Seasonal Produce: Spring

And, it has happened.

Her petals have opened

to the sun, and to the wind

Botanical poetry, alive and well

bringing us back to joy,

with a creamy mocha center

and soft vanilla sage whispers.

And if the impossible beauty of the flowers have arrived,

then it must be time for...

Spring fruits and vegetables!

Oui! After eons of tubers (no offense, little underground starchy Darlings,) the new Spring collections are in!  

The mantra is always this: buy local, by organic. Produce that has to travel a long distance is invariably picked too early in order to look good upon arrival, so we end up with flavorless, nutrient-deprived food. Of course, depending on where you dwell, some things will never be in season, so when you crave, say, a mango in winter, just follow these tips to enjoy the best possible version of your plant loves. Go ahead, enjoy your old favorites, and make a few new friends while you're at it.. And use your senses! Does it smell luscious? Does it look vibrant and alive? Does it feel good in your hand?

Allright, Loves, let's see who's strutting down the primavera runway...

VEGETABLES:

ARTICHOKES - Look for tightly packed, intact leaves. Splayed leaves are a sign of not-so-fresh chokes.

ASPARAGUS - Once harvested, asparagus deteriorate rapidly, so place them in cool storage to retain freshness and nutrition. Look for firm, slim stalks and beautifully formed tips. Thick stalks can taste woody and kill your experience.

BELGIAN ENDIVE - I love Belgians! (wink, VK.) Choose endive with tips that have a pale, yellow-green color, and avoid wilted or browning heads.

BROCCOLI - Broccoli should be heavy for its size. Steer clear of dried or browning stalks and yellowing florets.

BUTTER LETTUCE - Bring home heads that look full of life! No wilting or browning.

CHIVES - You want graceful chives, uniform in size and color. Stay away from any wilting or yellowing.

COLLARD GREENS - Yesss! Collard wraps! Pick dark green leaves, but eat them quickly...once they turn yellow they're done.

CORN - Look for bright green husks, and don't be shy about peeling their clothing off. The corn beneath should be unblemished and juicy looking.

FAVA BEANS - If you are able to snag fresh favas, grab them! Young favas can be shelled, are usually small, and smell like Spring herself!

FENNEL - Another amazing addition to your repertoire! Licorice-y fennel grows wild all over Southern California and the Med-rim countryside...maybe that's why I love it so? (Actually it grows wild all over the globe.) Choose bright green feathery leaves and white, even bulbs. Add it to salads and raw savory dishes for a sexy kick.

GREEN BEANS - These should be crisp, firm, and vibrant. Stay away from dark spots and dried-out ends.

MUSTARD GREENS - Look for pretty, lacy green leaves, sans browning or wilting. And eat them quickly!

PEAS - Fresh English peas just scream Spring! Look for pods that are full, but not bulging. As soon as they mature, they become starchy and way less flavorful. Try to find ones at a farmer's market that have been just harvested.

RADICCHIO - Choose compact heads with tight, fresh-looking leaves. 

RADISHES - Go for bunches that are deep in color with solid roots. You want them firm and blemish-free. Avoid cracks.

RED LEAF LETTUCE - Select the ones that have fresh-looking, tightly packed leaves. Red leaf gets wilty quick, so enjoy it the day you market.

RHUBARB - Rhubarb (only eat the stalks, Loves) are quite tart, but when sweetened actually work as more of a fruit. Select unmarred stalks.

SNOW PEAS - You want the ones that are a bright green with flat, small seeds. They should snap when you pop them. Put them back if they look shriveled, dry, or discolored.

SORREL - If you haven't tried this delicious, citrusy green, do it now! Same rules of thumb as apply to all lettuces and greens. But these, in particular, need to be eaten the day you buy them. Let them sit and they become compost.

SPINACH - The younger the plant, the sweeter the leaves, so go for bright baby spinach. Hint: check the stems. If they are flexible, it's young.

SPRING BABY LETTUCE - So many gorgeous greens! Again, look for vibrant leaves, no wilting or discoloration.

SWISS CHARD - Grab dark green leaves with bright stems. And eat them fast!

VIDALIA ONIONS - The flatter the onion, the sweeter. Try it.

WATERCRESS - Choose bright green watercress that isn't yellowing or slippery. A fantastic addition to your salads or green shakes.

