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The Habanero Experiment

by | Nov 9, 2009
Extra Hot Peppers

Extra Hot Peppers

Hot chili pepper season is one of my favorite times of year. But working with these little devils can be tricky and, if you’re not careful, really painful.

If you’ve made the mistake of working with spicy chili peppers without gloves in the past, you know what a huge mistake it can be. Not only will chili pepper burn your skin for days, anything you touch while the pepper oil is still on you (it doesn’t wash off) will also feel the burn. Just a couple weeks ago a friend of mine got jalapeño spice all over her face and didn’t recover for more than a day.

In an attempt to cure “Hunan hands” I tested several common heat neutralizing recommendations. One friend recommended I try mouthwash, which I thought might work through menthol, a substance with receptors similar to those for capsaicin–the active ingredient in chili peppers. In biology, sometimes some good old fashion competition can be enough to change an outcome. To test this hypothesis directly, I also tried a 2% menthol gel from the drug store.

But despite the theoretical plausibility of the menthol hypothesis, the skeptic in me went directly to the source for more information. I contacted UCSF professor David Julius, the scientist who discovered the sensory receptor for both capsaicin and heat to see if he had any ideas for alleviating pain from chili peppers. He didn’t know for sure, but directed me to an article where baking soda was used as a treatment.

In my research, I had also learned people recommend various solvents including rubbing alcohol and vinegar. I decided to try the powerful solvent acetone (nail polish remover) and lime juice as well.

You can watch my experiments below. I had to clear my camera’s memory card before the last shot, during which time the sun went down (lousy winter). Please accept my apologies for the obnoxious light reflection in the dark windows.

Since making the video I’ve discovered a few other topical treatments that may provide some relief from capsaicin burns. The first is a milk compress, though the degree of effectiveness is questioned. The most consistently reported relief is from the application of lidocaine jelly or oral analgesics (topical anesthetics)–treatments that block sensation in the affected area.

My #1 tip for preventing chili pepper burn is to prevent it in the first place by wearing gloves to handle them and being especially careful with the seeds.

Have you had any luck alleviating pepper burn? Do you have any capsaicin horror stories?

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Farmers Market Update: Autumn Sunshine

by | Nov 8, 2009
Frog Hollow Warren Pears

Frog Hollow Warren Pears

It rained yesterday, but today is spectacularly beautiful. I love San Francisco.

I didn’t have much time to spend shopping this trip–all food was bought and photos snapped in just about 10 minutes. Hopefully I didn’t forget too many things.

Persimmons

Persimmons

Black Twig Apples

Black Twig Apples

Pears and apples are in truly rare form right now, so I highly recommend finding a farmers market near you and getting some of the interesting heirloom varieties. You won’t regret it, I promise.

Persimmons are great right now as well, but I expect they will only get better as the season progresses. Hachiya persimmons in particular–the soft ones–tend to be better later in the season. For more information on the difference between fuyu and hachiya persimmons check out How To Pick A Persimmon. I’ve also written an article about chocolate persimmons and other varieties.

Colorful Bell Peppers

Colorful Bell Peppers

Winter Squash

Winter Squash

I noticed that the amazing Four Sisters Farm kiwis appeared this week and Twin Girls Farm had feijoa, also known as pineapple guava. My photos of these didn’t turn out well so I’ll try to get better shots next week.

Winter squash are still my favorite thing to eat right now and I’m happily making my way through all the varieties. I was not terribly impressed with spaghetti squash which hardly had any flavor, but I’m loving delicata because they are so easy to cook. And, of course, kabocha are amazing–like pumpkin pie only better. I love to pair them with greens like chard and kale, roasted peppers and black beluga lentils.

Napa Cabbage

Napa Cabbage

Today’s Purchases:

What’s at your market?

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Farmers Market Update: Grand Lake Oakland

by | Oct 25, 2009
Tomatoes

Tomatoes

I’m delighted to introduce you to Stephanie Stiavetti who agreed to step in and cover the Grand Lake farmers market in Oakland while I was away this week.

