When my youngest daughter Sophia rants that “there is nothing to eat in this house,” I always ask her the same thing: “What fresh produce would you like me to buy for you?”
This morning, I got the same answer she always gives me: “Bring me some Blood Oranges.”
I was so excited… because this time, Blood Oranges are in season!
“Blood” Orange is the general name for oranges with red flesh. They actually have varietal names like Moro, Tarocco and Sanguinello. Moro Blood Oranges are the most commonly grown in the United States, and they have the darkest internal flesh color. Tarocco Blood Oranges are native to Italy and have a less consistent red color inside. Sanguinello is an older variety, native to Spain.
My first recollection of selling Blood Oranges to our customers was having to explain how they look and taste different than regular oranges. Some varieties have a red blush on the outside skin, in addition to the dark red internal flesh. But it’s the flavor that makes them special. We like to say they taste like oranges with overtones of raspberry. They are less acidic than regular navel oranges and seedless, too.
Actually, the red colored flesh is from the presence of anthocyanins, a family of pigments which are found in many flowers and fruits, but are not common in citrus fruits.
Blood Oranges are commercially grown in California and the season is generally from November to May. If growers have a freeze or there is unusually warm weather in March and April, the season can end early. As with all citrus, choose fruits that feel heavy for their size. (That means they are full of juice and not dehydrated.)
You will often find Blood Oranges sold in 1-pound mesh bags or overwrapped trays because it is easier for the supermarket cashiers to identify them and not confuse them with regular oranges. This can make it a little more challenging to select the freshest fruits. But if you have introduced yourself to your produce manager (see my last post), you can ask him or her if they are fresh. Most produce personnel are happy to cut open a fruit for you to see or try, so when in doubt, ask for a taste!
If you decide to venture out and try these wonderful Blood Oranges, try juicing them! Definitely a conversation starter with that dark orange juice. Or, serve them in a popular Italian citrus salad: peeled and sliced, and tossed with slices of fresh fennel. Then drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
If you have kids, cut them into quarters or eighths and put them in a plastic baggie for a lunchtime dessert. Your child will be the coolest kid at the lunch table that day!
And, for a little fun, turn up your speakers and view this YouTube video we produced on Blood Oranges.
If you’re like me, you probably frequent two or three different grocery stores each week. But I do have a regular store where I buy my produce, and I bet you do, too.
Do you know your produce manager? Have you ever spoken with him or her? I recommend you get acquainted!
Having a relationship with your produce manager has its benefits! For example, if you are planning a party and want to be sure to have a special fruit or vegetable, if you know your produce manager, you can pre-order it. If you want to know if those grapes are sweet or that melon is tasty, he or she can tell you whether the timing is right to buy them. They can also recommend in-season produce that you may not even have thought about.
However, if you shop in the evenings (like most of us working folks do), you probably haven’t seen the produce manager. That’s because most produce managers come in about 5 or 6 a.m., and are gone by 2 or 3 p.m. One of their most important jobs is to take inventory and then place the orders for the department, which they must do first thing in the morning. Most large-sized produce departments get produce deliveries 5 to 7 days a week. Produce is usually shipped into the supermarket company’s corporate distribution center and then shipped out daily to individual stores, as they place their orders. Often times, stores get a “mixed load” of produce, dairy, meat, frozen items and some groceries, which is the most efficient way to do deliveries.
If you know what days and times your produce department gets their deliveries, you can then choose your shopping days accordingly, so you get the freshest products.
I know my produce manager, Paul, fairly well. I also have introduced myself to the rest of his staff and make it a point to say “hi” every time I visit the department. When I get to the store, I always visit the produce department. I stand back and take it all in. Does it look fresh? What’s on special? What looks good for my family this week?
I think it’s a great idea for everyone to say hello to the staff in their produce departments. Ask them “what’s good today?” Ask them how the melons and grapes taste, and which kind of lettuce looks the freshest. (It will also make the produce staff feel good!)
Did you know that jobs in the produce department are often one of the first stepping stones up the corporate ladder for supermarket employees? The Produce Manager position is one of the ground floor management positions, and many produce managers go on to do great things such as work up to the top store level position of Store Director. (Some stores across the country may do $50 million to as much as $100 million in sales PER STORE, so running a store is like running your own business.) Then, some may move into purchasing at the corporate level and on up the ladder.
