Summer Tomato Holiday

by | Dec 19, 2010

Toaster or Santa's Little Helper?

The pouring rain and a deep-rooted need for sleep (not to mention upcoming travels) kept me from going to the farmers market this weekend, so I decided to start my vacation a little early.

The Summer Tomato holiday break begins today and will continue at least through next weekend. I can’t imagine not having something to say before the New Year, but I’m still not exactly sure when I’ll be back.

In the meantime, have a great holiday and feel free to follow my crazy adventures with Toaster on Twitter (@summertomato) and Instagram (@daryapino)–where my puppy just had a new filter named after him.

Cheers,

Darya

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For The Love Of Food

by | Dec 17, 2010

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Good cholesterol (and that means fat) may lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, why New Year’s resolutions are pointless and the benefits of sleep on your appearance. No recipe this week because all my favorite blogs were filled with cookies. Tis the season.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For a complete reading list join me on Digg. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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Farmers Market Update: A Lot Like Christmas

by | Dec 12, 2010
Holiday Bouquet

Holiday Bouquet

There’s so much holiday season in the air at the farmers market these days it’s hard to not get all gushy over it. There are trees, wreaths, hot cocoa, carolers, and even a steel drum band playing Christmas music.

So of course, I stocked up on ingredients to make Thai food. Because that’s how I roll.

But before we talk more about all the awesome food I bought this weekend, I want to announce the winner of the Erik Organic cutting board giveaway.

Congratulations Phil Nase @bugi1960! I’ll be in touch about how to pick your design and get it sent out. Happy Holidays!

Now back to Thai food. I know that doesn’t really make sense, but bear with me. We just finished Thanksgiving and Christmas is right around the corner. There will be lots of turkey, potatoes and other root vegetables and traditional American foods for the next few months, and the last of the fall produce is going away.

Potatoes and Squash

Potatoes and Squash

Turnips

Turnips

But I noticed today at the market that I could get kaffir lime leaves (they were labeled “Indonesian lemon leaves”, but I spoke to the vendors and they said there’s no difference). Lime leaves are the essence of Thai soup. I then proceeded to find fresh ginger, lemongrass and Thai chilies. So I grabbed some Chinese eggplant, mint and cilantro and am calling it a party.

Mojito Mint

Mojito Mint

Lemon/Lime Leaf

Lemon/Lime Leaf

It’s as good as Christmas for me.

The other thing I’m most excited about this weekend is the satsuma mandarins. These sweet little guys are the fruit highlight of the winter, in my opinion. They’re the perfect size, easy to eat and endlessly delicious. They also have a much more complex flavor than the box of Cuties you get at Safeway.

Hachiya Persimmons

Hachiya Persimmons

Satsuma Mandarins

Satsuma Mandarins

Also in fruit, the persimmon season is peaking, and while fuyus (the harder, flat shaped persimmons) were the best choice most of the season so far, the softer and long-shaped hachiya persimmons are finally sweet and ripe. At their best the texture is more like a gel than a fruit. It’s incredibly unique and delicious.

And it’s last call for pomegranates.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Ceremonial Tobacco

Ceremonial Tobacco

Beets

Beets

Today’s purchases:

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Holiday Giveaway: For The Love Of Free

by | Dec 10, 2010

For The Love of Food

If there’s one thing I’d love to give you all for the holidays its the love of fresh, delicious, seasonal food. To get you started I’ve partnered with Erik Organic furniture, who have volunteered to send a free organic wood cutting board to one Summer Tomato reader.

The cutting boards aren’t sold online, but I’ve seen them and they come in all sorts of cool designs and would be a beautiful addition to any kitchen.

Here’s an example:

Erik Organic cutting boards

To win all you need to do is retweet this post* with the hashtag #cuttingboard. The contest will end Saturday at midnight PST. The winner will be chosen at random and announced Sunday in my farmers market post. You can enter once per day.

Thanks for participating and happy holidays!

*Unfortunately at this time shipping is limited to US locations.

