As I’ve shared before, the produce industry is not made up of fruits and vegetables. For me, it’s made up of personalities, families and friends. When I think of a particular fruit or vegetable, the first thing that comes to mind is the good friend or acquaintance who happens to grow it.

And that is the case with a relatively new product, Artisan Lettuce.

You’ve probably seen this product in your local produce department, sold near the rest of the salad greens. It’s a combination of green and red lettuces — unusual varieties like Tango, Gem and Oak. You can see photos and descriptions here. The whole heads are packed in clear clamshell containers, which serve as a kind of Tupperware storage unit. It’s brilliant!

While many other salad growers are cutting and processing their lettuces into bagged salads (personally, I can always taste that they’ve been pre-washed), my friends who grow these artisan varieties chose to go in a different direction. They said: Let’s grow some colorful, flavorful lettuces and pick them small and at their peak, pack them in the field, and then package them so the consumer gets the least-processed, freshest experience! Voilà! Artisan Lettuce.

So, let me tell you about my friends.

The growers are the Tanimura and Antle families. One has their origins in Japan and the other has their origins in the Dustbowl. They have been growing vegetables in the Salinas Valley for many decades and joined together in 1982.

Rick Antle, the son of the founder, has been a longtime friend of mine. We served together on an advisory board of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and he is now Chief Executive Officer of Tanimura & Antle. Rick married one of my closest friends, Tonya, about 10 years ago, which has facilitated our paths crossing even more often.

So, it’s not unusual for us to see each other not only at industry events, but at family events as well. So, when I saw Rick and Tonya at a produce convention in October, it was a delightful surprise to hear Rick’s story of his latest flash of brilliance.

Rick said, “Karen, I got an email from your mother a few months ago. She was raving about receiving a clamshell of our new product, Artisan Lettuce. She went on and on in her email about the great flavor and the amazing shelf life. It was a gift from one of her friends, and it apparently took her a few weeks to consume the whole package, since she lives by herself.”

Rick continued: “Frieda told me in her email that she was going to tell her friends that it was the perfect housewarming gift!”

Rick’s next comment really amazed me.

He told me that after he received Frieda’s email, her comment about the Artisan Lettuce being a “perfect housewarming gift” kept going through his head. It inspired him to change the packaging and put a big red bow on it, and tell consumers that it’s wrapped for the holidays and perfect for entertaining! The company also created a consumer sweepstakes promotion around the theme – Season’s Bringing.

So, an email from my mom helped launch this great promotion for an amazing-tasting product!

And that’s how it often happens in our business. Someone gets a comment or idea from a seemingly random conversation, and eventually, it shows up in your supermarket!

So, as you are considering a way to make your holidays more interesting (flavor wise), try these rich and flavorful lettuces! And, if you like a product, don’t be afraid to send an email to the company with your comments or suggestions. You never know what will become of your comments!


P.S. Speaking of comments, why don’t you share your thoughts and ideas in the comment form on this blog?!

No, that is not a typo.

My daughter and I were getting our flu shots last week at our local Target store, and while we waited, I started wandering through the aisles.

And that’s when I saw this small white box – about the size of a large deck of cards — with the title, “Flashcarbs®.” I was intrigued.

Flashcarbs cards are a learning tool for people living with diabetes. I am guessing that McNeil Nutritionals, the company who makes them, realized that there was an opportunity to reach out to diabetic consumers who are struggling to figure out the difference between “good carbs” and “bad carbs.”

So, they went back to basics — the way we all learned our multiplication tables when we were younger. Flash cards!

This small box, which costs about $10, contains 48 cards featuring carbohydrate counts for everyday foods.

Good-for-you foods, like blueberries, green beans and salad.

Tempting foods like pancakes, donuts and ice cream.

The reality is that 18 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes with an estimated additional 5 million who have not YET been diagnosed. Coincidentally, November is National Diabetes Month so you will be seeing, reading and hearing about Diabetes and Prevention everywhere! (That’s probably why the Flashcarbs® were on display.)

All of us know someone who has diabetes and unfortunately they may not realize what a serious disease it is. Not only can it affect your vision and your circulation, it can be life threatening.

So, in this month of Thanksgiving, let’s take some time to think about our food and exercise choices and be good and thoughtful examples for our family and friends.

To your good health!


Last week, I was in New York City for the first annual New York Produce Show. Yes, we have produce mini conventions all over the country and this one was amazing.

