When some people think about the upcoming holiday season (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas), their heart starts to beat a little faster and they break into a sweat.  I have heard that it is actually quite a stressful period of time for some people.

So, when I was at my CEO Group’s couples retreat this past weekend, I found the speaker’s topic to be quite timely.

When Dr. Jerry Kornfeld walked into the room, he looked kind of familiar.  After hearing his introduction, I realized where I had met him.  Back in the 1980s, he was a regular commentator on KABC-TV’s news, as “Ask Dr. Jerry.”  If you live in Southern California, you will probably recognize him as well.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Karen's Blog - Ask Dr. Jerry

Dr. Jerry’s talk to us was entitled “A Physician’s Game Plan for Wellness and Longevity,” but what resonated to me were his comments about the Mind/Body connection.

In other words, “Thoughts are things.”  This is not a new concept.  It was actually René Descartes, a 17th Century French Philosopher who said:

“I think, therefore I am.”

Especially, during the holidays, if we THINK this time will be stressful, or we allow ourselves to get uptight, our body only reacts in a stressful “fight or flight” manner because our thoughts make it react that way.

Dr. Jerry shared a relatively simple list of his Top 10 Steps for Coping.  Check this out:

  1. Find time to Meditate.  If you can’t meditate, then try taking deep breaths.   Deep breathing will release oxytocin, the calming, relaxing hormone, into your system.
  2. Develop a support network.
  3. Accept that you have limitations.
  4. Don’t feel like you have to do everything.
  5. Find humor in difficult situations. Laugh!
  6. Show kindness such as pick up litter and open doors for others.
  7. Become more spiritual.
  8. Get exercise. It’s the best tranquilizer!
  9. Avoid negative people so you avoid dealing with negative thoughts.
  10. Think positive thoughts.

You will recall I shared a TED talk on “How stress can be good for you” a couple of months ago. Maybe it’s time to take 18 minutes to watch it again.

Take a deep breath, ask your friends and family for help, and enjoy the holidays!

Karen

It’s no secret that for the first and only time in our lifetime, the Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah will fall during the Thanksgiving festivities.

So, this year in our family, instead of having a Thanksgiving dinner celebration (with all the trimmings), and then a family Hanukkah party–we call it a Latke (potato pancake) party–a few weeks later, we are combining the celebrations into one giant dinner with about 25 people.

With the many different branches of our family, we have so many dining options. A few years ago, I decided we would always have OUR Thanksgiving dinner on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  That way, everyone is free to celebrate on Thursday with other parts of their family, and there is no rushing from place to place to fit in all the obligatory appearances.

So, my big decision each year is not which Thanksgiving event to attend, but which green vegetable to make.

Of course, we have roasted turkey.  Our friends from France bring fresh lobster.  We have mashed potatoes, and a big green salad.  My niece brings a cranberry Jello mold and I make homemade gravy and cranberry relish.  And that’s when the fun begins for me!

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Karen's Blog - Thanksgiving Cornucopia

Two years ago, I noticed that no one was eating the stuffing. Too many carbs, I think. So I didn’t make any last year, and nobody missed it.  Same goes with the rolls.  I know this is probably heresy for some of you, but it never hurts to change things up a bit.

To go with the spirit of changing things up, each year I try a new green vegetable. As you can imagine, this is my favorite part.

One year, I made a Cold Asparagus Salad.  The halved grape tomatoes and vinaigrette dressing gave it great eye appeal, and every bit was eaten. I’m happy to report that there were no leftovers.

Then, a friend gave me the recipe for Creamed Spinach which I dutifully served for a few years.

Then Brussels Sprouts came into vogue.  For the past two years, I have made an old Gourmet Magazine recipe I found on Epicurious.  Honestly, the first year I made this recipe (which I doubled), we ran out!  So last year, I doubled the recipe again and we barely had enough.  Roasted/steamed in the oven with pancetta (or bacon) makes Brussels Sprouts taste fantastic to even the pickiest of eaters.

This year, I am searching for a new recipe.  I am positive that I will make something with Kale.  After all, that is the “vegetable darling” of the year.  If you have a favorite cooked Kale recipe, please share it with me in the comment section.

With all this talk about Thanksgiving, you’re probably wondering what we’ll be doing to commemorate Hanukkah during our dinner.  Well, of course we will be making Fried Potato Latkes.  It’s a family affair!  My two daughters spend the morning grating potatoes and onions.  Then my husband Garry’s job is to fry them.  My favorite and most trusted recipe comes from my long time friend, Joan Nathan who is the quintessential authority on all Jewish cooking.  You can also purchase Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook.

