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Gateway Vegetables: What’s your story?

by | Jun 22, 2011

Photo by aechempati

There was a tremendous response to Monday’s guest post by Cheryl-Ann Roberge about how a fateful afternoon and some grilled veggies changed her life forever. Several of you reached out on Facebook/Twitter and mentioned you had your own gateway veggie stories.

Mine was eggplant. Once I realized eggplant didn’t have to be a slimy pile of mush, I figured there was hope for any vegetable. Since then I’ve learned to love all my childhood nemeses including beets, lima beans and brussels sprouts.

Every story like this is inspirational, and I’d love to hear yours. Please tell the story of your gateway vegetable in the comments below, and throughout the day I’ll update this post with my favorites.

What is your gateway vegetable?

“My gateway veggie was most definitely broccoli. Not because I never liked broccoli before (because I did, sort of), but because the first day I tried roasting it to a slight char with some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper my eyes widened and my tastebuds exploded and my life has never been the same. That day, I ate two entire heads of roasted broccoli in one sitting, shoveling it into my mouth like I would french fries. Now I want to grill or roast any and every type of vegetable and they turn out delicious every time.” ~Kaylan

“I grew up with parents who HATE any veggie other than corn and green beans, so I always thought I hated them too. My last year of college I spent Thanksgiving with my favorite professor’s family (it was too expensive to fly home for the weekend) and to be polite, I took some of the asparagus dish he spent all morning making–and it was amazing! I think I ate half of the dish by the time dinner was over, and I’ve never turned down a new vegetable dish since.” ~Keisha

“I am horrified to admit mine involved the salad at Olive Garden. UGH!   Wow that was a long time ago (I think its been over 10 years since I have even BEEN one of those), but prior to that salad dressing my veggies of choice were corn and carrots.
Then after making the move to ovo-lacto vegetarian, a number of years later, I love trying new fruits and veggies.  Just this last weekend I had a Lychee for the first time.” ~IPBrian
“Growing up, my only experience with leafy greens was the frozen brick of spinach my mother would defrost in the sink, causing the paper packaging to warp and weaken. Thank goodness for my brother Francis who taught me about fresh spinach. I can recall my first taste of freshly sauteed spinach; the richness of the olive oil, the familiarity of the chopped garlic, the epiphany of shallot, the salt and pepper marrying everything together in a savory balance. This basic preparation has become a staple in my diet while inspiring me to approach any and all vegetables with an open mind. Simplicity and quality can take you far.” ~Maggie via Facebook
“Hibachi onions assembled to be a smoking volcano- as if the grilled butter wasn’t enough, I learned to have fun with my food!” ~@CarlyChamber via Twitter
“I still remember the dish: a roasted asparagus and red pepper salad at a fancy Italian restaurant 11 years ago. I was a poor college student, treated to an incredible meal while on spring break with my aunt and uncle. I never knew veggies could be so delicious. My college roommates teased me about how much I talked about that asparagus.” ~Christina

“Mine was Butternut Squash! It was at the start of the period when I became obsessed with being healthy (but also determined to still have fun ie. continue bar hopping at the weekend, but eat broccoli during the week). Anyways I got this health magazine and it said squash and sweet potatoes were rich in beta carotenes, which protect against skin cancer. So I was like ‘awesome – if eat this weird thing lots, I can sunbathe without guilt – get skinny and have a tan’. Oh to be 24 again! Obviously I dont think like that anymore (most of the time…) but I did fall in love with roasted butternut squash, baked in the oven and topped tomatoes, red onion and toasted almonds or raw cream cheese. SO GOOD. I even busted my husband having some the other week for dinner, when he thought I was staying out.

I also love roasted brussels sprouts so much that once I snuck them into the cinema in tupperware and nearly got divorced as a result…” ~Emmy

“Although I did not, therefore, have a “gateway” vegetable, I was obsessed with spinach as a child. I once had to go home sick from school when I ate 9 or 10 servings of it at lunch — spinach was the only food that other kids would give away without asking for anything in return, and I loved it…..” ~Ranier Wolfcastle

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What Prevents You From Shopping At The Farmers Market? [poll]

by | Jun 7, 2010
spring vegetables


“I’m amazed how many Californians don’t seem to realize that not everyone lives in an area of bountiful Farmers’ Markets.”

One of the most common complaints I get from readers is that they don’t have access to the same kind produce and farmers markets as I have here in San Francisco. Truth is, few places in the world have farmland like California and this is a legitimate gripe.