Typically, regional produce organizations host one day expos, where vendors (produce sellers) from all over the country (primarily from growing regions like California, Texas, Florida, and Washington State), gather to show their produce to local retailers and chefs.

Surprisingly, there has never been a produce show for the largest metropolitan area in the country…until last week!

Frieda’s was there, along with more than 200 other produce companies. During the expo, we stood at our booth and handed out samples and talked with clients from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It was a long day, but well worth it. It was like a mini-family reunion.

I was traveling with three other women from my office and we were deciding where to go for dinner. There was no doubt in my mind where I wanted to go: the newly opened EATALY, conceived by famed chef Mario Batali. Called “America’s greatest food store” and “Disneyland for food lovers.”

I have to admit that when I saw the name “EATALY”, I thought it was a little corny. But, actually, I found out that the first EATALY exists in Turin, Italy. And, after visiting the 50,000 square foot megastore, across from the newly revitalized Madison Square Park on 23rd Street, I was hooked.

They have a wine department, a cheese and meat counter, homemade breads, an amazing selection of cookbooks, and a fresh produce stand. It was lovely to see Frieda’s Zululand Queen Baby Pineapples on display there! There are many more sections, so check out this map to see the layout of the store. And the places to eat. Oh my!

We arrived there on a Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. and the placed was mobbed. I had been told that the vegetarian restaurant (called Le Verdure) served some amazing and flavorful food, so that is where we dined. We put our names in and waited for 45 minutes for a table. We wasted no time, as we went to the cheese area, purchased a few glasses of Champagne and wine, which came with large chunks of Parmesan cheese and stood at a table and relaxed.

For dinner, I enjoyed freshly made tomato soup, roasted beet salad and an open-faced spaghetti squash sandwich served on the most amazing, flavorful, decadent freshly made rustic bread I have ever gorged myself on.

Sensory overload is an understatement. But if you love Italian food and culture, EATALY is a definite MUST for your next trip to New York City. (Check out this article!) And if you are looking for authentic Italian ingredients, this is the place to go.


Bees seem to be everywhere for me this month. Here are three stories…

First, take a close look at this photo. Yes, that man is covered with live bees. His name is Norman Gary and he is a retired beekeeper, entomology professor and researcher from the University of California, Davis. As I was reading through this month’s copy of California Farmer, I saw this article and was amazed.

Like many people, I was stung by bees when I was young – actually I was stung 22 times by yellow jackets. So, I’ve always have had a bit of a phobia of them. But this guy has no fear! And anyone who has been on Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and involved in “Fried Green Tomatoes” has my admiration!

Second, my book club this month read “Little Bee,” a moving book by Chris Cleave. I was intrigued by its bright orange cover. Of course, I cannot tell you about what happens in the book, but I can tell you that it is a fast read and has both sad and happy moments. It is about a young African girl who leaves her country.

And, finally, do you want to know about one of the most sought after honeycomb products in the United States? Coming all the way from New Zealand, our honeycomb is part of a cottage industry on the North Island, just south of Auckland.

We are so fortunate to have been introduced to Helen “Honey” Wright, who has been lovingly producing fresh honeycomb for more than 20 years. Helen and her husband, John and daughter Fiona, shipped us their first honeycomb back in 1989, and now we receive boat shipments that are hand-crated several times a year.

In addition to the amazing flavor of the honey, which comes from the unique grasses that surround Helen’s farm, our honeycomb is unique because they come in natural wooden frames. Professional chefs from all over the country go crazy for our honeycomb. They are very popular in dessert platters, along with artisan cheeses dried fruits.

Two years ago, my sister Jackie and her family took a trip to New Zealand and went to visit Helen Wright and her family and honeybees. Helen is like family to us.

Hope this adds a little sweetness to your life!


Along with the changing of the clocks and the cooling of the weather, something else always happens at this time of year.

We seem to get a few more solicitations. You know what I’m talking about. Requests for donations from your college. From your high school. From a charity that you’ve donated to in the past. It’s the time of year that most people are doing some tax planning and getting advice on how much money they should (or can) donate, in order to maximize their tax deductions.

I actually try to take a different approach. I do not make a donation in order to get a tax deduction. Instead, I ask myself, “Whose life can I change positively?” If I can make a difference, then I make a donation. If I can’t, or the organization is so large that my donation would be insignificant, then I choose to give elsewhere.

And I learned from my mother, Frieda. A donation does NOT have to be $250 or $500. A check for $25 or $50 is always appreciated.

