NOT pull on the fronds on the top of the pineapple to see if they come out easily. (I have no idea who started that rumor…but it is completely untrue.)

And, according to Dan, COLOR is not an indicator either (which I did not know). Some pineapple varieties turn golden and others stay green on the outside.

I shared with Dan that my favorite way to pick a good-tasting pineapple is to purchase it at room temperature. And after examining it to make sure there are no soft or dark spots, or mold or bugs crawling on it, I smell it. If it smells the way I want it to taste, then I have found a winner. (You do have to make sure that pineapples have not started to ferment – a sign of over-ripeness.)

Dan agreed that was a good way to pick one, but recommended a more technical approach, just in case the pineapples at your store are not at room temperature.

Dan said that you should examine the outside shallow eyes, or “petals” (they are hexagonal in shape) which make up the outside rind of the pineapple. As the pineapple ripens, these petals flatten. In the center of the petal is a small protrusion or nub. This nub will become almost flat, which you can feel with your fingers.

With that information, we had fun walking the fields and looking for “ripe” pineapples to pick. I smiled when Dan got out his machete (which all pineapple farmers carry with them in the field), and cut a pineapple for me and my friends. There is NOTHING like a ripe pineapple, right out of the field.

So, next time you are at the store and want to pick a good-tasting pineapple, you can pick one with confidence.

• First, pick it up and make sure it is heavy for its size.
• Examine it closely to make sure there are no soft spots, bruises or mold growing.
• Pineapples ripen from the base, up to the top, so check the outside rind to be sure the petals are almost flat to the touch.
• And, if it is at room temperature, smell it.

When we returned to Maui and went to one of my favorite restaurants (Roy’s Kahana Bar & Grill in Lahaina), I had to order his famous Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. After you’ve seen them grow, you truly appreciate the flavor of fresh pineapple. Here’s the recipe if you want to try making this classic dessert for yourself.

Aloha!
Karen

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Being a West Coaster, Hawaii is a favorite vacation spot, and I feel very fortunate to be going there again this year! Garry and I and two other couples are going to spend a week on Maui this month. One of my favorite parts of the Hawaiian vacation is the food (no surprise there, I guess).

When we arrive, I like to drive to the nearby Safeway and Star Markets in Lahaina and see how the produce looks. I always stock up on the local fresh fruits, like apple bananas, papayas, starfruit, passion fruit, dragon fruit and pineapples. There is nothing like tree-ripened fresh fruit to make you feel like you are in paradise.

If you’ve been to Hawaii, then you will probably remember the final leg of your vacation — the conga line at airport security. You know what I’m talking about…

After you’ve passed your carry-on through the X-ray machine and taken off your tennis shoes, your belt, your watch, etc., you come to a second checkpoint where a couple of affable guys in Hawaiian shirts want to send your carry-on through one more scanner. “Why a second time?” you ask.

These guys are looking for fruit! I am embarrassed to admit that on one of my trips a few years ago, I had packed an apple and a banana, left over from our shopping. I didn’t want to waste any food, so I thought we could snack on the long plane flight home.

Those affable guys, in a very gentle but firm way, told me to dump the fruit. I was so embarrassed because as a long-time member of the produce industry, I, of all people should know that you cannot bring fruit from the Hawaiian Islands back to the Mainland (unless it is commercially packaged for sale at the airport).

Ever wonder why they make you dump the fruit? They are protecting Mainland agriculture. Believe it or not, those delicious tropical fruits could be hosts to the Oriental fruit fly and the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) and other pests, which may have planted larvae deep inside the fruit ( I know that sounds gross). When the fruit is broken, eaten, or thrown away in a trash can on the Mainland, the larvae can eventually make their way to farms and orchards where other fruits grow. Ask citrus growers and avocado farmers how devastating these pests can be.

Read more detailed information about agricultural pests and the problems with them here. But more importantly, think back to any trip to you have taken by car, plane or train. Have you ever inadvertently (or on purpose) smuggled in fresh fruit across a state border? You may have read or heard that these fruits are prohibited from crossing borders, but you said to yourself, “Oh, just one piece of fruit won’t hurt.”

Well, one piece of fruit WILL hurt. An entire industry. Which is why, at the peak of the summer months, I am reminding everyone to leave their fruit where it is.

And, if you are ever on Maui and want some great fresh fruit and an awesome meal, try my favorite: Mama’s Fish House on the north shore of Maui. After you watch all the surfers down the road (they are really amazing athletes), go to Mama’s for a tropical drink and an awesome meal. But, make reservations, because it is a popular spot.

