Archive for the ‘fruit’ Category

Grow Your Own Row

December 2, 2009

Meet my friends Leigh Raiford and Michael Cohen, typical nomadic academics who put down roots in Berkeley six years ago with their children Maya and Maceo. (Maya is in the same class as my son.)

These two transplants passed on their recipe for roasted kale and inspired me to start my own little backyard raised veg bed last summer.

I bet their story will get you excited about planting your own food too, whether or not you’re a budding urban farmer or suburban gardener.

What, a post on growing a row in December? Hey, we live in the balmy Bay Area. We pulled up the last of the tomato plants on Saturday, went to the beach on Sunday (glorious day, no fog, I swear), and picked up sweet strawberries from the farmers’ market today.

We’ve had a typically warm fall, but no need for folks in other parts of the country to turn green with envy; the relentless sunshine (honestly, it can be exhausting ensuring you enjoy the good weather all the time) will likely end soon. Indeed, rain is expected this weekend and that stuff makes us Left Coasters go running for cover.

Regardless, whether you’re keen to put in a winter crop or live somewhere where seed catalogs are the only thing sprouting until spring, these folks have learned a thing or two about growing their own grub and they’re willing to share the wealth.

When the Raiford-Cohen clan first moved out West they rented a home in North Berkeley with a massive backyard garden that was chock full of every kind of produce under the sun. “It wasn’t a vegetable garden, ” says Leigh, who grew up in Harlem, and had never seen the likes of figs, tomatillos, or white raspberries before. “It was a farm.”

The couple had dabbled in gardening at previous university pit stops around the country but once they landed in California they decided to get serious about growing greens.

When they bought a home of their own two years ago in sunny South Berkeley, a large concrete area out back begged to be torn up and turned into an edible oasis. So that’s just what they did. Michael dug out concrete, put up fences, and amended soil.  They solicited the help of professional gardening friend Andrea Hurd, who was keen to design a permaculture food forest but hadn’t yet convinced any clients to let her loose in their backyard. Leigh and Michael had no such reservations.

The result? More of an overgrown playground filled with edible finds and less of a traditional vegetable patch of tidy rows. Just my kind of food garden: A recent tour reveals enough pumpkins to carve for Halloween and plenty left over to make soup at Thanksgiving. We pick the last of the green zebra tomatoes; the kids promptly devour them. Snipped sprigs of lemon verbena will find their way into simple syrup for cocktail hour. We spot the first of the purple grapes, enthusiastically sampled.

Last summer the family harvested vegetables from their plot for every meal; fresh fruits for breakfast and veggies for lunch and dinner. Michael makes batches of tomato sauce that he freezes to preserve the surplus summer crop for the winter months, in a nod to urban homesteading. Leigh, who considers herself the primary harvester to Michael’s farmer, says her kids chow down on kale, collards, okra, and other homegrown veggies. (She’s also the family food photographer; the garden harvest images in this post are her own.)

Their advice for budding food gardeners:

Grow what you like to eat. The family tried to grow broccoli without much success; since Leigh’s not a huge fan of this cruciferous veggie, they moved on to other greens.

Stagger plantings & choose different tree types so everything doesn’t ripen at once. They chose two apple varieties that are ready to pick at either end of the season.

Pick up tips on companion planting. For instance, plant thyme next to cabbage, nasturtiums near pumpkins, or marigolds and basil by tomatoes to protect crops from pests.

Plant varieties you can’t easily (and more cheaply) find at the farmers’ market or grocery store. The couple skipped common apple choices like fuji and granny smith in favor of sierra beauty and carolina red june trees of antiquity. Check seed catalogs for heirloom varieties. The Lemon Lady provides a list of free seed catalogs.

Look for resources in your community. Here’s just a sampling of what’s on offer locally: Berkeley residents can pick up free compost courtesy of the city on the last Friday of every month from February-October, buy soil and soil amendments at American Soil, and get advice, plants, and seedlings at the Spiral Gardens Community Food Security Project. San Francisco dwellers can learn about growing food in classes and demos at Garden for the Environment. Low-income residents in West Oakland can get help tending their own backyard vegetable plot by contacting City Slicker Farms. And folks can also sign up for the uber-popular classes in gardening, beekeeping and more at the Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland or BioFuel Oasis in Berkeley.