One of my favorite success stories was a guy I met when I first started working for my mother back in the 1970s. I’m sure he started as a produce manager of a local store. His name was Richard (Dick) Gladden, and when I met him he was the director of produce for a supermarket chain called Alpha Beta (which was later purchased by Lucky’s, which was purchased by Albertson’s). By the end of his career, Dick had risen to the position of president of Alpha Beta! That’s a pretty impressive career, don’t you think? Dick retired a few years ago and we still see him at trade shows and hear from him via email.
So, next time you see your produce manager, I think you should introduce yourself. You’ll probably learn something about produce, and you never know when he or she might be the future president of the company!
Did you know that two weeks ago, the USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans?
This may sound like a non-event for the average consumer, but it actually was a monumental announcement. For the first time, these once-every-5-year guidelines, included a pretty strong message:
“Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.”
Of course, this is quite exciting for us in the fresh produce industry. But, what this means for the average American, is that they will have more healthy choices.
For kids in the school breakfast, snack and lunch programs, their choices for food will include more fruits and vegetables.
Those who are a part of the WIC program (Women, Infant and Children Feeding program), will receive vouchers for fresh produce.
For those in the military or who shop at commissaries, it will mean more healthy food choices.
But what’s most important, is a statement like this has a wide and important effect on supermarkets, food manufacturers, and restaurants. Believe it or not, when the government talks, businesses and consumers listen.
Start to notice the changes in the messages around you, based on these new guidelines:
1. BALANCING CALORIES
Enjoy your food, but eat less. Avoid oversized portions.
2. FOODS TO INCREASE
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
3. FOODS TO REDUCE
Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals, and choose the foods with lower numbers. Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
It’s no secret that as a nation, we are fatter, more sedentary and subject to more chronic illness like heart disease, obesity and cancer.
What if we all pledged to follow these simple three guidelines every day? What if we supported these initiatives in local schools, at parties we attend and every day at our offices – and only offer healthy choices?
What if, when we went out to eat at a restaurant, we ordered steamed vegetables as our side dish and fresh fruit as our dessert? I bet we’d feel better, and of course, we would be healthier.
As an example, do you think it is a coincidence that McDonald’s changed their meal offerings to include more heart healthy choices in the last few years? Why are Chipotle and Panera Bread locations growing in popularity? (I think it’s because of their healthier food options.) Check out their stock prices. . .healthy offerings make stock prices go up.
So, next time you are thinking about what to have for dinner, I hope you’ll make half your plate fruits and vegetables!
(Sorry guys, in honor of V-Day, this one’s a bit of a chick blog.)
My husband had to go out of town for a few days for a funeral, so I was home alone all weekend. On Sunday afternoon, I was trying to figure out what I should do on the “love, chocolate and roses holiday.”
This was the first Valentine’s Day, in my recollection, that I was not expecting anything, and thus not disappointed with anything.
And it was the perfect day to spend time with a few special people in my life. My good friend Mary was celebrating her birthday this week, so I decided to do something I rarely do, I went out to lunch (during the week) with Mary.
Do you have a special friend in your life who is your “true north”? The person who is completely honest with you and loves you unconditionally? Well, for me, that person is Mary. For you it may be a girlfriend, a sister, or a mother.
So, even though we were celebrating HER birthday, when I arrived she had a gift for me.
She handed me this article from the February edition of Good Housekeeping magazine. This is not a magazine I usually read. But, when I got home from our lunch, I took a look at it. “Big Love: how to give more, how to get more, and why the tiniest gestures mean so much,” was the title.
The article begins: “One April morning…I had a sudden realization: I was in danger of wasting my life.” The author goes on to share her experience with her “Happiness Project.” She decided that for one year she would take the time to do the things she’d always promised herself she would do, including sharing her love and doing kind things for others. She would do nice things to make others happy.
And the big surprise to her, was how happy it made HER feel.
“I changed my life without changing my life – no extra time, energy or money required.”
Doing acts of kindness for others is something women do naturally. But, I have found that the rat race gets to me sometimes and I often feel like I am on that treadmill of life. Reading this article reminded me of what joy I get when I do nice things for others.