Stephanie Stiavetti is a Bay Area freelance food and nutrition writer. Besides writing for magazines and radio, she also blogs about living a healthy gourmet (and gluten-free!) lifestyle at Wasabimon.com. Her top priority in life is eating well in every sense of the word and making sure people know that eating healthy can be a delicious endeavor.

You can also follow her on Twitter under the name @sstiavetti.

Thanks so much Stephanie!

Farmers Market Update: Grand Lake Oakland

Hello everyone!

This is Stephanie from Wasabimon, and I’m excited to be guest posting today on Summer Tomato. Darya’s asked me to take care of the weekly Farmers Market Update while she’s in Vegas, and since I live in the East Bay, today you’ll be getting a tour of Oakland’s Grand Lake Farmers Market.

For those not in the know, Oakland has a thriving farmers market community. With over ten markets throughout the week, East Bay residents have a lot of opportunities to buy organic, locally grown produce. Here’s just a sampling of what you can find at the Grand Lake market, which happens every Saturday from 9am – 2pm year round.

I love the colors of the market this time of year. So many bright colors as summer comes to a close! First I picked up a few of my obligatory (though no less lovely) squash and peppers from Capay Farms:

Peppers

Peppers

Squash

Squash

Right across the way was Rodriguez Farms, who have some of the best potatoes and strawberries around – and who doesn’t love the fact that we can get local strawberries this time of year? Yay California!

Strawberries

Strawberries

Potatoes

Potatoes

Next up were the gorgeous radishes and carrots at Ledesma Family Farms. There is always so much color in this booth and I need to wear sunglasses when I go inside:

Radishes

Radishes

Carrots

Carrots

After wandering around a little bit (and indulging in some kettle corn, my favorite treat), I hit the jackpot at Toscano and Sons. They have the sweetest cherry tomatoes ever! They make such a perfect addition to salads, and I can never resist them.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Toscano also had baby shallots and young leeks, which are just about my favorite things ever. I’m such an allium nut – I don’t cook with them all the time, but I love how there are so many different levels of flavor within the onion family:

Leeks

Leeks

Baby Shallots

Baby Shallots

Happy Boy Farms was full of lovely winter and summer squash, and as usual their herb table was full of the freshest, most fragrant greenery. Their heirloom tomatoes were off-the-charts colorful, though I had to resist the urge to buy any since I already have some at home. Happy Boy also has my favorite salad mix, with edible flowers mixed in with the rest of the greens. I mean, how could you resist this beautiful display?

Salad Greens

Salad Greens

I also discovered something new at the farmers market this week. I’ve seen jujubes before but hadn’t ever stopped to inspect further. These little Chinese dates are really good and I highly recommend you grab a handful if you ever see them!

Jujubees

Jujubees

Then how could I not stop and smell the roses at Western Sun Floral?

Roses

Roses

And on the way out the door, I stopped by my favorite stand, Marshall’s Farm Honey. Since I avoid refined sweeteners, honey is a mainstay in my kitchen:

Honey

Honey

I had a fabulous time at the Grand Lake Farmers Market today, and I hope you enjoyed my little photo tour. Thanks, Darya, for letting me share!

<3
~Steph

What did you find at your farmers market this week?

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Farmers Market Update: SummWinter

by | Oct 18, 2009
Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce

If I were only going to talk about one thing today it would have to be the peppers. What a season we are having! There are so many varieties I’m having trouble deciding what to buy each week.

Saturday I learned that ancho chilies–which I have only had dried–are actually just mature poblano peppers. Poblanos are the big dark green peppers (left in the photo below) that come stuffed with cheese and breaded in egg batter when you order chile relleno. (A good chile relleno might be my favorite Mexican food ever, but only from here. Half my family is Mexican, so I’m a little picky.)

This is the first time I’ve seen red Japanese Shishito peppers as well. They are usually green.