Don’t have anywhere to plant where you live? Click here to read about how one Oakland gardener traded labor for land and fed two families in the process. Find other ways to outsource establishing your own food plot in the East Bay in this recent Diablo magazine story. And if you’re already growing your own, find tips to get more food from your garden this winter or next spring in this Oregonian article.

I learned this summer just how satisfying it is to go out the back door and pick your dinner (or at least some of it). So I’m thinking it’s time to get some dinosaur kale (natch), collards, and fava beans in the ground.

How about you?

Food photos: Leigh Raiford

Family photo: Sarah Henry

My Persimmon Problem

October 27, 2009

Photo by Flickr user mbgrigby used under the Creative Commons license.

So it’s orientation time for the sixth graders, a sweet and chatty bunch, at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, where I volunteer each week.

Last Friday, head kitchen teacher Esther Cook (yes, Ms. Cook is her real name) began by engaging the students in a food memory exercise.  As we mingled around the tables the talk turned to unusual fruits or vegetables we’ve tasted and one of the girls mentioned persimmons.

I resisted the urge to make a face. The very same day The Lemon Lady suggested a post on this seasonal fruit and I laughed to myself because, dear readers, I have a little persimmon problem.

Perhaps one of the biggest produce pushers on the planet, I don’t much care for this prolific fall fruit. In my kitchen, right near the beloved Wedgewood, hangs this gorgeous image of persimmons by my talented friend, artist Emily Payne.  I adore the print, and yet if I had to pick a fruit to munch on, persimmons would never make it on the list. Until now.

Esther joked that maybe I’d never eaten a persimmon at “just the right minute.” So, with that in mind, I decided it was time to get over my persimmon phobia.  I welcome all and any assistance in this matter. I suspect my first mistake is not eating this fruit at, well, just the right minute.

First, some research. Here’s what I learned:

Known to ancient Greeks as the fruit of the gods, two varieties of persimmons are commonly available in the U.S. Hachiya, originally from China, are bright orange globes that taste awfully astringent when not fully ripe, due to the high levels of tannin in the fruit.

They absolutely need to be soft and squishy before you even think about biting into one or you’ll pucker up and the bitterness could put you off persimmons for life. Trust me on this one.

A ripe Hachiya should feel a little like a water balloon, I’m told. Use the fruit within a few days, at most, of prime ripeness or the pulp will get too mushy. Okay, so this is a high maintenance kind of fruit; vigilance is called for. Got that?

(Conversely, if you want to speed up the ripening process, put a persimmon in a bag with an apple or banana. Or freeze for 24 hours and then use as you would a perfectly ripe persimmon.) When properly ripe, persimmon has been described as apricot-like, plum, or even pumpkin-esque in taste. The sweet pulp from ripe Hachiya persimmons is best used as a puree in cookies, cakes, and puddings.

The other kind of common persimmon Fuyu, are squatter, more tomato-like in appearance and a duller orange in color. This variety is supposed to be eaten when firm and crunchy, much like an apple, peeling and slicing recommended, but optional. First grown in Japan, Fuyu work well in salads, where they add crispness to the mix.  Both kinds are a good source of vitamins A & C and loaded with fiber.

During a quick spin around my friendly neighborhood farmers’ market I find the folks at Blossom Bluff Orchards, who seem super persimmon savvy. I especially appreciate the warning sign in front of the bins of Hachiyas. With the vendor’s help, I select a large, firm, blemish-free Hachiya that should be ready to eat in a couple of weeks.  Stay tuned.

The two giant Fuyu persimmons I pick are good to go now, although a gaggle of shoppers agree that if they’re just a tad on the soft side you’re rewarded with a little more sweetness. I sampled some and while I’d still prefer an apple or pear I can appreciate how they’d add a nice crunch to a green salad. So one variety back on the will-eat list.

Since we’re coming up to peak persimmon time, here are some recipes that showcase persimmons by folks who know what to do with this fruit:

Persimmon Pudding Cake from Romney Steele’s new book My Nepenthe

Avocado, Citrus, Jicama Salad with Persimmon Dressing courtesy of Capay Valley, California organic growers Farm Fresh to You

James Beard’s Persimmon Bread, adapted by David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris

Steamed Persimmon Pudding with Silky Persimmon Puree by Deborah Madison, from Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets

Persimmon Cookies, from Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes

Salad of Frisee, Radicchio, Pears, Pomegranate and Persimmons, courtesy of Joanne Weir for The Food Network

Anyone out there care to weigh in on other ways to enjoy this produce?