Mahalo and Aloha!
Karen

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When I think of summertime, I can’t help but think about fresh figs. Most people think of fresh peaches or nectarines as symbols of summertime. But I was raised by the “Queen” of specialty produce, so of course summer would remind me of figs.

Back in the early 1980s we were introduced to a small farmer by the name of Don Wessel. He and his family had a small fig farm near Visalia, California, and he shipped us the most beautiful yellow-greenish skinned figs – the Calmyrna variety. I remember how heavenly they tasted. (We probably would have sold more, but mom and I always had to sample them when the shipments arrived!)

It’s hard to believe that was 30 years ago! At that time, most consumers outside California had never seen, let alone tasted, a fresh fig. When I would ask my friends if they liked figs, they would say, “Figs? You mean like Fig Newton cookies?”

Figs go back to biblical times. Adam and Eve supposedly used fig leaves to make their first clothes. If you grew up in Italy, or have Mediterranean heritage, fresh figs may be a part of the authentic family meal. Tree-ripened fresh figs, broken in half, might be served wrapped in prosciutto, or stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese and broiled. What a perfect appetizer or dessert.

Over the last 30 years, fresh figs have really grown in popularity. There are now dozens of commercial fig farmers (both inside and outside California) who sell to the fresh market. (In contrast to those farmers who have their figs dried and then sold, or have them made into paste for cookies and baked goods.) Thanks to the amazing transportation system of our fresh produce industry, you can find fresh figs in local supermarkets from Maine to Florida and from California to Texas to Alaska, and everywhere in between. They may be shipped by truck, or by air. And if you’re lucky enough to find some in your local market this summer, I encourage you to buy a basket or a few fruits.

July is the peak of fig season. You can now find black-skinned varieties (Black Mission), brown-skinned (Brown Turkey), yellow-skinned (Calmyrna) or amber-skinned figs (Kadota). Check out the California Fresh Fig Growers Association website for some great info and recipes: www.calfreshfigs.com

I believe we should thank all the innovative chefs across the country for their role in fresh fig availability. As with many specialty items, it is chefs and their desire to have new flavors and textures, who spark new food trends and industries. It is because of these creative chefs, working with growers, that we can now get fresh figs through much of the summer and fall.

Fresh figs were even the “Secret Ingredient” on an episode of the Food Network’s Iron Chef America show this year.

Yes, figs have really come a long way!

Enjoy!
Karen

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There was a period of time when it seemed like I had a lot of Steves in my life. There was Cantaloupe Steve (a melon grower), there were a couple of boyfriend Steves, and then there was Cell Phone Steve. He got that name because he gave my daughter Alex a cell phone for her Bat Mitzvah.

Well, one day about five years ago, Cell Phone Steve and I were talking and he casually mentioned how he looked in the Old Farmer’s Almanac in reference to weather conditions.

The Farmer’s Almanac? A modern day entrepreneur checking out the Farmer’s Almanac? Was it still around? Hmmm… I thought I’d better check that out for myself.

Ever since, I have been an avid reader of the Old Farmer’s Almanac. You can find it at your local grocery store or bookstore. It comes out once a year, and has different versions. I usually buy the regular version, but while I was cleaning out my office today, I found the “Special Gift Edition,” which I got at a produce industry show. I think it’s for non-commercial farmers.

Why should you consider reading the Old Farmer’s Almanac?

• It includes a chart entitled “Best Days for 2010.” For each month the chart tells you things like the best day to quit smoking, best day to go camping, best day for dental care, best day to begin a diet, best day to slaughter livestock, etc.
• It gives you the weather forecast for each month (by days), including precipitation, temperature, cloudiness, etc.
• It tells you when the last spring frost and the first fall frost are predicted for each state, which is quite important for home gardeners.
• It tells you when all the holidays and observances are, including “movable” religious observances, such as Easter, Rosh Hashanah, etc.
• On the right-hand calendar pages, it provides earthquake prediction dates.
• No surprise to me – it also has information on when Mercury is in Retrograde

So, whether you are planning an outdoor party and want a head’s up on upcoming weather, or you’re a home gardener planning your next planting, it might be worth a few dollars to pick up a copy. You can also get a lot of great info from the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, www.almanac.com.

Happy forecasting!
Karen

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I remember many years ago, the only bell peppers I could find in the produce department were the green ones. Red bell peppers were few and far between. And when you did find them, it was usually because the farmer had left his peppers on the vine too long and they turned from green to red (indicating maturity).