Red Japanese Shishito Peppers

Red Japanese Shishito Peppers

Ancho Chilies

Ancho Chilies

Anyway, I didn’t know you could ever find fresh anchos. For some reason I thought ancho defined some specific preparation of chili like chipotle, which is a smoked jalepeno. But it seems they are a type of pepper unto themselves, but also a version of a pepper I was familiar with. Confusing, I know.

Since poblanos are often spicy I expected the anchos to be even more so (peppers get hotter with age), but they were actually really sweet with only a hint of spice. I had them in eggs. It was amazing.

I also found a new variety of eggplant today, the como eggplant. These eggplants are small and dark, almost black, and very firm. This is because they have very little water and thus do not require the pre-salt that most eggplants need. They are supposed to be very sweet, creamy and not at all bitter. I couldn’t help but buy a few from Allstar Organics.

…Not sure what to make of this other eggplant I found….

Nixon Eggplant or Tricky Dick?

Nixon Eggplant or Tricky Dick?

Como Eggplants

Como Eggplants

But despite the prevalence of all this beautiful summer produce, the signs of imminent winter are not subtle.

I saw the first early citrus this week, including Meyer lemons (not quite ripe) and sweet limes. If you’ve never had a sweet lime, imagine if you tasted a lime that wasn’t sour at all. Then imagine it tasting a little bit like fake lime flavor. It’s weird. You probably wouldn’t want to eat it like you would any other sweet citrus fruit, but it is fabulous in cocktails. They are certainly worth playing around with.

First Sweet Limes

First Sweet Limes

First Meyer Lemons

First Meyer Lemons

But let’s not jump too fast from summer to winter. Autumn is providing us with spectacular heirloom apples, pears, pomegranates and grapes. And today I found quince!

Quince is a very old fruit that is like a mix between an apple and a pear, except you can’t eat it raw. But bake it in the oven or into some dessert and quince takes on a sublime flavor and creamy consistency almost like jelly. I’m not much of a pastry chef, but I like to cut a quince in half and bake it for dessert now and then.

Quince

Quince

Swaar Dutch Apples

Swaar Dutch Apples

I’m also delighted to announce that the first chocolate persimmons of the year have appeared! They are at Hamada Farms, so go get some while you can. I didn’t buy any today because there was a huge black spider on them (not pictured…she was hiding) and I’m a wimp, but I totally would have. Totally.

Spinach

Spinach

First Chocolate Persimmons

First Chocolate Persimmons

Also notable is that Green Gulch Farm called it quits for the season today, they will return next spring. I bought some spinach to remember them by.

Despite the rain, the dry-farmed early girl tomatoes from Dirty Girl Produce were…wait for it…even better than usual this week. I realize this makes no sense, but I swear.

I was happy to find that I could still get Soul Food eggs from Prather Ranch. I wasn’t sure they would be available after the devastating fire a few weeks ago. Happy to see they are still truckin’ along 🙂

And last but not least, I couldn’t say no to these beets from Capay Organics. Beets are always a great deal because you get 2 dishes out of a bunch: the roots and the greens.

The broccoli is looking pretty darn good these days too.

Organic Broccoli

Organic Broccoli

Beautiful Beets

Beautiful Beets

Today’s Purchases:

What are you eating?

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Farmers Market Update: Early Autumn

by | Oct 11, 2009
Mini Pumpkins

Mini Pumpkins

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the seasons change. Just last week there were figs everywhere, but I couldn’t find any today. Instead there were piles and piles of persimmons, a sharp contrast to the one sad looking crop from last week.

But you can’t say I didn’t warn you about this. Summer is ending and autumn is in full swing. How often do you get to see oranges sitting next to nectarines? Not very often, I can assure you.

Early Fuyu Persimmons

Early Fuyu Persimmons

Oranges and Nectarines

Oranges and Nectarines

The main attractions right now at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market are winter squash, peppers, pomegranates and grapes. You can also find nice rainbow chard, apples, pears, green beans, melons, eggplant and tomatoes. The first crop of walnuts and almonds have arrived, and the stinging nettles at Star Route looked pretty good (if you’re into that sorta thing).