The Lemon Lady: Feeding the Hungry, One Bag of Produce at a Time

October 22, 2009

The Lemon Lady needs a new nickname, methinks.

Anna Chan, 37, has outgrown the title, which doesn’t begin to describe the difference this anti-hunger activist has made in less than a year in her one-woman campaign to get fresh produce into the mouths of people in need in her community.

This stay-at-home mom from Clayton, in Contra Costa County, has (almost) single-handedly harvested, by her own estimates, 12,000 pounds of local produce from neighbors’ front yards. She’s also collected more than $60,000 surplus fruit and veg from local farmers’ markets, which she hauls in the back of her SUV to food pantries in her area. And she’s donated hundreds of seedlings and helped plant veggie gardens in her county in the hope that she can inspire others to grow their own row — and feed their families whole food.

In September I spent several hours watching Anna in action. We met at one of her many pet projects, a modest but thriving veggie patch in a low-income neighborhood of Concord. (Anna got involved with the garden after being approached by Kathy Gleason,  corporate donations coordinator for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, who sewed the seeds for this edible effort on her own time by getting to know the neigborhood and seeking out other volunteers.)

Out of one of the apartments popped a proud mom who gave me a spontaneous tour of the garden before Anna even pulled up. Begun with seedlings tended and donated by The Lemon Lady, the summer bounty included tomato, eggplant, pepper, and squash. When Anna arrived, the three of us chatted about the challenges of raising corn and the ease of growing Asian greens such as mizuna. We were just three moms, one Japanese, one American, one Australian, talking about the joys of making tomato sauce from scratch with homegrown produce to feed our hungry kids.

anna.chan.lemon.lady.2Before we left, Anna gave the grateful woman a seed catalog, with the promise of more seeds to come for a fall crop. Next stop: The lively Concord Farmers’ Market, where Anna distributes cardboard boxes and chats with vendors when they’re not serving customers. Farmers such as the pear purveyors from Alhambra Valley Farms and the Bautista Ranch veggie peddlers willingly pack up leftover produce for her to cart away at the end of the market to take to local food pantries, including the Salvation Army, SHARE Pantry, and Monument Crisis Center.

While the market was in full swing, I sat down with Anna to get a sense of what drives this former office manager to spend hundreds of hours volunteering for the greater good, one piece of produce at a time.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that a challenging childhood, made a little less rough by the kindness of strangers and community volunteers much like herself, serves as a constant reminder of the importance of giving back.  That’s not some pat charitable phrase for this petite and pretty woman; she knows what it’s like to encounter tough times and deal with health concerns. Now, blessed with a thriving toddler, a supportive dentist husband, and a happy home life, she wants to help others less fortunate than herself. Plus, the gal has a big heart, a passion for nutritious home cooking, and energy that doesn’t quit. (Typically she does a farmers’ market surplus run four days a week.)

Anna’s efforts add a public service spin on the au courant activity known as fruit foraging. She combines two old-fashioned concepts: gleaning and doing good, and in a time of great need (one local food pantry recently closed for a day; demand is so high it ran out of food) she simply cannot stand to see perfectly good produce go to waste.

Not surprisingly, those she comes in contact with sing her praises. “She’s a local gem,” says Jessie Neu, the director of the Contra Costa Certified Farmers’ Market. “She’s a life saver,” says one food-distribution volunteer from a local food bank. The California Garden Clubs recently honored Anna for her community service and her efforts to promote growing greens and getting fresh, nutritious food to hungry people.

And it all began way back in February, when this suburban mom was simply trying to find a way to soothe her colicky child to sleep. Anna resorted to driving her fussy, nap-fighting toddler, so Ava would drift off to the Land of Nod. (Oh, boy, do I remember those car rides from my own sleep-resistant son’s early days.)

As Anna tooled around her neighborhood she saw trees laden with luscious lemons ready to drop and rot. Where others saw potentially fallen fruit, Anna saw good food needing a way to get to the hungry.