Luckily the number of farmers markets in the US has been on a steady increase over the last decade.

But I have a hunch there are other things keeping you from shopping at the farmers market each week and I’d love to know what you think.

Is it time? Money? Politics? Priorities? Or am I way off the mark?

Vote below and I’ll discuss the results in the coming weeks. If you choose “other” please give your reason in the comments so I have something to work with.

[poll id=”7″]

Thanks team!

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How Slow Food Are You?

by | May 10, 2010

Photo by *すぃか*

Do you ever wonder if your obsession with local, seasonal foods makes you a conscientious consumer or just a starry-eyed elitist?

A friend and fellow Slow Food member came up with a quick quiz to help you tell the difference.

Malice Waters lives and writes in San Francisco.

How Slow Food are you? A quiz.

By Malice Waters

The foods in my kitchen come from within:

1) 7,000 miles

2) 1,500 miles

3) 150 miles

4) 50 miles

Bottled water is:

1) A Necessity

2) An Option

3) A Triumph of Fearmongering Marketers

4) An Evil Plot by Monsanto

If I had to choose between local and organic, I would:

1) Choose Local

2) Choose Organic

3) Go Hungry

4) Reserve a table at Quince

At the farmers’ market, I fill my Prius beyond capacity. Which of these purchases do I jettison?

1) Farmstead Goat Cheese

2) Artisan Salumi

3) Fiddlehead Ferns

4) None. I hail a hybrid cab and load it up.

John Mackey of Whole Foods is:

1) A Friend to Small Farmers

2) A Savvy Businessman

3) A Greenwasher

4) All of the Above

A new cabinet-level agriculture post should go to:

1) Sarah Palin

2) Mario Batali

3) Michael Pollan

4) Marion Nestle

A “Bourbon Red” is:

1) An Energy Drink

2) A New Cocktail

3) A Heritage Turkey

4) An Organic Zinfandel

A “locavore” is:

1) A Type of Rodent

2) A Myopic Elitist

3) A Burrowing Insect

4) A Person Who Favors Locally Produced Foods

“Biodynamic” is:

1) A Biotech Startup

2) Marketing Hooey

3) An Evil Plot by Cargill

4) Cosmic Agriculture

“CSA” stands for:

1) Can’t Stand Asparagus

2) Caring, Sturdy Aardvark

3) Community-Supported Agriculture

4) Carrot Succulence Always

I throw a potluck party and a friend brings fajitas made with feedlot beef. My response is:

1) Say “thank you” and enjoy the fajitas.

2) Say “thank you” and then forget to serve the fajitas.

3) Say “thank you” but resolve to drop said friend.

4) Call PETA.

An $80 dollar-a-plate al fresco dinner at a local farm sounds:

1) Dubious

2) Great, if the Farmer Gets the Proceeds

3) Like an Evil Plot by Archer Daniels Midland

4) Like My Wedding Reception

Tally your score

12–20: See you at Wal-Mart.

21–26: Read Fast Food Nation and then try again.

27–35: Read Food Rules and then try again.

36 and up: Congratulations. You may now join Slow Food.

How Slow Food are you?

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For The Love of Food

by | Jan 15, 2010
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

In case you missed it, check out the interview I did with the Irish Times about the ineffectiveness of traditional weight loss diets. It turned out to be the most popular article on their site the day it came out.

Also be sure to read Michael Ruhlman’s beautiful piece about cooking in American culture. Unfortunately though, Ruhlman’s insight is overshadowed this week by the myopic and painfully unenlightened BS article of the week in The Atlantic about the supposed evils of Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program. I’d love to know your thoughts on both.

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 complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: If you want a follow back on Twitter introduce yourself with an @ message).