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles

Walnuts

Walnuts

I definitely learned a few new things while shopping today:

Apparently these Spitzenburg apples were Thomas Jefferson’s personal favorite. (say wha?)

Spitzenburg Apples

Spitzenburg Apples

Kabocha squash–my favorite as of last year–comes in both orange and green (I only knew about the green ones).

Orange & Green Kabocha Squash

Orange & Green Kabocha Squash

I also stumbled upon these funky looking jelly melons at Lucero Organic Farms. I had never seen these at the market before, so naturally I bought one. Also called “horned melon” and “blowfish fruit” I would have guessed these were native to Southeast Asia, but Wikipedia says they’re African. The sign up at Lucero claims they might be a good diet food too, whatever that means. If the one I got is any good I might get some more next week.

Jelly Melon

Jelly Melon

Following up from last week, I bought myself some of the sweet pepper chips from Happy Quail Farms, which were just too good to resist. And to spice things up I snagged two Scotch bonnet peppers from Tierra Vegetables. I think I’ll have to bring home a pair of nitrile gloves from the lab to handle these things, but hopefully I can turn them into something delicious.

Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Pepper Chips

Pepper Chips

And finally, I think I might have found my Halloween costume 😉

Today’s Purchases:

Fig Leaves

Fig Leaves

What are you eating?

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Farmers Market Update: Changing Seasons

by | Oct 4, 2009
Bosc Pears

Bosc Pears

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but feel like there wasn’t much of a summer this year. In fact, if it weren’t for the amazing produce at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, I wouldn’t believe it had been summer at all. Shouldn’t I have tan lines by now?

Yet somehow it is October.

And despite the confusing weather, it is clear that the market is moving on to fall. There is still plenty of summer bounty to be found, but make no mistake about it: this is your last chance for stone fruit, tomatoes, summer squash, corn, eggplant and melons.

Zucchini

Zucchini

Sweet Organic Melons

Sweet Organic Melons

The Sungold cherry tomatoes (the little orange ones) are especially awesome. But the most impressive thing I found at the market today was the chili peppers.

I never cared much about peppers before I started shopping at the farmers market, but I can assure you that nothing smells better in my market bag than the peppers. (Maybe the basil. But not really.)

Extra Hot Peppers

Extra Hot Peppers

Chili Pepper

Chili Pepper

A fellow market goer was blown away that Tierra Vegetables had these Scotch Bonnet peppers, which she said are necessary for making Jamaican jerk sauce. I had already spent over $10 on peppers, so I held off buying them until next week. But aren’t the beautiful?

Pepper Chips

Pepper Chips

Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Scotch Bonnet Peppers

I also got to try these funny looking pepper chips from Happy Quail Farms, and they were delicious! Sweet, flavorful and crisp without a drop of oiliness. They had a spicy variety as well, but the woman scared me off from trying them because she said, “I mean really hot.” Again, maybe next week.

Also peaking now are figs, grapes, pears and apples.

Flame Grapes

Flame Grapes

Kadota Figs

Kadota Figs

But how we really know fall is here are the winter fruits and vegetables that are appearing. I saw the first persimmons this week at Twin Girls Farm. I also bought one of these adorable white and green baby pumpkins. I was told they are really sweet and easy to cook.

Pumpkins

Pumpkins

First Persimmons

First Persimmons

Pomegranates are also fantastic right now. I’ll let you in on a little secret of mine (shhh, don’t tell anyone): the white pomegranates at K & J Orchards are worth getting to the farmers market early for–before they sell out. They are sweet and amazingly flavorful, but the seed is much more tender than in a red pomegranate. Plus they are a beautiful pink color, amazing in salads or on cereal. Their season is shorter than the red pomegranates, so get them while you can.