So she worked up the courage to knock on strangers’ doors to ask homeowners if she could collect their excess fruit for local food pantries. And she left fliers letting her neighbors know that she’d noticed their bounty and wondered if they’d be willing to share their surplus by leaving a bag or two for food bank donations, or allow her to pick their extra produce. The response? Overwhelmingly positive. People have happily donated lemons, as well as oranges, apricots, plums, peaches, tomatoes, beans, and zucchini.

Anna’s on a mission to spread the word that many food banks gladly take fresh produce. “Many people don’t know where their local food pantry is located and don’t realize that food banks will gladly take fresh produce,” says Anna. A lot of people, she points out, incorrectly assume that only canned goods or government surplus food is acceptable in such places. Not so.  (Check out a revealing New York Times Magazine article for the back story on why food banks are now accepting more fruit and veg in the recent Food Issue.)

To learn more about The Lemon Lady, visit her blog, where she champions the work of food banks and farmers, shares the joy of growing food with her daughter, and encourages others to follow her example in their own communities.

Check out one of her favorite baking recipes: lemon bars, of course.

And if you have an idea for a more fitting moniker for this food advocate, please share it below.

Images courtesy of The Lemon Lady blog.

Simply Delicious

September 16, 2009

Dudley’s Rhythm & Motion dance class on Sunday. Yogurt, granola, and berries for breakfast — topped off with a fig, no less — from around the corner at the architecturally splendid Stable Cafe, once the site of the San Francisco mayor’s carriage house in the 1800s, now adding some sparkle to an otherwise scruffy stretch of Folsom Street.

It’s the simple pleasures — dancing with the same community of movers & shakers for more than two decades, sharing a healthy breakfast with a friend (Beth’s line of the day: “Don’t you just love it when you crave a food that’s good for you?”), and enjoying eating outside in some sunshine after stormy weather — that make life grand. Don’t you think?

Organic Food Fight

August 6, 2009

Mulling over whether it’s worth spending more on organic greens, nectarines, or milk? You’ve got company. The assumption that organic produce tastes better and is better for you than conventionally-produced fruit and vegetables is as bruised as an organic farmers’ market peach brought home on a bike.

fruit-vegetable-mosaicPhoto by Flickr user Auntie P used under the Creative Commons license.

Consider this: A major study out of Britain which garnered loads of press last week, concludes that there’s no evidence that organic produce and livestock products are more nutritious than conventionally-grown food. The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reviewed 50 years of scientific literature on the subject, and focused on 55 rigorous studies.

Of course, not everyone buys organic for its health benefits. Some choose organic for environmental, animal welfare, or farm worker concerns, all of which were outside the scope of the U.K. report. Many buy organic apples, berries, corn, or eggs because of what’s not in these foods: no chemical pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. No irradiation or fertilization with sewage sludge, and no genetically modified ingredients. “I buy organics because I want foods to be produced more naturally, more humanely, and more sustainably,” writes New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle in a recent Food Politics post, echoing the sentiment of others. “I see plenty of good reasons to buy organics.”

Nestle sites superior taste as another factor in forking out more for organic, and many consumers concur. There’s nothing like the juicy, flavorful first bite of a richly-red, ripe, organic, locally-grown, sun-warmed, freshly-picked tomato to make organic converts out of people used to mushy, bland, pale, cold-storage, conventionally-grown tomatoes flown in from afar to sit on supermarket shelves, right?

Wait, not everyone agrees. The notion that organic produce is always more delicious than conventional fruit & veggies has also been called into question of late.  Los Angeles Times food editor Russ Parsons, a self-dubbed, non-believer in organics, notes that the label doesn’t guarantee superior quality or taste.

He hit a nerve: His recent column received around 90 comments — the overwhelming majority in agreement with Parsons’ position.  The idea that if you aren’t eating fruits and vegetables that are organically grown, then you might as well be “mainlining Agent Orange or handing your money straight to some giant industrial agricultural corporation,” is inaccurate, writes Parsons. “Whether something is grown organically might be one of the factors you use when you’re considering what to buy, but it is by no means the only one,” he adds. “For me, seasonality, locality and — above all, flavor — trump it.”