When Frieda’s was still on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, we would occasionally get red bell peppers, but we had to sell them fast, because they were riper than the green ones and wouldn’t last long. At that time, all of the bell peppers were grown in open fields (no greenhouse-grown peppers), meaning they were probably only available in the spring and summer, when the weather was warm enough.

Fast forward to 2010.

Now, colored bell peppers are available in produce departments 365 days a year. They come in many colors besides green. Red peppers are joined by yellow and orange varieties. Most of these three colors of peppers are grown in greenhouses in California, Arizona, Colorado, New Jersey and across Canada. (We also import purple and white bell peppers from Holland.)

Did you know that many of the first commercially-grown colored bell peppers were air freighted to the U.S. from Holland? Holland was a pioneer in the field of greenhouse and hot house farming, and was the first to commercially grow colored bell peppers, tomatoes and many other vegetables. Now there are greenhouses in Spain, Morocco, Israel, and many other countries — and they all export their fresh products around the world, often times to cooler-weather countries that don’t have year-round supplies.

One pioneering U.S. company, Sunworld International, introduced the first elongated sweet pepper in beautiful red and yellow colors. They were called La Rouge® (red) and La Jaune® (yellow) Royale Peppers. They were my favorite peppers because the skin was thin enough that I could eat them raw (I did not have to roast and peel them before using). They stopped growing them about 10 years ago.

Recently I heard from my good friend, David Marguleas, vice president of Sunworld, that his company is growing and marketing the Royale Peppers again. I was so happy to hear this!

So, no matter what, at this time of year, you can have a great time with all the colored peppers in your market. It is the peak of season for farmers, which means they are perfect for the summertime.

During the week, I slice up red and yellow peppers and take them to work for my lunch. Even my 16-year-old daughter Sophia just loves sliced red peppers — she dips them in hummus.

And for parties, I love to serve grilled peppers. I core and quarter them, sprinkle with kosher salt (it tenderizes them a bit) and brush with olive oil. Then I grill them on the barbecue for about 7 to 8 minutes on each side until they are tender and a little blackened. After grilling, I let the peppers “rest” on a platter covered in foil, so they really get tender.

So, when you are looking for something new for your veggie tray, or for grilling – try nutrition-packed sweet peppers. They are our family’s favorite.

Enjoy!
Karen

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About 25 years ago, I was attending a Think Tank conference in Los Angeles. A petite women name Joline Godfrey came up and introduced herself to me. She was an inventor who was passionate about using games to educate the next generation on appreciating money and acquiring wealth. She had been following our company and was a consumer of our products in her local Boston supermarket. So, she wanted to put a face with a name, so to speak.

Well, over the years Joline and I became friends, and we eventually started our own investment club for about a dozen L.A.-based women. It was my first foray into a group that was not based in the produce world.

Joline’s career continued to evolve and she is now based in Santa Barbara. Her firm is called Independent Means, Inc. (IMI) and its vision is “To help raise a new generation with skills that ensure financial self-reliance and well being, and values that support lives of purpose and passion.”

Last summer, a group from IMI’s CAMP $TART UP — girls and boys ages 15 to 18 — came to visit our office. After the tour, we spent an hour answering their questions about what it’s like to run a business. We emphasized how important it is to have a business plan and to “know your numbers.”

Since then, I have been receiving Joline’s bi-monthly newsletter, MONEY WI$E.

Last month’s newsletter really struck a cord with me. “10 Basic Money Skills” and a “MONEY MAP” caught my eye. Because I have two young adult daughters, teaching them the value of money is always top of mind for me (especially during the summer months, when they have to balance the concepts of “summer vacation” with “summer job.”)

Do any of you have similar struggles with your children? Teaching them how to create a workable budget and follow it is not just about spending all the money you have. They should be taught both how to save, and how to be philanthropic.

I encourage you to read the May/June edition of MONEY WI$E, and I hope that you will learn, like I did, that your own personal struggle with money and teaching your children about it is a universal challenge. According to Joline, you should start teaching your kids about money and budgeting as early as 5 years of age!

Responsibly yours,
Karen

Gosh, it must have been 30 years ago when we were still on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. I would come to work at 4 o’clock in the morning – my mom, Frieda, had already been there since 2 a.m.

(The produce industry has always been an early-morning business. Years ago, the produce would arrive at the market directly from farmers at about midnight. We would take orders from our supermarket buyers in the wee hours of the morning and would deliver it to their warehouses in the late morning. Then the produce would be shipped to local supermarkets in the afternoon for sale to shoppers the next day.)