(Read: How To Clean A Pomegranate)

White Pomegranates

White Pomegranates

White Pomegranate Seeds

White Pomegranate Seeds

I have another not so well kept secret for you today as well. The pears at Frog Hollow Farm have, against all odds, reached new heights. I’ve been obsessed with their Warren pears for years, and they are just coming into season. But right now I cannot get enough of their Taylor Gold pears. These things are amazing! What’s a girl to do?

Taylor Gold Pears

Taylor Gold Pears

Warren Pears

Warren Pears

Today’s Purchases:

What are you eating?

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Farmers Market Update: Prepping for Asilomar

by | Sep 20, 2009
Hawaiian Apples

Hawaiian Apples

My goal at the farmers market today was to get everything I need to survive the next few days at the annual neuroscience department retreat at the Asilomar conference grounds in Monterey, CA. Last year they served us some of the most unspeakably disgusting food I’ve ever eaten in my life, and budget cuts forecast this year to be even worse.

Almost certainly I’ll be stuck eating fewer calories than usual, but I like to have a few of my own things to make sure I am at least somewhat nourished. For a complete rundown of what I’m bringing, watch the 3 minute video clip below.

How do you survive conferences and events that serve horrible food?

Since I also won’t be cooking dinners or making salads at work for the next few days, I didn’t buy my usual cornucopia of vegetables this week. But I certainly wanted to!

Peaches and Pomegranates

Peaches and Pomegranates

Pumpkins

Pumpkins

The seasons are changing before my eyes. Autumn fruits like pomegranates, pears, grapes and apples are downright abundant. You can also find pumpkins, carrots and beets, all wonderful for roasting in the fall. (Try this recipe for delicious roasted beets with mint and chevre).

I even found chestnuts at K & J Orchards!

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

Chestnuts

Chestnuts

I learned today that Brussels sprout season is early this year (it usually starts in October-November). I decided to buy some since I know they will keep well until I return on Tuesday. They are really small right now, which is how you want them for the best taste. I used to hate Brussels sprouts, but have since learned the error of my ways.

Roasting Pimentos

Roasting Pimentos

Peppers and Eggplants

Peppers and Eggplants

The good news for those of us who adore summer produce is that most of it is still spectacular. Tomatoes, peaches, plums, zucchini, melon, peppers (oh the peppers!), eggplant, figs, okra and green beans are what I’m going to focus on for the next few weeks while they are still around.

Paw Paw Ice Cream

Paw Paw Ice Cream

Oh, and if you’re a fan of paw paws, Langier Ranches made up some paw paw ice cream you can get for only $1!

Today’s purchases:

What did you find at the farmers market this week?

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Farmers Market Update (Irvine): Impressive Melons & Caption Contest

by | Sep 13, 2009
Impressive Melons

Impressive Melons

If you follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or Facebook you already know I’ve been down in Orange County the past few days and hit up the Irvine farmers market on Saturday. I’m always impressed by what I find in the OC, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for melons like these!

Huge Watermelons

Huge Watermelons

I also found some pretty spectacularly-sized daikon, or Japanese radish. Seriously, what do you guys put in your water?

Giant Diakon

Giant Diakon

I thought of about a hundred hilarious things to write under these photos, but I’d love to hear your suggestions. So let the games begin!

In the comments tell us your best caption idea for any of the 3 photos above. The funniest caption writer will be proudly dubbed the Summer Tomato commentor of the week. (note: innuendos welcome, but kindly refrain from NSFW language).

Asian Pears

Asian Pears

Emerald Beaut Pluots

Emerald Beaut Pluots

Since I am heading back to SF on Sunday, I didn’t buy much this trip. However I did grab a few of these emerald beaut pluots and Asian pears to share with friends and family.

I learned that the emerald beaut season is ending here in the OC, which is interesting since I mentioned last week it is just beginning in SF. In my experience, emerald beauts are the last available pluots at the end of the summer.

Jujubes (Chinese dates) are plentiful now here in Irvine. It is also a great time to get peppers, eggplant and assorted Asian greens and vegetables.