Links of the Week

  • Bin diets – get slim for less <<I was interviewed by Conor Pope of the Irish Times about avoiding diets and getting healthy. Conor has a fantastic perspective on health and fitness, pop over there and let me know what you think. (Irish Times)
  • America: Too Stupid To Cook <<This is a brilliant piece by Michael Ruhlman. Why is it so many of us dismiss cooking as being too hard or too much effort? Maybe it is because that’s what we’ve been raised to believe. (Michael Ruhlman)
  • Protection of Food Supply Faces Problems <<Did you know that 25% of Americans get food poisoning each year while only 1% of French do? Our industrial food supply is the likely culprit. (CBS)
  • Counting of Calories Isn’t Always Accurate <<Another reason to stop counting calories–labels are wrong. Just eat real, healthy food without labels on it and news like this won’t bother you. (New York Times)
  • Cultivating Failure <<BS of the week. This very controversial article is one of the most irresponsible pieces of journalism I’ve ever had the displeasure to read. The Atlantic FAIL.
  • 7 Exercise and Fitness Beliefs You Need to Overcome <<Don’t like exercise? Time to get over it. Stick with a fitness routine a little while and I bet you’ll change your mind. (Dumb Little Man)
  • Does your diet require a Ph.D.? <<Turns out the simplest diets are the most effective. As someone who has finished the better part of a PhD, I promise you don’t need formal training to eat healthy. (Booster Shots)
  • Genetic causes of obesity: 1%? <<To me it always feels silly to talk about the genetic causes of obesity, since obviously the problem is relatively new and started around the time we embraced the low fat (high sugar) lifestyle. But it is always good to examine the data supporting any hypothesis. (Food Politics)
  • Roasted Beet Salad with Tahini Yuzu Kosho Dressing <<I’m embracing root vegetables for the rest of the month, and this recipe for roasted beets with tahini dressing has inspired me to grab some beets this weekend at the farmers market. (Chez Us)
  • Should You Eat or Drink Your Fruits and Veggies? An Experiment. <<I often get asked about juice and people are sometimes surprised by my answer. I’m not a big fan, and generally treat juice as a special occasion food. This post by my friend Travis Saunders will help explain why. (Obesity Panacea)

What inspired you this week?

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What’s Worse: Pests or Pesticides? [Poll]

by | Dec 2, 2009
Photo by star5112

Photo by star5112

It’s never fun to find an unwelcome critter in your food, but if you spend much time shopping at farmers markets or buying organic produce it is something you need to get used to. Without pesticides, sometimes there are pests.

But… usually not.

Before you get too grossed out and dash to your kitchen to throw away your organic apples, I want to make it clear that the vast majority of the food I buy (~90% purchased direct from farms) is perfectly clean and insect free. But unlike sprayed and irradiated conventional produce, occasionally there will be a bug. And sometimes there will be many bugs.

But as scary as this can be the first time it happens, bugs really aren’t so bad. Most critters can be easily rinsed off under the sink. Some of the smaller, more persistent little buggers can be coaxed out with a short bath in water spiked with a splash of vinegar.

Herbivorous insects pose no real threat to humans beyond mild annoyance. Yes, they can add an unpleasant crunch to your food if you don’t find them in time, but generally they contribute no flavor and–as many of my Twitter followers pointed out–they may add a little protein to your diet.



I somehow doubt that insects really provide a significant protein source, though I’ve heard they can contribute substantial vitamin B12 for vegetarians who ingest them accidentally in rural societies (couldn’t find a credible reference). But the point is that whatever insects do add to your diet probably doesn’t impact your health in a negative way.

That is, if you even notice them. Chances are you have never actually tasted an unwanted creature in your food (I know I haven’t), but they are probably there sometimes and you’ve probably eaten them.

Let’s be honest, the problem with finding bugs in your food isn’t how they taste. The real obstacle is our perception of bugs. In our society bugs are considered gross, so we don’t want to eat anything they have touched.


But not all cultures consider bug eating repulsive (see photo). And after you’ve dealt with a few insects yourself, eaten your food anyway and come out unscathed, you realize there isn’t really anything to worry about.


Only once have I encountered a situation where a vegetable was infested beyond salvation. These were some baby cabbage I had left for too long in the fridge. Over the course of a week the insects multiplied and completely took over. It wasn’t pretty.

But instances like these are rare and, in my case, it was self-inflicted.

True insectophobes, however, will not be comforted by this argument. I am entirely sympathetic to this viewpoint–at one time in my life I used to joke that I was afraid of butterflies (OK, live ones still creep me out when they get too close).

But what scares me even more than eating bugs is the alternative.


We don’t yet know the extent of the damage done to our health by pesticides, but the history (dioxins, malathion, etc.) hasn’t been encouraging. The environment we live in is also significantly impacted by pesticide use.

Even if cancer and polluted lakes are a bit too abstract for you, there is still the bland, one-dimensional flavor of food produced on factory farms to consider. Taste is what really won me over when I first changed my eating habits.

I don’t mean to imply that it is never okay to eat conventional produce, just that there are serious issues to consider regarding where your food comes from.

Pests and pesticides can both be a little scary (I forgot to mention the live wasp that once crawled out of my spinach), but at this point it seems we do have to choose one or the other.

Which scares you the most? Vote now!