I recommend you read the article, because we all need a little more joy in our lives. It truly made me happy and loved yesterday, as I called my eldest daughter and wished her a happy Valentines Day. Yes, she got my card with a little cash tucked inside so she could get herself a small gift. My youngest daughter and I had a home cooked dinner together and then we went out driving (she is learning). We hugged many times last night and she opened up and talked to me about what it is like being a 16 year old.
So, take a deep breath, and think about how you can “change YOUR life without changing your life” and make yourself happier by performing small acts of kindness.
It can bring you great joy!
“Why are blueberries the only blue fruit or vegetable?” That’s the email I got from my friend, Steve.
So I did a little research. Yes, blueberries are the only blue fruit. However, there is a blue vegetable: Blue corn. And if you are open minded, there is a purple potato variety called “All Blue.”
That’s the simple answer to Steve’s question.
But what I find interesting is that dark-colored fruits and veggies, in general, are richer in micronutrients and more nutritionally dense. So, any fruits or veggies that are dark red, blue, or purple are power-packed with nutrition, in addition to tasting great.
If we use the color blue loosely, and include those that are purplish-colored, too, that list gets a lot longer: “Blue” fruits include blackberries, blueberries, black currants, elderberries, purple figs, purple grapes, black olives, plums, dried plums and raisins. Blue vegetables include the purple varieties of asparagus, Belgian endive, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, potatoes, wax beans, purple snap peas, peppers, black salsify and others.
It’s no secret that nutrition authorities recommend a diet that has a wide range of colors. Each fruit and veggie may contain a “little bit of this, and a little bit of that” in terms of micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, etc.
Here’s a fun list of fruits and veggies by color on one of the best websites for produce: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/?page_id=1600
After you complete your tour of the produce department on your next shopping trip, look at your grocery cart. Do you have a good representation of the produce rainbow? For your green lettuce salad, did you add some tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, carrots and cucumbers to the mix?
For fruit snacks, did you include kiwifruit (green), strawberries (red), bananas (white), grapes (red, green or blue) and mangos (yellow)?
Not only is this a good idea nutritionally, it’s a lot more interesting to look at.
Eat your colorful produce!
While there has been record snowfall and freezing weather in Chicago, Tulsa and the East Coast, we were all surprised to see snow in Dallas and Houston, two areas where snowfall is rare.
What you may not know is that even further south in Sonora and Sinaloa, Mexico — two big growing areas for fresh produce — there has been a wave of sub-freezing weather. This past weekend, temperatures there completely devastated and may have destroyed between 50 and 100 percent of the entire winter crops of green bell peppers, eggplant, green beans, shade house cucumbers, tomatoes, melons and squash. (See photos!)
We’re so used to going into our local grocery store and having a wide selection of almost every fruit and vegetable year-round, that we may not even think about how this freezing weather in far away places is going to affect us.
First of all, we will probably see prices of fresh produce increase. That only makes sense, as supplies are now much tighter and demand remains constant.
Second, we’ll probably see that the quality of the produce is not as good as it usually is. When plants are “stressed” (like during freezing weather), they don’t always produce the greatest looking fruits and vegetables and production levels decrease dramatically. And the produce may not last as long when you get it home. Lettuce leaves may turn red quicker, or peppers may start to shrivel.
Luckily, the produce industry is quite resilient. Suppliers may start importing items from other countries to make sure there are sufficient supplies. There are also many greenhouse growers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and other countries whose products will pick up some of the slack.
Remember those Florida growers who experienced a freeze in December? Well, they are already predicting good production of their crops in late March and early April. (Most row crops take between 60-90-120 days to produce another crop, so the recovery is right on schedule.)
We’re not going to run out of food. But, I do suspect that the very low prices we are used to will start to rise. Here in the United States we have one of the lowest costs of food per capita in the world. We’re spoiled.
Our unusual weather patterns are changing that.
Something to think about.
Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, and sometimes it actually does. My recent experience with technology while mattress shopping is a perfect example.
It all started during a visit to the chiropractor. After about six plane trips in as many weeks, I was a little stiff.