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Fishing For Answers: How To Choose Fish and Seafood

by | Dec 8, 2010

By sektordua

By sektordua

“This is a request for a Summer Tomato series on fish, and seafood in general. This topic is even more difficult to navigate than organic vs. non-organic and it would be great to learn about it in detail.”

I don’t think there is anything more complicated in the food world than fish and seafood. There are so many life or death issues it’s enough to make you want to close your eyes, plug your ears and live out the rest of your life in a cave on Mars.

But this isn’t really one of those issues we can ignore.

Fish and Your Health

There’s no denying it, fish is good for you.

The latest data I’ve read suggests that vegetarians have more cancer than fish eaters, though both have less cancer than meat eaters. There are also well-documented and significant heart and brain benefits associated with seafood consumption.

Omega-3 fatty acids are usually given the credit for the heart-healthy benefits of fish. The most beneficial omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), as well as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are only found in seafood. Vegetarian forms of omega-3s including α-Linolenic acid (ALA) can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but the conversion rate is very low and likely insufficient.

Personally I think healthy eating is a lot more difficult if you do not eat fish. (Please direct mild-tempered disagreements to the comments below). Yes, you can be healthy if you are vegetarian or vegan, but it is much more work in my opinion.

The fish and health issue seems to be even more important (and more complicated) for pregnant women. Children of mothers who eat less seafood during pregnancy score lower on cognitive tests than those whose mothers ate the most fish. But at the same time, mercury contamination is a serious concern for pregnant women that requires special attention. Mercury is toxic to neurodevelopment and can injure a developing fetus.

Mercury contamination has in fact become so common that regular, non-pregnant consumers also need to be concerned. Recent testing in New York City revealed that most of the top sushi restaurants serve fish that exceeds the FDA safety recommendations for mercury.

Another health and fish issue is polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These things are all sorts of bad for you. I’ve written extensively on mercury and PCB contamination in fish over at Synapse.

For more on omega-3s, mercury, PCBs and the whole mess, Marion Nestle’s What To Eat is a good resource.

For health, the basic guidelines I follow include:

  • Eat fish 2-3 times per week.
  • Avoid large fish that accumulate mercury like tuna, shark and swordfish.
  • Avoid farmed fish that contain PCBs.
  • Seek fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.
  • Avoid fresh water fish caught by friends. Lakes and rivers are almost all contaminated with high mercury levels.
  • Enjoy vegetarian omega-3 fatty acid sources such as walnuts, flax and soy.

I don’t take omega-3 supplements, but it is an alternative if you do not eat enough fish. Be sure to get supplements derived from marine sources (and don’t take them before interacting with other humans–icky burps).

All that, and we haven’t even touched on the environmental sustainability issues yet.

*deep breath*

*exhale*

Ok.

Fish and the Environment

I’m going to start with the disclaimer that I am NOT EVEN ALMOST an expert in this stuff. I read about it sometimes and keep up with the basics, but environmental issues aren’t my expertise.

That being said, it is not clear that anyone understands the true damage that the fishing industry is doing to either the environment or the future of the fishing industry. The outlook is not good, but it does seem that there are a few groups that are aware of the problems and taking actions to improve the situation.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, the group I trust most in these matters, recently issued The State of Seafood Report if you’d like to read more.

New York Times food writer and author of Fish: The Complete Guide To Buying and Cooking, Mark Bittman, chimed in on the issue a few months ago in an article explaining the nearly impossible task of choosing fish these days.

To make matters worse, a new report suggests that many eco-friendly fish labels aren’t exactly accurate.

It’s difficult to say how to handle seafood sustainability and I certainly do not have all the answers, but I’ll tell you what I do.