I’ll never forget the day the first few boxes of these teeny tiny grapes arrived. They were from our good friend, Allan Corrin from Reedley, California. The outside of those wooden lugs displayed the name “Zante Currants.”
They were tiny grapes about the size of your smallest fingernail. To eat them, you had to put the whole bunch in your mouth, and gently pull off the grapes with your teeth. Sweet, crisp, refreshing. Not only were they very sweet, they were fun to eat!

My mom and Allan worked together to create a more exciting name for these mini grapes. Why not call them “Champagne Grapes”? After all, they had a natural sparkle. And when clipped into small bunches, they were an attractive addition to glasses of bubbly champagne.
Frieda's Specialty Produce - Champagne Grapes

Now, more than 30 years later, there are several grape growers, from both Arizona and California, who grow these unique little grapes. The Arizona season just started (hot weather allows the grapes to sweeten up earlier), and in about a month, you will see California-grown Champagne Grapes available in your produce departments.

For convenience, many growers now pack the Champagne Grapes in plastic clamshell containers (containing about one pound of fruit). This makes it easier to pack and ship them, without the grapes getting crushed from handling.

If you are having a summer party or doing a cheese platter for an event, these are the perfect grape. And of course, if you have kids, you simply must try these mini-sized grapes. They are truly kid-friendly (and you won’t have to cut them in half).

July and August are great times to try the many varieties of summer fruits. Champagne Grapes are only available in our summer time (no Southern Hemisphere supplies), so don’t miss them! If you don’t see them in your produce department, go find your produce manager and ask him/her to order them for you.

On a side note, our good friend Allan Corrin passed away in May of 2007, and left a legacy of innovation in the grape and tree fruit industry. I had the good fortune to have lunch with the ever-smiling, blue-eyed Allan back in 2005 at his favorite restaurant in Reedley. He was 78 when we dined and he took great pride in touring me through his experimental farm, filled with delicious new varieties of grapes and plums.

Allan would be happy to know that his beloved Champagne Grapes are now being sold to supermarkets across the United States!

Enjoy!
Karen

Are you close to celebrating your 50th birthday yet? If not, let me give you a preview.

About three months before your birthday, you will receive an envelope in the mail from AARP. In case you don’t know what that stands for, that is the American Association of Retired Persons.

Yes, it’s pretty much a shocker to get a personally addressed envelope from them. Your first instinct is to throw it away (which is what I did). Here is a bit of news for you. Your 50th birthday will still come on time, and the envelopes from AARP will continue.

Finally, after months of receiving them, I gave in, and opened up an envelope. I have to admit that after reading their materials, I became an AARP member just to see if it was worth it.

Immediately, I received my first copy of a tabloid-size magazine, cleverly titled, “The AARP Magazine.” I have found this bi-monthly publication to be very readable. It has pertinent information, and of course, the typeface is a size I can read without my glasses!

A couple months later, I opened up to the editor’s page and found an interesting article entitled, “Making Things Right.” It was the editor’s personal recollections of her elderly aunt who had passed away. The editor shared her memories and regrets in not spending more time with her aunt before she died.

“The most important lesson was this: make things right with the people you love, while you have the chance.”

That article has stayed with me for the past few months and has rolled around in my mind.

I recently traveled to Las Vegas with my mom, Frieda, for a wedding anniversary celebration. We had a wheelchair at the airport and for our stay at the Bellagio Hotel. It was a lifesaver.

I have to admit that I had to take a deep breath as the weekend started. I would have to allow almost twice as much time for all the traveling, so my mom would not be rushed. I am usually racing around doing things at warp speed, so I was anticipating a slower-paced weekend, escorting my mom.

But then I remembered the quote from that AARP article. “Make things right with the people you love, while you have the chance.”

My mom and I had a wonderful weekend. I would meet her in her room and she would plop into the wheelchair and we would begin our tour of the hotel for the day. We joked that pushing her around all day was a great workout for my arms. But something else happened. We got to spend time just as mother and daughter. We have not done that for a very long time. We shopped (which, if you know my mom, is just not in her genetics). We looked at the beautiful gardens at the Bellagio, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch.

In the fast-paced world we live in, we are the “sandwich generation.” We are dealing with the issues and demands of our children on one side, and addressing the needs of our aging parents on the other side. It’s easy to get distracted and rush from one task to the next. But when you get the opportunity to really spend quality time with your parent, an aunt or uncle, or aging friend, I suggest you take a deep breath, slow down and think: “Make things right with the people you love, while you have the chance.”

Most sincerely,

Karen