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For The Love Of Food

by | Feb 25, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

This week we finally have definitive proof that the Biggest Loser and Dr. Oz are pure evil. It was just a matter of time. Also, a thought provoking piece on food prices, more condemning news for diet soda and a new recipe search tool from Google.

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 list of my favorite stories check out my links 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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Food And Community: Lessons From Google

by | Oct 6, 2010

Photo by massless

The relationship between food and health is undeniable, and usually my favorite topic. But while health is essential, it rarely gets people excited. (At least not for very long.)

Food, however, is easy to get excited about. And the value of food in our lives extends greatly beyond its nutritional components.

While food provides nourishment, it also brings us pleasure and has a powerful impact on our relationships with other people–an attribute we often overlook. In an era where efficiency and individualism are a way of life, it is easy to forget that we have three opportunities each day to sit down and connect with someone over an intimate and enjoyable experience: our daily bread.

This lesson was not lost on Google.

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Tahoe Tech Talk, a forum where influential tech angel investors shared their insights and advice on new startups. One of my favorite talks was by Chris Sacca, former Head of Special Initiatives at Google. Sacca noted that Google’s now famous gourmet cafeteria was intended as more than a perk for talented employees, it was designed to foster collaboration.

Sitting down to a communal meal encourages mingling of both people and ideas. Employees from different departments that normally have little reason for interacting are more likely to strike up conversation while in line for lasagna than at any other time of day. Likewise, sharing meals builds a sense of camaraderie and community–a feeling of working together toward a common goal–where people at every level in the company rub elbows and break bread.

The food culture at Google makes it more than a fun place to work, it makes it a better company.

Sacca’s message to new startups:

“Feed talent: both figuratively and literally.”

Of course this lesson applies to more than just tech startups. All of us can add value to our lives by using meals to build relationships with friends, family and colleagues.

The promise of productivity is alluring, but your lunch hour isn’t necessarily better spent at your computer with a sandwich in one hand a mouse in the other.

Whom do you eat with?

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How To Cook With An Unfamiliar Ingredient

by | Apr 27, 2009

Amaranth Leaves

Last week a new farmers market started up at the UCSF Mission Bay campus where I work. As someone who makes it my business to know what’s happening at our local markets, I was very interested to check out what they were offering. To my surprise and delight, there was a tremendous variety of interesting, high-quality goods and produce. But I already had a bunch of fresh groceries at home from my Saturday market trip, so I only purchased a few special things I just couldn’t resist.

The first thing that caught my eye were the beautiful Asian greens I spotted at the beginning of my exploration (sorry, I’m not familiar with these farms yet so I do not remember the name). I had never seen okra or bitter melon leaves for sale before, though I am familiar with these vegetables. What really grabbed my attention though were these beautiful amaranth leaves.

I had always considered amaranth a grain, and did not know it was also a leafy vegetable. But apparently amaranth greens are incredibly popular in India, Africa, China, Vietnam and Greece. The leaves are fairly delicate and I would describe the taste as similar to spinach if spinach were Indian. In other words, the leaves have earthy and spicy undertones reminiscent of chai tea. Needless to say I was very excited to see what I could make with them.

When I got home with my greens I did a quick Google search for amaranth leaves recipes and virtually everything that came up on the first search page was for Indian dishes–perfect! I read through a few of them and realized that the most common use for amaranth leaves is in a lentil dish with spices and tamarind.

Since I had most of the required ingredients in the house, I decided to give it a try. Not too long ago I purchased an assortment of red and yellow Indian lentils from a specialty store in my neighborhood. Usually I have concentrated tamarind in my refrigerator for those occasional Thai food cravings. I didn’t have the fresh tomato most recipes called for, so I used half a can of diced tomatoes from my pantry (I used the rest in my roasted fava beans dish). I also keep standard Indian spices in the house such as cumin seeds, garam marsala (a traditional Indian spice blend), curry powder, tumeric and ghee (clarified butter).

See how easy it is to be creative when you have a well-stocked pantry?

The dish turned out amazing, and the batch I made was so large I have been eating it for days (not bad for a $2 ingredient). But I am not going to give you the recipe, because that is not the purpose of this post. Instead I wanted to give you an idea about how I approach shopping and cooking. If something is unique or catches my eye at the market, I inquire to the vendor about what it tastes like and how it is used. When I get home I look up recipes online until I find one or two that look yummy and are not too hard to make. Sometimes this involves changing the recipe slightly to match the ingredients I have available, or combining two or more recipes together to accommodate my own modest cooking skills or time allowance.

You do not have to be a brilliant chef to explore cooking this way, and you will certainly get better at it the more you practice. The key is digging through Google until you find a recipe that doesn’t scare you too much. You can also try services such as Recipe Puppy that allow you to type in an ingredient and receive a collection of recipes from around the internet. Recipe Puppy didn’t work particularly well for amaranth (no results), but it is useful for most ingredients and can be a terrific source of inspiration.

Next time you shop, go out of your way to find something you haven’t cooked before and see what you can come up with. Who knows, you may actually find a new favorite food and upgrade your healthstyle in the process!

Don’t forget to come back and let us know what you learned. Tell us your favorite accidental ingredient discovery!

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Growing Pains

by | Mar 29, 2009

Happy Monday everyone!

Before we get to the fun stuff, there are a few technical things we need to discuss:

1. Older feed subscriptions using Google Reader and iGoogle appear to be broken. Even though my first post from Summer Tomato went out to all subscribers without a problem, all Google feed readers (about 40% of you use these, by my calculations) seem to have reverted back to my old (broken) blog feed address. Thus new posts are not going out to you.