Things I consider when buying and eating fish for sustainability:

  • Buy from trusted sources. Since I personally cannot keep up on all the fish sustainability issues, I am sure to shop at places that do. Most small, high-end seafood vendors in San Francisco do a good job of at least telling you where their fish comes from, and will often include sustainability labels.
  • Shop at Whole Foods. Though they aren’t perfect, Whole Foods does a great job of labeling the origin of their animal products. This is leaps and bounds over most grocery stores.
  • Eat wild Alaskan salmon. The Alaskan fishing regulations are mostly sustainable. I’ve heard this challenged, but Alaskan is still superior to Atlantic or farmed salmon. Did you know that all farmed salmon is dyed pink? Eeeew.
  • Eat sardines. These little guys are sustainable, healthy and delicious. I prefer fresh sardines, but I even enjoy the boneless skinless sardines from cans. Pair with dry-as-a-bone white wine. Yum yum.
  • Never, ever eat bluefin tuna. These magnificent animals are on the verge of extinction. Don’t do it!
  • Eat fish at responsible restaurants. In SF, many of the high-end restaurants proudly label the origin of their fish on the menu. This is not always true, however, especially in Japanese restaurants. Nobu in Manhattan is still serving bluefin tuna.
  • Never shop at Asian fish markets. Cheap fish = bad news. Sorry. I know a lot of people rely on these, but personally I do not trust them. Many of the fish sold at these stores are shipped in from China (if they deny it they are likely lying to you). Remember when China was putting poison in baby formula? Don’t assume the fish from there is either safe or sustainable.
  • Avoid tuna. Do you still order maguro (tuna) at sushi restaurants? How boring and unethical. Try getting something that you’ve never heard of that may be less likely to be over-fished. And don’t be afraid to ask where it came from.
  • Ask the Monterey Bay Aquarium. When in doubt, visit their Super Green List for the best seafood choices at the moment.

Shellfish

Interestingly, shellfish are common on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s best choices list. The reason for this is that many kinds of shellfish can be farmed sustainably with very little environmental impact. This is good news, but doesn’t make shellfish a perfect choice.

Oysters, scallops and shrimp are still among the most common sources of food poisoning in the U.S. every year. Oysters alone are responsible for 15 deaths annually. That means your sources for these items are just as important as they are for any other fish, but mostly for your own protection.

The biggest issue is usually refrigeration (but it is not always), so your best bet is to go with trusted sources that are not likely to skimp on costs and resources. Better yet, buy them live and prepare them yourself.

Taste and Other Adventures

As important as all these issues are, the dominant thought in the back of my mind is always: I love seafood, can I have some?

And yes, sometimes this thought wins out over health, environment and sustainability. But I really do try to do the right thing as often as possible, because I want to continue enjoying seafood for many, many more years.

It is not uncommon to hear these days that we could lose our fishing industries within my lifetime, and no one wants that.

No matter how much we want to deny these issues, they effect us all. Even vegetarians have an interest in preserving the oceans and wild fish populations, since entire ecosystems are dependent upon them.

This is one place where we all need to do our part and be conscientious consumers.

Please share your thoughts, this stuff is complicated!

Originally published November 4, 2009.

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Holiday Gift Ideas For Healthy Foodies

by | Dec 6, 2010

Photo by Jenah Crump Photography

Foodies are fun to shop for, it’s so easy to make us happy.

Offer me an evening of tasty food? I’m psyched. Get me something to cook you delicious food? I’m just as psyched. It’s win win.

Shopping for a foodie who wants to be healthy is just as easy. We’re not about deprivation, so we’re mostly talking about education materials and gym accessories. And of course, more cooking supplies.

This is my list of top healthy foodie gift ideas for 2010. Some are new, and some are old standbys that never go out of style. I tried to cover a variety of price points, I hope you enjoy.

Holiday Gift Ideas For Healthy Foodies

1. Foodzie tasting box, 3-month subscription ($55)

In my opinion, this is the coolest foodie gift idea I’ve seen in years. If you aren’t familiar with Foodzie, it’s an online marketplace for the best artisan food producers. The only problem with Foodzie is that they have so much delicious sounding foods all the time that making up your mind can sometimes be impossible. This solves the problem by sending you a few samples each month, giving you a little taste of everything. If you find something you love, you know where to find more. If an item doesn’t float your boat, no big loss it was only a sample anyway. It’s the best of both worlds.