I casually mentioned to Dr. Dan that I thought our bed was about 10 years old. Immediately, he told me that it was time to get a new bed (every 8 years is the recommendation). He suggested I go to a local store (Sit ‘n Sleep) and take advantage of their unique technology.
My husband Garry and I went to our local store and told the sales guy, Michael, that we heard about some “special” technology that helps couples choose the right bed for them.
He immediately took us over to the corner of the store, and on a big computer monitor he filled in info for each of us — gender, height, side sleeper, back sleeper, etc. Then, Garry and I laid on our respective sides of the “test bed.” We watched a short video while laying there and the bed electronically measured our ideal bed characteristics.
Shortly thereafter, we got a color printout of our ideal bed. Mine was a softer bed (green) and Garry’s was firmer (blue). I was curious to see how this was going to work out.
Next, Michael took us around the store to try out a bunch of color-coded beds (red tags for extra-firm, blue tags for firm, and green tags for soft). It was hilarious to go from bed to bed, lying on our respective sides. Finally, after about 10 beds, we found a “green” bed that was firm enough for Garry.
In my lifetime I’ve probably purchased about four different beds, so this high-tech bed-hopping selection process was a first! But when I tried out that “perfect” bed, it felt amazing. I felt like I was in heaven. It was like a giant soft envelope of comfort.
Garry and I anxiously awaited the arrival of our new mattress. It came a few days ago, and I can honestly say I have never slept better.
And just in case you don’t believe that this “special technology” makes a difference, good friends of mine purchased a new bed about three weeks ago. They were able to buy it during a department store sale and paid about half of what we did for ours. As with most beds, you have a trial period, during which you can return it, and pay a small restocking fee. Well, my friends were thrilled with the price they paid. However, they are not completely satisfied with the quality of their sleep. Actually they are still not sure if it’s the right bed for them, and may be returning it.
Since you spend almost a third of your life in bed, you might want to invest a little more money and check out this “special technology”…
Something to consider!
You may think that someone who grew up in the produce industry would know “everything” about citrus… but I readily admit that I don’t.
As I travel around the country and visit different supermarkets, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of citrus fruits at this time of year. When I was in Berkeley, California, a few weeks ago, and went to the famed Berkeley Bowl, I was overwhelmed by the variety of citrus, and what caught my eye most were all the signs for “Satsumas.”
Satsumas were everywhere. Each aisle seemed to feature this fruit from different growers and growing areas.
So when I returned home, I decided to go right to the source for everything citrus.
Let me introduce an amazing woman, Dr. Tracy Kahn, whose official title is: Senior Museum Scientist and Lecturer in Biology at the University of California at Riverside (and she is the curator of the Citrus Variety Collection). Who knew there was such a collection?!
I called Tracy and asked her to straighten me out. I told her I wanted a simple answer about the difference between a Mandarin, a Satsuma and a Tangerine. She told me (in true Tracy fashion), that there is NO simple answer!
What she did tell me was fascinating. There are really three main biological species in the citrus sub-genus: Mandarin, Citron and Pummelo. Everything else, including sweet oranges and grapefruits, are all hybrids and crosses of those original three.
She told me that in the U.S., we often use the words “Mandarin” and “Tangerine” interchangeably, but that truly is not completely accurate.
When I told her about my field trip to the Berkeley Bowl in early January, she shared that Satsumas are actually a Mandarin hybrid and their peak season is October, November and early December. She told me it was not a surprise that I saw so many Satsumas in early January, as so many growers had over-planted later varieties, which were now being harvested…causing a glut of Satsumas to be available.
She told me something else interesting: Those boxed tangerines sold under the “Cuties®” brand might actually be different varieties throughout the season. When the season starts, you will likely find the Clementine variety in their boxes. But after Christmas, you might find W. Murcotts, another Mandarin variety.
As we enter the month of February, you will see Pixies, Yosemites, Tahoes, Shastas and of course W. Murcotts. All are Mandarins and are mostly seedless and very sweet.
When trying to decide if a piece of fruit will be good to eat, here are the top three things I look for:
1. Does the fruit look fresh? (No dark or soft spots.)
2. Is the fruit heavy for its size? (That means it’s juicy and not dehydrated.)
3. Is the outside skin shiny? (Shows how fresh it is.)
And now you know! Enjoy all the citrus fruits that are available!