[poll id=”6″]

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Hungry to Know: What cuisine could you eat for the rest of your life? (poll)

by | Aug 26, 2009
Making Sushi

Making Sushi

After a fantastic food-filled weekend, I woke up Monday morning with mountains of amazing leftovers.

I therefore did what any self-respecting grad student would do: I ate leftover Romano (Italian) food for breakfast, tupperware Moroccan soup for lunch and a hodge-podge of Greek spreads for dinner.

Each dish was distinct, yet all were Mediterranean. And they were delicious, even days later. That got me thinking:

If I had to choose only one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life would it be Mediterranean?

Definitely, I concluded. (Though I was admittedly cheating by lumping together Italian, Greek and North African).

Problem is, just 2 weeks ago I had decided 100% for sure that Southeast Asian foods–specifically Thai and Vietnamese–would be the best choice for a lifetime of dining. There was also a time in college when Japanese cuisine was the unequivocal champion. And strange as it sounds, when I lived in Italy all I could dream of was Mexican food.

Keep in mind, I am not talking about my favorite food. Favorite is a term I associate with a single meal or dish. And it almost exclusively considers flavors and taste, with a slant toward indulgence.

Instead, choosing a single regional cuisine for the rest of your life requires careful balance of taste, variety and health.

I did this as a thought experiment, and my conclusions (which seem to change quarterly) reflect my own personal tastes. To get a better idea of how others might deal with this question I asked my Twitter followers.


I got a flood of responses ranging from brilliant to hilarious. Here are some of my favorites:


Interestingly, some people clearly chose health over all else:



Some picked taste:



Others found conflict between health and taste:



Variety was also a big factor for many people, while others seemed to be influenced by the cuisine they grew up on:



Some people asked if “American” counted and I think it certainly does, though only when American originality is clear as in the unique dishes created in the South.

For me a harder question is whether or not “California cuisine” counts. I decided it does not, but would love your opinion. The way I see it food in California is defined by fresh, seasonal ingredients and brilliant cutting-edge chefs–things that cannot be exported easily. I might give California credit for the burrito, but that hardly represents an entire cuisine.

Now tell me what you think.

What cuisine would you choose if you had to eat it for the rest of your life? Please tell us your answer in the poll then expand on your reasoning in the comments.

Would health be a factor? Variety? Taste? Tradition? How does your choice fit your healthstyle and what other ethnic cuisines would you consider?

To make it a little easier, I’m going to unfairly lump vast regions under single blanket terms such as Latin or Southeast Asian. This is not meant to stereotype but to help make a single choice more diverse and appealing. Trust me, I feel awful about the amazing cuisines getting lumped into “Other.” If yours is there please elaborate on your choice in the comments.

On a final note, the most common complaint I got when running this experiment was the difficulty of making a choice.

Needless to say, I completely agree.


[poll id=”5″]

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Organic vs. Conventional Produce Smack Down! (Poll)

by | Aug 3, 2009
Rosa Bianca Eggplant

Organic Vegetables

There has been a lot of back and forth trash talking between fans of organic and fans of conventional produce ever since a new review study by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) reported no nutritional superiority for organics. Let’s take a look at some of the opposing arguments and have a vote.

Since the publication of the review last week I have been collecting the opinions of various experts around the internet.

A few fabulous articles are worth noting:

Key criticisms of the FSA report:

  1. The nutrient analysis is questionable and incomplete.
  2. Findings contradict conclusions of other scientists.
  3. Report does not account for the presence of toxins and contaminants.
  4. Conflicts of interest may exist among the investigators of the report and agribusiness.

So what do you think?

Do you believe the review? Think it’s a flawed piece of industry propaganda? Still undecided? How will this study affect your buying habits?

Do you even think about these things before making food purchases?

Vote in the poll and leave additional thoughts in the comments.

[poll id=”4″]

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Poll: World’s Greatest Hot Sauce!

by | Jul 3, 2009
by Photo David

by Photo David

Over on Facebook this week an argument broke out over which hot sauce is the best. We all had our opinions, but in the spirit of American democracy we decided to put the question to popular vote.

Help us settle this once and for all by telling us your favorite bottled hot sauce. If your answer isn’t on the list, please mark “other” and tell us your choice in the comments. For simplicity I saved the voting slots for the most popular brands.

If you are not sure which is your favorite, try running a side-by-side taste trial and let us know how it goes. I’ll keep this poll open, so you can recruit your friends to support your pick when everyone gets back from the long weekend.

Have a fantastic holiday!

[poll id=”3″]

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