US shipments only.

2. iPod Nano ($139)

To be honest I was never an Apple fan until they released the iPod Mini. Not that I had anything against the regular iPod, but the only situation I could imagine wanting all my music on the go was at the gym. Regular iPods were still too big, but the Mini changed everything. I’ve had almost every generation Mini and Nano since the original. They’ve all been good but none compare to the current Nano, which is by far the best compact MP3 player I’ve ever used. It’s small, useful and affordable. The perfect gift.

3. The 4-Hour Body, by Tim Ferriss book ($14.51)

I’ve been fortunate enough to get an early copy of Tim Ferriss’ latest masterpiece, The 4-Hour Body. His first book, The 4-Hour Work Week changed my life by helping me build a food and health writing career while simultaneously completing a PhD in neuroscience. His second book explores the art of bodyhacking. It’s both fascinating and informative. And ladies, I highly recommend getting a copy of this for your man ;) ;)

4. Fagor pressure cooker, ($69.99)

My pressure cooker was my first piece of cooking equipment that really changed what I thought possible. I never had much of an opinion about beans so always bought canned ones if I needed them. But when I discovered the huge difference in taste and texture I got from dried (especially heirloom) beans, I knew I was on to something. The only problem was that beans take forever to cook… unless you have a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker can seem intimidating at first, but it’s actually really simple and was a huge help in building my current healthstyle. This same pressure cooker was $120 last year, so this is a great deal!

5. Crock-Pot Touch Screen slow cooker, ($77.68)

I actually don’t have much experience with slow cookers, but that’s all about to change. After a lot of researching to figure out the best brand, we just settled on getting this Crock-Pot brand slow cooker. I’m really excited about the idea of throwing a meal together in the morning and having it ready when I get home from work. A perfect gift for the start of winter, and another item where the price point used to be $120.

6. Kindle e-reader, ($139)

This isn’t technically a foodie gift, but continuing education (books) is a key component in health and longevity. After getting the latest Kindle, it has been really hard for me to justify going back to reading paper books. It’s even hard to justify the iPad. The newest Kindle is beautiful, lightweight and the only device I’ve seen comprable to a paperback book. The iPad is cool for lots of reasons (Angry Birds anyone?), but it’s much heavier and more distracting if reading is truly your goal. Also, when you wear polarizing sunglasses you cannot see the iPad screen in the vertical orientation. That’s annoying because I love reading outside. And iPads start at $500.

If you want 3G (recommended), the price point is still only $189 for the Kindle. I used mine to download some sci-fi while on the beach in Hawaii. The future is now!

7. In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart, by Alice Waters cookbook ($18.48)

What I like about this cookbook is it doesn’t just teach you recipes, it teaches you to riff in the kitchen. By giving you the basic techniques to do simple things, you learn to develop that sense for what needs to be done next to make a dish great. You’ll finally be able to understand your grandmother’s recipes that call for a pinch of this and a dash of that.

8. Riedel wine glasses, ($37.45)

Fancy wine glasses used to be something you give at a wedding, but how often do those ugly crystal goblets really come out of the cupboard? All the cool kids are using Riedel glasses now, and if you’re anything like me you want to start your collection as soon as possible. This is a great starter kit for the blossoming foodie off at college. Riedel makes glasses for every grape varietal, but this set gives you glasses to cover your basic reds and whites.

9. Breville automatic tea maker, ($249.95)

One of my missions in 2010 was to cut back on caffeine, and tea was my solution. Being the foodie that I am bagged tea wasn’t an exciting enough option to get me to switch from my beloved Blue Bottle Coffee, but loose tea was really intimidating given the need to vary water temperature, steep time etc. This automatic tea maker was the answer to my problems, and I can now make any tea with just two button presses. Oh yeah, and it works with an awesome magnet system that feels like it’s right out of a sci-fi novel. Highly recommended!