Google FAIL.

I am doing my best to resolve this, but in the meantime the easiest solution is to re-subscribe to the working Summer Tomato RSS feed. You can do that by clicking here. If you do not know what I’m talking about and your subscription is working without a problem, don’t worry about it.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

2. Tell me which advertisements you hate. In case you haven’t noticed, I care a lot about your health. But I also want this blog to be successful so that I can continue spending as much time on it as I do. One of the things that keeps this blog up and running are the Google advertisements you find throughout the site (also donations and purchases from my Amazon shop).

I do my best to keep ads that conflict with my message (e.g. diet pills, weight loss cures scams, etc.) off this blog, but it requires constant filtering on my part. I am not notified before an ad appears, but if I see one on my blog that I do not like I ask Google to remove it and it usually goes away in an hour or two.

Since I am not browsing my website 24 hrs a day, my vigilance will occasionally be insufficient and bothersome ads may appear. If you encounter ads that are particularly annoying to you, please let me know which ones and I will take care of them as quickly as I can. I am also interested in hearing your opinions on ads in general. E.g. Do you prefer the picture/flash ads or standard text link ads?

The advertisements should be a benefit to you, offering products you might actually be interested in. Please consider supporting our honest sponsors by visiting their websites.

I will be exploring new advertising options in the future when things are more settled here. Thanks for your patience.

Extra thanks to those of you who have provided feedback so far 🙂



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How To Eat Healthy Without Whole Foods

by | Mar 4, 2009

junk foodBy this point you can probably guess that I do the bulk of my grocery shopping at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and at Whole Foods (with the occasional trip to Trader Joe’s). But not everyone is blessed with year-round farm stands and high-end grocery chains in their cities. So how are you supposed to take my advice when you don’t have access to the same resources?

What Would Darya Eat?

I will admit I am not a seasoned grocery shopper when faced with either a real winter or non-city suburbia, but I can guarantee you that I would find a way to eat healthy despite these obstacles. Here is how I would approach these difficult situations:

Use Google to find a health food store.
Most towns have at least one small health food store, and these can be a lifesaver (literally) if you are trying to maintain a healthy diet. Finding one can be tricky, but you can do it if you know what to search.

Unfortunately, the idea that fresh, whole foods are the best way to promote health and fight disease is still something of a radical concept associated with hippies, liberals and elitists (run!!). For the most part, people still do not take the idea of healthy food seriously. Thus, a Google search for “health” will usually bring you links to medical sites or shady pills and powder supplements. And “health food” will get you a mixture of vitamin shops and useful grocery stores.

To get what you need, I recommend searching “organic groceries” followed by your city, then state.

In the following example I searched for “organic groceries Newport Beach, CA”. Several entries come up, but the most useful are Google’s local business results or the link.

organic groceries search
Stores that come up in these searches usually have an excellent selection of healthy shelf items such as grains, beans, cereals and canned goods. The best deals are usually in the bulk bins (check near the back or side of the store).

These places will often have a small selection of organic produce.

Find a local produce market. Like the health food stores, produce markets that primarily sell fresh fruits and vegetables are not big fancy operations that are easy to find. Instead they are usually small, family-run shops that cater to a loyal clientele. Frequently these shoppers are hunting for specific products used in, for example, Asian or Latin American cuisines.

The fruits and vegetables you find in stores like this are often imported and inexpensive, which is a mixed blessing. Clearly imported produce is not ideal if you are interested in buying local, organic foods. However, in many cities fresh fruits and vegetables are almost nonexistent during the winter, and these specialty stores can be a fantastic alternative. They are certainly better than nothing (or Costco).

Another bonus of these markets is that they can be great sources for hard to find ingredients like fresh galangal (Thai ginger) or kefir lime leaves.

To find these stores in your neighborhood type “produce” into Google followed by your city and state. Again look for Google’s local business listings.

It is worth noting that these stores can vary quite a bit in quality and cleanliness, so it is a good idea to stop by several different shops until you find the one that best meets your needs.

Read local blogs. I am admittedly a little biased on this topic, but blogs can be a fantastic source for local news on food, eating and gardening, all of which will give you clues about what local food is available during the current season. You can use Google’s Blogsearch tool and type in what you are looking for (e.g. “winter vegetables”) along with your city and state to find what is buzzing near you.

Buy frozen vegetables. I do not particularly like recommending frozen vegetables because in my opinion they do not taste as good as fresh ones, and I believe enjoying your food is a critical part of establishing healthy eating patterns. But despite their texture, frozen vegetables actually retain most of their nutrients and can be an excellent healthy option during the cold months. When I do buy frozen goods, I stick to the hearty fare like beans, peas, corn and bell peppers, but if you do not mind the texture of some of the leafy greens, they are perfectly healthy. Frozen berries also hold up pretty well.

Be creative. Winter is one of the best times of the year to go pantry diving and finally do something with that bulgur or those red lentils. Be creative!

Cans of diced tomatoes, anchovies, capers and olives can easily be turned into a puttanesca sauce. Winter squash is great for bean stews. Have fun with what you have and winter will be over before you know it.


This list is meant to be a jumping off point for people to explore healthy eating in challenging circumstances and is an example of the kind of thinking I would use if faced with a similar situation.

Effectively using Google’s search tools to find vendors in your local area can make it much easier to stick to your healthy diet, even without warm weather or a big city. Getting involved in your local food scene is another way to discover healthy opportunities anywhere.

I am certain there are many more effective ways to stay healthy without a Whole Foods.

For those of you who actually live in places where fresh vegetables can be hard to find, I would love to hear your strategies for healthy eating all year long! Let’s brainstorm!

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