Here are some of the charities and causes I support, and I know I make a difference:

The Braille Institute – Los Angeles
My Auntie Ruth Silver donated her time to record books on tape. When she passed away 14 years ago, I started making an annual contribution. The impact on the lives of those who cannot read due to sight loss is amazing.

Women for Women International
They do meaningful work to help women in nations devastated by war. You get assigned a “sister” who you can correspond with. And you learn from their point of view what their lives are like.

My colleges
University of California-Davis and Mills College. My contributions are not large, but I am so grateful for the education that I received. Whenever a student from either school calls, I listen to their story (they are so nervous), and at the end I always make a donation. I suspect the positive impact on these students is tremendous, so saying “yes” and making a small donation is the least I can do.

My local food bank
At this time of year we are all reminded of those who are less fortunate and those who do not get to enjoy a holiday meal with their family. It’s my way of battling homelessness in my neighborhood.

My temple
Whether you’re Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist or another denomination, houses of worship do important and meaningful work in the community. Additionally, in our temple my donation will help support other families who cannot pay their dues, or it may send needy kids to camp.

City of Hope and breast cancer charities
Like you, I have family and friends who have been diagnosed or lost their lives to breast cancer. It’s the least I can do, since I am not a scientist and cannot discover the cure myself!

Charities that are meaningful to my coworkers and friends
Do you have a close friend or coworker who works tirelessly for a charity or good cause? What better way to let them know how important they are to you.

Remember, it’s not the amount, it’s the thought.

So as you are going through your mail or making your shopping list for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, think carefully about what you can do to change lives. It’s very rewarding.

Thoughtfully yours,

Sounds silly doesn’t it? I always thought Kale was just a garnish, so, why would I buy it for my home consumption?

But I discovered that Kale has amazing nutritional qualities as a dark green vegetable. I was curious.

First, it’s in the Brassica family, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. It’s high in vitamin A, phytochemicals, beta carotene, sulforaphane, and is super-low in calories and high in fiber.

But still, anything that’s that good for you can’t taste great, can it?


Here’s how I encountered my first raw Kale salad. I was at my local Whole Foods Market, getting my “green drink.” (My naturopath, Lisa has me drinking a yummy veggie mixture of celery, cucumber, spinach, parsley, cilantro and carrot juice – which is reducing the acidic nature of my body.) While they were making my green drink on Saturday, I looked over at the prepared food display and saw a large serving dish piled high with chopped Kale.

As I moved closer to read the ingredients, I decided to get a free taste. Wow – it was yummy! So good, in fact, that I bought a small container of it for lunch.

There are several different types and colors of Kale. “Scotch” types have gray-green and very curled and crumpled leaves, while “Siberian” types are blue-green and less curled (like this photo of Italian Kale). In 1983, a longtime produce friend, John Moore, introduced a new and colorful variety of flowering Kale, called Salad Savoy.

Unfortunately, I think many people are like me, and think of it only as a garnish. I think every supermarket in America has some kind of Kale in their produce department. From now on, I am not going to walk right by it…I’m going to give Kale the respect it deserves and buy some to enjoy!

I encourage you to try this power- packed veggie. By the way, you can also cook Kale like you would spinach. Or, you can even bake it into Kale Chips!

Here’s the easy-to-make Kale Salad recipe that I tasted for lunch:

1 Head Kale, washed and coarsely chopped
Sliced Strawberries
Handful of Pine Nuts
Lemon juice
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Depending on your personal preference for the amount of each ingredient, toss lightly and serve.

Get your daily dose of vitamin A…and try some Kale!


Did you know a new federal law went into effect on March 23, 2010, which requires chain restaurants to make nutritional information available for all the food they serve?

That’s right. When you dine out at a restaurant chain (with more than 20 locations), you should be able to find out how much fat, carbohydrates, calories, protein, etc., are contained in every dish on the menu.

Occasionally, we go to our local California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) or Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and I have noticed that both of these chains have had nutritional information available for quite a while. That sure makes it easier to decide what dish to order (or not order) or what dish should be split.

Actually, the laws are part of the health care bill that passed in March, and it’s definitely a good “first step” to help us help ourselves.

In case you hadn’t noticed, our country has been getting fatter at a faster rate. If you want to see something really eye-opening, click here to see the progression over the last 20 years on a state-by-state basis. This state-by-state progression has been presented at many industry conferences I have attended over the last five years, and continues to be a wake-up call.