Still, sales of organics have doubled since the federal government began certifying food as such about seven years ago (though it still represents a tiny percentage of overall food sales). Most U.S. grocery stores now stock some organic produce or products, and 1 out of 3 Americans have purchased organic food at least once.

What’s in the label, anyway? The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition is essentially a marketing term that has little to do with food safety or nutrition, says a spokesperson for the department in a recent New York Times piece by food writer Mark Bittman. The government’s designation also falls far short of the desires of many organic farmers and advocates, notes Bittman. Some small-scale sustainable farmers can’t afford to go through the government’s organic certification process, or don’t think the label is meaningful so don’t bother. And much of what is produced in America under the umbrella of organic food is part of large-scale food production practices.  (Check out the documentary Food, Inc. for more details.)

Given the bad economy, even people who are predisposed to buy organic are finding themselves on a tighter food budget and making choices on what organic produce to buy based on lists like the “Dirty Dozen”, from the Environmental Working Group. (Of course, the assumption that organic equals more expensive isn’t always true either. Just as it doesn’t necessarily mean “local.” )

Bittman argues in his recent post that the national debate on food should focus more on how to eat well — sticking to real ingredients, eating more plant-based food and less animal products and highly-processed foods, cooking from scratch (aka author Michael Pollan‘s thesis) — rather than whether or not you load up on organic versus conventional goods.

(Interesting aside: Judging by another recent research review, eating well is harder to do now than in the past.  A study published this year in HortScience revealed that the nutritional content of today’s conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables is 5 to 40 percent lower than produce picked 50 years ago in the U.S. and U.K. Perhaps another reason to grow your own?)

Despite the recent ballyhoo, farmers’ markets overflowing with organic food continue to draw crowds willing to pony up good money for the stuff. On a recent Sunday at one stand, the line for squash, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, and other summer bounty rivaled the wait to ride Disneyland’s Space Mountain. When this shopper got to the head of the queue she overheard one seller say to the other, “Have you ever seen anything like this?”

So, then, readers, where do you stand on the organic debate? Is buying organic produce worth it or a waste of money? Share your opinions below.

Five Fabulous Fruit Desserts

July 14, 2009

I’ve been waxing on a lot lately in this space about food films and food books. And I’ve been digging doing blogs about resourceful residents who grow and forage in the urban jungle.

But it’s time to talk about cooking again. The weather has turned positively balmy in Berkeley this week and we’re heading into the lazy days of summer (for some) so it seems a good time to reintroduce recipes into the rotation, don’t you think? Let’s start with dessert and dish about some of the great-tasting fruit in farmers’ markets right now.

My son got things kick started by suggesting we make a lemon blueberry bundt cake for a backyard barbie our neighbors threw last weekend. He was trying to cheer me up. I was hot (my little cottage is like a proverbial oven on steamy days, when the inside temps can hit close to 90 degrees), hormonal (i.e. cranky & crabby), and a herniated disc was giving me hell. (Taking a poll: Should I try a steroid shot for a bad back that’s been nothing but grief for 6 months now? Opinions? Experience? Horror stories? Do tell.)

I was also covered in flea bites from a trip to a public pool. (Word to the wise: When swimming at an unfamiliar spot dry off on the concrete and avoid the green stuff, no matter how inviting it may look. Scratch. scratch. Word to local readers: Stay off the grass at Temescal Pool.) What better way to beat the blues than to bake a cake with your sweet son who does not, thank you very much, want to go to the beach, the samurai exhibit, or the pool?

Gabe sourced the blueberries from Lance & Nancy’s bushes next door and plucked a couple of Meyer lemons off our tree and away we went. My son thinks a bundt tin is a cool contraption and loves watching what happens when you pour buttermilk into the mix. He was chuffed with the end result — remember, I’m a card-carrying member of the baking-challenged brigade. The cake was a hit at the party and the leftovers got scoffed up the following day by Gabe, his buddy Griffin, and sister Nora, who were ravenous after running around at soccer camp all day. A soccer camp, mind you, that serves mostly organic, healthy lunches and snacks. How fantastic is that???