FRUIT:

APRICOTS - Choose ones that are rich in color, firm, and plump looking. These little ones bruise easily, but those can be used in jams, sauces, pureés, etc., so don't dismiss them. Their feelings will be hurt.

CHERRIES - The best ones are large (an inch or more in diameter), plump, firm, and rich in color. The deep, black cherries are always the sweetest! 

CHERIMOYA - You really have to strike while this baby is hot. This absolutely delicious, pineappl-ey/banana-ey/mango-ey fruit shouldn't be missed, but has a short shelf life, so seek it out, in all its dragon-skinned glory!

HONEYDEW MELON - The skin should be a an even cream, yellow, or white color, it should smell fragrant, and a tap should ring a hollow, not dull sound. Also, press into the area where the stem was. If it's mushy, bid it adieu.

JACKFRUIT - Another exotic yum! A ripe one will have a beautiful fragrance and yield to the touch. An unripe one will be hard with no perfume.

LIME - Easy: give them a squeeze. If they yield, they will be juicy.

MANGO - Color doesn't matter here. A ripe mango will give slightly when gently squeezed, and often a lovely sweet aroma. If it's hard as a rock, let it be.

ORANGES - Here's another example of a fruit that doesn't give it away by color. A ripe orange will look and feel juicy, like it's about to burst. Go for the plumpest ones.

PINEAPPLE - Are you ready? Smell the base of the pineapple. If it is ripe, it will grace you with its signature scent. 

STRAWBERRIES - These beauties should be plump, firm, well shaped, and uniformly colored. Avoid white tops, a tell-tale sign of being picked too early.
 

BLOSSOM LOVE. IMAGE BY  VK-RED DUVIVER.

BLOSSOM LOVE. IMAGE BY VK-RED DUVIVER.

Well now,

all that abundance should keep you busy for a while, no?

Let's get outside and have a little picnic together.

Is that a...rhubarb in your pocket...or...?

xxx Alise

How To Choose Purrfect Produce

I know we're well into Summer,

but you've asked me for a "How To" post,

to guide you 

in choosing the sexiest fruits and vegetables out there...

My response?

Anything for you, Lovers...

So, here we are, at the top of August,

Lion(ess) fires ignited,

reveling in the sensuality of the warm, sultry air,

loving this luscious bounty of fruits and vegetables our Earth offers us...

And we know the mantra: Buy fresh, buy organic, buy local. Still, it can be a daunting task to spot the in-season best in the middle of our very busy days, even for the most aware Kitchen Witches.

Let's make it simple, shall we? 

I see it this way: choosing produce is much like choosing a mate.

We want vitality, energy, a high vibration.

I shop like a French housewife. I market nearly every day, nosing around to see what specials are in, what looks good, where the prices are, chatting with the merchants...because the pick of the day is always well priced and at it's peak, making the flavor amazing. Healthy produce is just like a healthy human: the color is good, the flesh is glowing, it's ripe and fragrant, and you smile just to behold it.

Always choose ripe produce, with at most one day of perfecting needed. Never fall for the "pick it hard and it will ripen in five days" bullshit. No way. That's the market's way of saying, 'uh, that came off the tree wayyy too soon...oops." Get it fresh. The less time between picking and popping in your gorgeous mouth, the more life force you ingest. And while, yes, some things we just love rock hard (ahem), fruit isn't one of them. You want the flesh to yield slightly when you squeeze it oh-so-gently...you know what I'm sayin'?

You'll get to know them intuitively. If they look healthy, the most likely are.

Use your senses. 

Now let's look at what our Mama has for us in beautiful Summer:

I've made these easy lists for you!  You can screenshot them, and keep handy in your phone for a quick reference. And for extra good luck, Belilli and Pedro, Guardians Of Tomatoes, will guide you along.

"We know a good-looking tomato when we see one..."

"We know a good-looking tomato when we see one..."