Jalepenos

Jalepenos

Jujubes

Jujubes

Yuchoy

Yuchoy

Chinese Eggplant & Melon

Chinese Eggplant & Melon

Chinese Long Beans

Chinese Long Beans

Don’t forget to tell us what you found at the farmers market this week!

Please visit Food Renegade for more great Fight Back Friday articles about local and sustainable food.

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Farmers Market Update: San Francisco’s Finest

by | Aug 16, 2009
Perfect Squash Blossoms

Perfect Squash Blossoms

Today I am going to let my pictures do most of the speaking for me. In case you haven’t noticed, we are in the height of summer and in my opinion this is about as good as the farmers market gets.

At times like these I wonder why anyone bothers to eat unhealthy.

The squash blossoms from Star Route Farms were absolutely breathtaking–little treasures just waiting to be taken home, stuffed with herbs and goat cheese and deep fried. If I had more time this weekend these would have definitely been on my shopping list.

Mango Plums

Mango Plums

Summer Fire Nectarines

Summer Fire Nectarines

Peaches and nectarines are peaking, firm but still sweet and juicy.

Flavor king pluots are the rage at many of the fruit stands, but do not over look the flavor queens, flavor hearts, flavor grenades or any other part of the “flavor monarchy,” as I call it.

The mango plums at Catalán Family Farms were particularly impressive Saturday morning.

Mission Figs

Mission Figs

Flame and Thompson Grapes

Flame and Thompson Grapes

I’m tempted by strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes and currants at every turn.

This time of year I am always sure that each week I try a new variety of melon. Today I bought an ambrosia melon from The Peach Farm–Ed was nice enough to pick me out the best one. A single sniff of the rind and I new I was bringing home something special.

Broccoli and Cauliflower

Broccoli and Cauliflower

Cranberry Beans

Cranberry Beans

Not surprisingly, the second best smelling things in my market bag were my peppers from Happy Quail Farms. This time I am trying the hot banana pepper!

Yes, you read that right. Jealous?

Oh, and have you tried the summer tomatoes? I can’t decide which I like more: the early girls, the cherry tomatoes or the big fat heirlooms? I usually end up buying all of them.

Tomatoes and Figs

Tomatoes and Figs

Hot Banana Peppers

Hot Banana Peppers

I hope you are all having as much fun right now as I am!

Today’s purchases:

What did you get at the market?

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Farmers Market Update: No Fridge

by | Jul 26, 2009
Corn

Corn

After two weeks of miserable cold and fog the sun finally came out today in San Francisco and the crowds found their way to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. It was a blast!

I faced a unique challenge while shopping this weekend. A few days ago my refrigerator died and to my dismay we cannot get anyone out to fix it until Monday. *Gasp!* That meant no greens, berries, eggs, or a bunch of other goodies I had been looking forward too. I was panicked at first, but once I started shopping I realized I would continue to eat like a queen this week as usual.

What can sit happily on the counter for a few days? Summer tomatoes, of course!!

Jalepenos

Jalepenos

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

But the fun doesn’t stop there. I also loaded up on peppers of all shapes and colors, sweet corn, eggplant, summer squash, carrots, potatoes, onions and more stone fruit than I’m comfortable admitting to.

Yep. Life goes on, even without a refrigerator.

I also spent some time today with the nice folks over at Bella Viva Orchards. We talked awhile about all the wonderful summer produce and discussed a number of ways to enjoy peaches, one of my favorite stone fruits. Delicious! I will post a link to the interview when it goes out in their newsletter in a couple weeks.

Radicchio

Radicchio

New Potatoes

New Potatoes

On that note, the best finds at the market right now are peaches and nectarines, pluots, melons, squash, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, greens, corn, onions, berries (there was a berry tasting event today too) and fresh beans. I was surprised today to see that grapes are also starting to appear, sweet and crisp.

Oh, and the cherry tomatoes I got are da bomb. You should get some.

What are your favorite scores from the farmers market this weekend?

Today’s goodies:

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