We’re also a bit partial to a fruit crumble, crisp, or cobbler in my house — my standby recipes for crisp or cobbler come from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. We use whatever fruit combo we happen to have on hand. Nectarines and blueberries are swell together, as in this Blueberry and Nectarine Cobbler from Nicole at Baking Bites. Or try this Nectarine and Peach Cobbler from Elise at Simply Recipes. Or this Plum and Peach Crisp from 101 Cookbooks, which goes easy on both the sugar and butter and includes yogurt to keep things moist.

My friend Marge, channeling her inner Martha, excelled last week at a scrumptious crumble with strawberries, rhubarb, orange rind and juice, sliced almonds, and oats, among other ingredients. Maybe if we beg her she’ll post the recipe here. We ate at her place while we played the board game Apples to Apples. But alas, no camera in tow to record this delectable dessert — the kind that almost gets eaten in one sitting but there’s just enough left over for brekkie — in bed! — the next day. Play hard. Eat well. Don’t forget the cream.

Here’s my list to get you jazzed about whipping up something fruitful some time this summer. And do share the wealth, fellow fruit lovers. I wanna know: What’s on your dessert menu?

The List

1. Glazed Lemon-Blueberry Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

Recipe from Cooking Light. Garnish with fresh blueberries and ribbons of lemon rind. Especially appealing for afternoon tea with a cuppa.

2. Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen or try this version Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble from Eating Well. Either way, serve with lashings of cream laced with vanilla essence.

Recipe from Margaret to come (no pressure my friend;).

3. Pavlova with Berries, Kiwis, and Passionfruit

The pav recipe I routinely turn to is in Sydney Food by Bill Granger. My sister, Amanda, and sister-in-law, Alice, also make to-die-for versions. But between them, Mand and Ali have seven kids, demanding jobs/lives, and they’re not too sure about this blogging business so you’ll just have to take my son’s word for it: Their pavlovas rock. Regardless of whether this dish actually harkens from Australia or New Zealand it’s a Down Under delight. The version here, from Stephanie at Joy of Baking, looks pretty darn delish. Plus the girl has created a chocolate pavlova. Oh my!

4. Baked Peaches

What could be simpler or more scrumptious than a baked peach? My sis-in-law, the aforementioned Alice, dots the top of each peach half with butter and brown sugar. In the version here, Jamie Oliver stuffs ’em with raspberries.  Works wonderfully with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce, also found in Sydney Food. Apartment Therapy’s the kitchn offers a grilled version, topped with bourbon vanilla whipped cream, for you outside cooks.

5. Lemon Sorbet

Refreshing. Easy. Fast. Say no more — other than you do need an ice-cream maker. This version comes from Tori at Tuesday Recipe.

Food Foraging 101

July 8, 2009

The votes are in and the Bay Area’s favorite food forager is Asiya Wadud, the Chez Panisse bartender and urban fruit gatherer.

For the last 18 months or so Wadud could be found pedaling around South Berkeley and North Oakland scooping up fallen or really ripe fruit, such as hachiya persimmons, Santa Rosa plums, Meyer lemons, and Persian mulberries, and passing on this excess backyard bounty to hungry souls who put it to delicious good use.

(Wadud’s out of town this summer and fall but says a team of food foragers who will tend to members’ trees will be announced shortly, according to her blog Forage Oakland.)

I first learned about Wadud’s fruit-bartering-via-bicycle project in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year. Since then she’s been featured in the New York Times and her photogenic self graces the cover of this month’s San Francisco magazine. Last week a New York Times Magazine story on urban homesteading included Wadud at the table of a local-grown feast. Clearly, her fresh idea has captured the mainstream media’s — and the produce-loving public’s —  attention.

Wadud’s rules for her volunteer program are simple: There’s no picking before permission is given. Ripe fruit is a terrible thing to let rot. Sharing the wealth with your neighbors creates good feelings and good food. She began with cold calls, knocking gingerly on strangers’ doors and asking politely for samples; she now boasts some 200 members.

Similar free, urban foraging programs abound in the Bay Area. Saddled with excess beans or blackberries this summer? Looking to trade some lavender for lemons? Check out People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), North Berkeley Harvest, San Jose’s Village Harvest and  Marin Open Garden Project. In L.A., Fallen Fruit is a resource for off-loading extra produce.