10. Bradley electric smoker ($304.95)

I’ll admit, smoking isn’t the healthiest way to prepare food. But it sure is tasty! And I figure that if I’m going to be eating bacon, making it myself is certainly the way to go. I was trying to decide between recommending this and the sous vide. And though sous vide makes some of the finest food in the world, it does require a bit of expertise (and costs a lot more). This smoker on the other hand is simple and straightforward, and we haven’t messed up a single dish yet.

11. Labradoodle Toaster

The gift that keeps on giving. This puppy has sealed the deal on 2010 being the best year of my life.

Toaster

(but you shouldn’t eat him)

Have you received a fantastic foodie gift? Share below!

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Farmers Market Update: Early Winter

by | Dec 5, 2010
Watermelon Radish

Watermelon Radish

I’m loving the changing seasons. Winter is moving in fast, but fall produce is just peaking in flavor.

Pomegranates are amazing right now. They are sweet and don’t make you pucker with tartness like they do early in the season. We’ve been stocking up on the juice and freezing it in ice cube trays to add to sparkling water spritzers for the rest of the year.

Big Hachiya Persimmons

Big Hachiya Persimmons

Pomegranate Ice

Now is also the best time to get persimmons, because they lack the chalky astringency they can have before they’re quite ripe. Remember, fuyu persimmons are eaten while firm (find a dark orange color) and hachiyas are ripe and edible when soft. I’ve noticed a lot of restaurants adding fuyus to salads and even savory dishes.

Colorful Carrots

Colorful Carrots

As winter approaches, we’re also seeing the emergence of root vegetables. Members of the radish family are less spicy and more sweet this time of year, making them perfect for winter salads. Today I stocked up on watermelon radish (aka watermelon daikon) and kohlrabi. I like to eat both of these raw.

Green and Purple Kohlrabi

Green and Purple Kohlrabi

Watermelon Daikon

Watermelon Daikon

But radishes aren’t the only root vegetables to experiment with this time of year. Celery root has a subtle taste like celery but a consistency more like a potato. It’s great to puree, roast or add to soups. Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes) are another of my winter favorites. They’re flavor is remarkable, reminiscent of artichoke but more like a delicate potato in appearance.

Organic Sunchokes

Organic Sunchokes

Celery Root and Carrot

Celery Root and Carrot

Parsnips are another delicious root vegetable great for cooking. They look like white carrots but with a more herbal flavor. They are also great for roasting and purees.

Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells

Large Parsnips

Large Parsnips

Although it is fairly late in the season, there are still some peppers around. Though the selection is limited, you can still get beauties like these Christmas bells.

Winter is also a great time for greens. Chard, collards, kale, cabbages all get sweeter this time of year, and are a great accompaniment to roasted winter squash with beans or meat dishes.

Cabbages

Cabbages

Winter Greens

Winter Greens

Brussels sprouts and broccoli are also sweeter than usual.

Organic Broccoli

Organic Broccoli

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

I also found a few more exotic ingredients this week, including Indonesian lemon leaves (any relation to kafir lime leaves?) and aloe vera.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera

Indonesian Lemon Leaf

Indonesian Lemon Leaf

Oh, and crab season has started!

Dungess Crabs

Dungeness Crabs

Today’s purchases:

If you would like to share your own local farmers market with Summer Tomato readers please click here.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Dec 3, 2010

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

I’ve been having trouble on the site lately with external links. If you use Chrome or Safari browsers, the links below will only work if you right click and open them in a new tab. I have no idea what is wrong, but I’m working on fixing it. If you’re a computer genius and can help, I promise you riches and my first born child if you can help solve my problem.

In the news, who hates safe healthy food? Surprisingly many people. Also, supermarket produce can be up to a year old, and Mickey D’s is writing health food policy in Britain. Weeee!

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For a complete reading list join me on Digg. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Food, the Bad and the Ugly
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor The Daily Show on Facebook

What inspired you this week?

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