What can you do about this? How can you help fight obesity?

This is what I do:

1. I buy as much good tasting fresh produce as I can. I shop several times a week, so the produce doesn’t go into my “rotting drawer” in the refrigerator. (We all have a rotting drawer. It’s where we put our produce with good intentions.)

2. I pack at least three servings of fruits and veggies in my lunch and my daughter’s lunch each and every day.

3. When I go out to eat, I make sure veggies are part of every meal. I prefer raw, but lightly cooked (with no fat) is my second choice.

4. When I order a salad, I always ask for the dressing on the side. Then I dip my fork in the dressing to minimize my fat consumption.

5. I NEVER eat everything I get at a restaurant. I usually eat half, and pack up the other half to have as another meal.

6. I always ask the restaurant for the menu’s nutritional information, and I use this to make my selection.

I encourage you to make your own checklist of things you can do to fight obesity. Want to know why it is so important? Because our children’s generation is the first who will most likely have a shorter lifespan that ours. And that’s because of the poor food and exercise choices we have taught them to make.

Make a difference!

In the 1960s, Frieda was presented with an ugly new vegetable to sell, called the Jerusalem Artichoke. The tuber of a sunflower-like plant, this veggie had a nutty flavor and a texture reminiscent of an artichoke when cooked.

She began selling them loose in 10-pound boxes to Jewel Food Stores in Chicago, her biggest customer at that time. One day the Jewel Foods buyer called her and said, “Frieda, we put the Jerusalem Artichokes out on the shelves, but they are getting soft and going bad, so we are going to discontinue them.”

My mom was horrified because she knew this was a major crop for the small family grower, Suren and Marion Tejirian, of Reedley, Calif. A setback like this could put them out of business.

So, Frieda put on her “thinking cap,” and decided the Jerusalem Artichoke needed a catchy new name. This knobby root vegetable wasn’t from Jerusalem, nor was it related to an artichoke. The name Sunchoke® was born, and we trademarked it in 1980.

Another retail customer suggested that Frieda package the Sunchokes® to keep them fresh and differentiate them from ginger roots, because they looked very similar. She then started packing the tubers in 1-pound bags, and also included recipe information right on the package. This would take care of all the calls she was getting from people asking her what to do with them.

After we started packaging the Sunchokes® this way, sales really took off. I remember mom sharing in an industry speech that sales increased 600 percent with that single packaging innovation!

Then something really interesting started to happen. Along with the recipe information on the package, Frieda had wisely included an invitation for shoppers to write to us with any comments or questions. We started receiving anecdotal information from consumers. In particular, consumers who had diabetes began writing to us to share that their holistic treatments included consuming Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes®) to reduce their need for insulin. More information about this here.

Sales of Sunchokes® continued to increase. But there was one small problem. When you eat Sunchokes®, you get flatulence (pardon me).

Actually, we even got a hand-written postcard from Julia Child many years ago, asking: “Regarding Jerusalem Artichokes, is there anything you can do about the flatulence?” Much has been written about Sunchokes® and their after effects. You can read a rather comical tirade here: Jumpin’ Jack Jerusalem Artichokes…It’s a Gas Gas Gas!

Despite this inconvenient side effect, Sunchokes® are an extremely healthy food. They are packed with fiber, folate and magnesium and loads of other vitamins. In addition, Sunchokes® (as well as Jicama) contain inulin, a natural starch-like fiber that does not increase blood sugar or raise triglycerides significantly. Inulin also increases calcium absorption and is considered a form of soluble fiber. (Inulin might also be to blame for the gassy effects.)

The Sunchoke® season has just begun in California. Washington-grown tubers will start in another week or two. Interestingly, at the beginning of the season, the calorie count is lower — about 30 calories per serving. As Sunchokes® are stored, the caloric content increases to about 75 calories per serving. (This also happens with many winter root vegetables.) Regardless, Sunchokes® are still very low in calories.

But the best thing about Sunchokes® is the flavor. When raw, they are nutty like a combination of artichoke hearts and waterchestnuts, and when cooked, they add an indescribable nutty flavor to dishes. (Try them with a béchamel sauce.)

So, if you’re looking for a new vegetable to try this winter, I recommend Sunchokes®. They should be available in supermarkets across the USA through April or May.

For those of you who have eaten Sunchokes®, how do you like to prepare them? Please share your tips in the comments section.