Programs that connect homeowners overwhelmed with fruit with volunteers willing to pick produce and take it to local food banks can be found in cities such as Portland, Ore., Philadelphia, and Boston. And websites like neighborhoodfruit.com and veggietrader.com help folks find willing homes for, say, a surplus of Meyer lemons or an abundance of dinosaur kale.

Future foraging posts will look at programs that offer folks freshly foraged local food for a fee.

In the meantime, since it’s peak produce time in most parts of the country, you’re encouraged to leave a shout out for your favorite, local, free foraging outfit below.

Oh, and while I think of it: Does anyone want the load of loquats that make a huge mess once they fall from the tree out front and strip the paint off my car? I’ve thought of them as a nuisance, squirrel fodder at best, but Wadud writes that this unfamiliar fruit makes some mighty fine chutney, jelly, or jam. Happy harvesting.

Cover image courtesy San Francisco Magazine. Photo: Sara Remington

Avoiding a Sugar Overload at Snack Time

June 1, 2009

We’ve all done it, yelled: “Grab a bar & a bottle” as we bolt out the door. It’s tricky figuring out a healthy, on-the-go snack for our kids in a hurry.

So it was my turn on the Saturday sport snack schedule a week ago. I’ve pretty much figured out the food end of it. Cut fruit, whole-wheat crackers, and chunks of cheese usually does the job. But I’m challenged in the beverage department.

Have you studied a drink bottle label recently? Here’s a handy hint on label reading: Listing sugar in grams doesn’t mean much to me, other than more is obviously not good. But this is a measure I can visualize: Just divide the # of grams by four to find out the sugar content in teaspoons.

Before snack duty day I loaded up the cart with fruit-juice-only drinks, vitamin waters, and other (it turns out) sugar-filled beverages. One brand popular among health-conscious types boasts that it’s 70 percent juice. It also contains a whopping 43 grams of the sweet stuff in one of its 12-ounce bottles. We’re talking 11 teaspoons of sugar. Yikes. And those vitamin waters — which contain no fruit juice but sometimes do have caffeine so double check those labels — are high in sugar too. Now I’ve become an obsessive label reader.

Check this out:  A 20-ounce soda bottle of an iconic American drink contains 65 grams of sugar. That’s about 17 teaspoons. By gulping down the real thing you add about 240 excess calories to your day — and it would take an hour of walking to burn off those babies. Drink just one a day for a year and you (or your kid) are looking at 25 extra pounds you could do without. Yowzer. (For the scoop on the sugar content of lots of foods visit sugarstacks.com.)

I’m not a zealot. I get that the occasional treat is fun. I can still recall ordering pink lemonades with my grandparents in suburban Sydney. Unlike American lemonade, these concoctions were a soda more akin to a 7-Up with a dash of bright pink grenadine for a festive effect. Loved ’em. Only got ’em once in a while.

What about plain old water? Yes, my kid has his own reusable water bottle. But you try showing up with bottled water in the Bay Area. It’s a political hot potato.

So I tried a little experiment. Along with the regular “crap snack drinks” as my son and I call them, I sent two big pitchers of water with citrus slices and homegrown mint to practice; not a drop came home.

Next time: I’ll forgo the packaged drinks for the gently flavored H20. Choice isn’t always a good thing. Feel free to share other on-the-go drink (or snack) ideas.

At home, there’s a drink we can offer our kids without guilt. The humble smoothie is a simply delicious way to quench thirst, supply energy, and get some nutrition into the mix as well. Cheers.

Strawberry Smoothie

Smoothies make a great snack or a quick breakfast. Vary the fruit or fruit juice depending on taste. Blueberries, for instance, make for a cool-looking concoction.

Substitute vanilla rice, soy, or cow’s milk for juice and/or yogurt. Use measurements below as a guide. The consistency of a smoothie can be custom made to suit personal preference.

Quick Tip: Frozen fruit such as berries, bananas, mango, or pineapple makes a thicker, frothier smoothie and ensures it’s a refreshing ice-cold drink to boot.

You Need:

1/2-1 cup plain yogurt
1/4-1/2 cup orange juice (no pulp)
1 large banana, peeled
6-8 strawberries, hulls & stems removed
1/2-1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or nutmeg
1-2 scoops of whey protein powder (optional)

To Do:

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.

2. Pour into chilled glasses and serve.

Flickr photo by p2nnylan3, used under the Creative Commons license