LATE SUMMER VEGGIES:

  • BEETS - Choose firm ones with fresh stems and slender roots. Don't bother with wilted leaved, hairy roots, or scaly tops.
  • BELL PEPPERS - Go for firm, naturally shiny ones that feel heavy for their size. No soft spots or discoloration.
  • CORN - Look for bright green husks and moist (but not slimy) silk. Peel back the husk - make sure the kernels are plump, not dry.
  • CUCUMBERS - Oh, yes...you want them firm, all the way to the tips...uniformly green and no yellow spots.
  • EGGPLANT - Stick with smaller ones that feel heavy for their size for the best flavor, with smooth, shiny skin. 
  • ENDIVE - Choose fresh, crisp leaves. No wilting or wrinkly tips.
  • GARLIC - Firm, plump heads are what you want. Steer clear of weird brown spots.
  • GREEN BEANS - Pick out the slender beans that snap rather than bend, and avoid bulging or dried pods.
  • JALAPENO PEPPERS - As with bell peppers, look for natural shine and firm flesh, without any bruises or spots. Be on the lookout for mold.
  • LETTUCES AND LEAFY GREENS - You want fresh, crisp leaves. No wilting, discoloration, or sliminess.
  • PEAS - Go for crisp, bright green pods. Leave behind any that are bulging, dried, yellow, or white.
  • RADISHES - Keep an eye out for fresh, green tops and firm, unblemished roots. Avoid cracks and soft spots.
  • SUGAR SNAP PEAS  - Look for bright green, flat, tender pods, with no discoloration or drying.
  • SUMMER SQUASH - Select smaller ones with naturally shiny, taught, unblemished skin. Put them back if they have a dull appearance or are enormous.
  • TOMATILLO - Green fruit with green husks? Yesss! Yellow fruit with brown husks? No-no!
  • TOMATOES - You want fragrant fruits, with an earthy scent at the stem, deep color, and a heaviness for their size. Don't bother with pale, waxy, hard fruits, or very soft spots.
  • YUKON GOLD POTATOES - Look for smooth, firm ones, without bruises, green spots, or sprouting.
  • ZUCCHINI - Ah, courgettes! Go for smaller ones with smooth skin with stems intact, that feel heavy for their size. No cuts or soft spots!

On the sweet side...

we'll let Belilli, Protectress of Fruit, take it from here:

SUMMER FRUITS:

  • APRICOTS - Go for bright yellow orange fruit, with no green spots or mushiness.
  • AVOCADOS - Choose deep green, almost black fruit. Stay away from the lighter green, rock hard ones - they will never ripen. Ever.
  • BLACKBERRIES - Take home deeply colored, unblemished jewels...no attached hulls, mold or stickiness, please.
  • BLUEBERRIES - Bright blue color with a frosty hue -called the "bloom" -ensures the freshest berries. Make sure they're plump! No hard, green or blemished ones!
  • CACTUS PEARS - Look for a bright, even color, with no mushy spots or wrinkles.
  • CHERRIES - The best ones are a deep, dark, color with glossy skin and green stems. Steer clear of black stems and a too-bright shade.
  • FIGS - You want soft, unblemished fruits with firm stems. Avoid bruises and wiggly stems.
  • GRAPES - Select intact bunches of rich color, with silvery coating. Leave brown stems, broken or discolored grapes behind.
  • GUAVA - Choose smooth yellow, white, or reddish fruits. Don't bother with green fruit or soft spots.
  • LEMONS - Soft, plump and brightly colored are the way to go...they'll actually feel juicy!
  • MELONS - For all varieties, look for matte skin, heaviness for their size, no soft spots, and no stems attached. Here's a watermelon trick: tap it! If it sounds hollow like a drum, it's a good one! For cantaloupe, seek a white or golden skin beneath the lacy overlay, as opposed to green, to ensure ripeness.
  • NECTARINES - Go for a mostly deep red fruit, with even coloring. Avoid pale fruit, bruises, and soft spots.
  • ORANGES - Look for bright, vibrant color...no pale, sad oranges, please. And no bruising.
  • PEACHES - Go for ones with a golden yellow undercolor, with no soft spots.
  • PEARS - A matte, smooth skin is what you're after, though "freckles" are fine - they're a totally natural thing called "russeting" that you don't have to worry about. Here's a trick: make sure the area near the stem is soft, but not mushy. And leave the rock hard pears in the bin.
  • PLUMS - Again, look for a silvery "bloom" on the skin, avoiding fruit with wrinkles or blemishes.
  • RASPBERRIES - Pick the bright, plump ones, and check the package or crate carefully for any mold, blemished berries or stickiness.
  • RHUBARB - We all love a good, firm stalk, don't we? Grab them, with good color, and leave the limp ones behind...
  • STRAWBERRIES - Choose bright red berries, and avoid any with white near the top.

Now,

are you ready?

Meet me at the farmer's market,

and we'll fondle some produce....

xxx Alise