Enjoy the holidays!

Karen

Have you ever heard of the fashion designer BCBG or BCBGMaxazria? You probably have seen their clothing in magazines, in department stores or in their own showrooms and stores.

I first became acquainted with BCBG when I heard their Chief Creative Officer, Lubov Azria, speak at a luncheon last year. What most inspired me about Lubov’s story was that she combined her humble beginnings from the Ukraine with her passion for fashion to create a fashion-forward clothing line that is approachable and affordable for all women.

So, when a friend of mine invited me to a small dinner with Lubov and a few other women, I jumped at the chance. After all, ever since I heard her speak, I have looked for her BCBG line. In fact, I wore one of her dress designs to dinner!

As it turns out, our dinner was held at Scarpetta at the Montage Hotel, tucked away in the heart of Beverly Hills.

The 12 of us were seated in a private dining room, just off the kitchen. Executive Chef Freddy Vargas came out and explained each course before it was served. I was thrilled that he was able to accommodate my request for a vegan menu, and it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate - Scarpetta Beverly Hills Vegan Menu

At each place setting, there was a personally autographed copy of The Scarpetta Cookbook, authored by the founding chef, Scott Conant.

These days, in addition to recipes, most cookbooks contain stories and background on the chef. As I thumbed through this particular cookbook, I found some inspiration and a lesson, right there on page 119:

“If you are going to go into the restaurant business, you need to have that same sensibility, that desire to take care of people and even if they are not part of the family, to make them feel like they are.”

I think you can replace the word “restaurant” with the name of ANY business and you could define the secret to real success. I believe that is also Lubov’s secret to success—she cares about people and makes them feel like family, just like Chef Scott Conant does.

How many times have you gone to a restaurant, a hotel, or someone’s business, and wonder why you sometimes feel a closeness, a connection, when other times you do not?

I do believe it is “making guests feel sincerely welcome and relevant” that makes the difference.

It is quite interesting that I learned such a humbling lesson in a city like Beverly Hills where it is far better known for unrelatable decadence and conspicuous consumption.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate - Anna Ouroumian, Karen Caplan, and Lubov Azria
Left to right: Our host, Anna Ouroumian, me, and Lubov Azria.

Karen

Last week, our company was in New Orleans at our industry’s annual trade show and convention, the PMA (Produce Marketing Association) Fresh Summit.  When we arrived at the Marriott Hotel, I noticed a chef in the lobby.  Of course, we struck up a conversation.  It turns out that Chef Chad Roldan is the Executive Chef of the New Orleans Marriott. Naturally, our conversation turned to produce.

Chef Chad asked us about our purple theme, and of course, I told him about the newest purple vegetable that we have introduced: the Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato.

In the fall of 2012, we started distributing these earthy, firm sweet potatoes that are like no other. We worked with Chef Alan Greeley of The Golden Truffle in Newport Beach, California. Alan immediately showed us that the flavor and texture are mouthwatering and unique by roasting these tubers longer than conventional sweet potatoes, wrapped in foil, and then holding them overnight in the fridge.

Plus, that purple color is crazy! That really is their natural color.

We sent out a few samples to many bloggers and foodies like Carolyn Scott of Healthy Voyager, Erika Kerekes of In Erika’s Kitchen, and Dorothy Reinhold of Shockingly Delicious.  They too are smitten with the Purple Sweet Potatoes.

And now, as our second Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato season has started, we are thrilled that consumers across the country will be able to find them in virtually all supermarkets.

Besides liking the purple color, one of the reasons I was so excited about this new vegetable is that dark purple/blue/red color signifies a large amount of antioxidants. Unfortunately, when you cook most dark vegetables, the heat destroys these nutrients—but not in Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes! They continue to be a powerhouse of nutrition and do not lose their antioxidants.

So, as you are planning your Thanksgiving or Hanukkah menus, you might want to try one of these new, flavorful recipes like Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato Latkes or a mash.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato Latkes

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato Mash
Oh, let’s go back to New Orleans for a second.

I had forgotten the whole time we were chatting with Chef Chad that my daughter Alex was carrying this sign which was part of our show display. (Poor girl!) Since she was standing right next to the chef, I couldn’t resist the temptation to snap a photo of the two of them.

Think purple!

Karen