‘Ode to Saturday

produceMan does this make me smile.  Ear to ear and forehead to chin.  I love this  day.  LOVE it.

Pictured here is the result of my weekly pilgrimage to my PHS favorite farmers market.  LOVE that place.

It never ceases to amaze me how a spread like this dissappears each week–but I don’t question it.  LOVE good produce and so does my family.  Yeah for us!

Today is a gloriously warm late-summer-feeling-but-actually-it’s-fall SoCal day.  This is the kind of day where the cost of living ’round here is warranted.  (As my Midwestern transplant extended family and I have been known to say, “Sure the schools are underfunded, the health care is in shambles, it’s crowded, expensive and overwhelming… but it’s so nice outside!”)  I LOVE California!

This afternoon is the Fall Festival at my kiddos’ school.  We will arrive in costume to set up our fun booth that we created with some friends and will arrive back home several hours later, hair spray-painted, faces decorated, bellies full of popcorn and tacos… and a whole week’s full of this rainbow produce scene to look forward too.  I LOVE rainbow produce!

LOVE!  LOVE!  LOVE!

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DO Try This at Home!

This is Michelle’s kitchen counter on a typical Saturday morning:

Saturday spread

Ahhh…  After my weekly farmers market pilgrimage, I feel ready to start another healthy week with my family.

Routine is the key to my meal planning.  By hitting the same farmers market (usually) I know the vendors, know the prices, know what’s what.

I don’t go to the farmers market to have a Hallmark moment.  OK.  Yes it is more enjoyable to shop outdoors, purchase from local farmers and sample anything I like before I buy it.  But like a lot of mamas of three, I am, uh, kinda busy.  I don’t amble along the market, wicker basket in hand, bluebird on my shoulder.  Often I’m in a bit of a sprint between basketball and soccer games, or maybe a birthday party or heaven-knows-what!

I don’t shove and knock people out of my way, but I cruise along, big cart and reusable bags in front, and get on with my shopping.

I make this weekly trek, out and back, in about an hour.  Another 15 minutes to unload and rinse my pretty produce, and we are set for another 7 days.

And when I look down at the “fruit” of my labor, it makes my heart smile.

Heart raddish

So, Anyway… Yo Hablo Espanol

Spanish sign

I haven’t been keeping secrets, but the fact that I’m bilingual just has never come up yet.  Although I’m from Minnesota, you may have noticed that the “Calva” part of “Calva-Despard” is not exactly Norwegian bred…

It’s Mexican.  My dad’s name is Jose Ruben Calva Pellicer.  See?  Mexican.  He doesn’t look like he’s going to rest up against a saguaro cactus draped in a sarape, but my dad is the eighth child of his Roman-Catholic Mexican family, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico two years before he was born.

I won’t go into the long, loooong, story of how we didn’t exactly speak Spanish in my home growing up (as my mother doesn’t speak it) but I heard it a lot, studied it in school and then finally attended a year of college at the Universidad de Costa Rica where I sink-or-swim perfected my espanol.  (Sign up for a few courses where you have to write college term papers/make oral presentations in Spanish–it’s very motivating!)

Besides learning to dance Salsa, and make banana leaf tamales, Costa Rica was where I fell deeply, deeply in love with beautiful fresh what-is-the-name-of-that-gorgeous-thing produce.

I’ve traveled throughout the entire country of Mexico, visiting family and just generally checking things out.  Once I spent three months zig-zagging from the west to east Mexico.  I visited relatives I hadn’t seen in years and even met up with third cousins of my dad’s sister-in-law-kinda-type-relatives which sounds like a stretch by American standards, but in Mexico we were familia.

I also lived and worked in Madrid, Spain for five months.  In Madrid I learned that there’s no such thing as too much red wine or guests at the dinner table, and that fried calamari sandwiches are the perfect hangover remedy.  I acquired the most eloquent vocabulary of curse words and realized that I like the tropics a lot :), and that big city life is not my thing.  (I also discovered that the word for “mushrooms” in Latin America only refers to unwanted fungus in Spain, but that’s a whole other story… )

English sign

Like most homes, my mother’s culture is the one that defined most of my upbringing, but I’m equally proud of all my heritage.  It was my Mexican heart that pushed me on these rewarding adventures, spurred my interest in becoming a bilingual teacher, and opened my palette to a world of culinary delights.

Today I appreciate living in a place where I hear Spanish, English and a boatload of other languages on a regular basis.  And get out’a here with your multicultural food scene, Los Angeles County!  Baby, I’m home.

My kitchen decor (so that’s why she has blue cabinets…) is a reflection of my language influences, a celebration of melding many cultural practices and love of kickin’ it in the kitchen.  Round here we speak English and Spanish, enjoy a table full of friends and family and eat foods from as many places as I can get my hands on (and are always on the prowl for more.)  Our tongues want to taste it all!

Kids' art

Si quiere, manda me una nota en espanol un dia y podemos charlar!

Winter Salad

I know I use the word “love” excessively when I talk about food, but, well, I really do love a good salad!

In my humble opinion, a “good” salad should contain a variety of textures and colors and be filled with seasonal produce, when possible, that combine to make interesting and varied flavors.  If you are looking for the iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing, you can stop reading this post now.  If you’d like to tantalize your taste buds (oh my!) and whip up something delicious and nutritious, keep reading…

For a southern Californian, it is easy to make fresh salads year round.  But what’s a meal maker to do if it’s January and one happens to live in, for example, Otisville, MI?  Don’t despair, Michigander amigas!   It is still possible to make a decent winter salad, even if you live in the temporary tundra.  You likely won’t be hitting the farmers market this weekend like I will, but I think you’ll find most of my suggestions at super market near you.

If I use leafy greens, I always start with something dark.  For this salad I used spinach.  You know those fancy restaurants that serve salad sculptures precariously balanced on plates with artsy looking leaves and stalks so large that even a muppet could fit in his mouth?  I hate that.  I like my salad to be easily poppable into my mouth.  You can use a knife or, my fave time saver, poultry shears.  Snip, snip, done!

cutting greens

I chopped up some carrots, celery, cucumbers and then cabbage.  I especially like the striking contrast between the bright white-ish cabbage and the dark spinach.  I do say it is a quite a nice visual, don’t you agree, Dah-ling? (see photo below)

In the summer, there’s nothing (NOTHING) better than a ripe red tomato in a salad.  But in the winter there’s nothing (NOTHING) more disappointing than a white, cakey tomato in a salad.  Don’t do it!  Yes, you need something acidic to make your salad truly del-ish, but there are many better winter options than a lackluster tomato! Even with So-Cal’s year round produce scene, options are still seasonal.   Try a tart apple, fresh or canned sliced pears, or what I used in this bowl of yum: some fresh oranges.

Another winter salad secret of mine is craisins.  Yum!!!  These tart and tangy little garnet gems (they seriously do look like jewels, don’t they?) are the perfect complement to my almost-done masterpiece.

craisins

My kids are well-trained (hello–I hope so!) to eat a good salad, but prefer it without cheese or red onion.  So I usually toss theirs with a balsamic vinaigrette, serve them, and then add the rest for the grownups.  I adore thinly sliced red onion in pretty much any kind of salad, and I also like a dash of cheese.  In this salad I used a mild and salty crumbled feta.  Parmesan or goat cheese could also have worked.   If I use pears, I sometimes like a mild blue cheese.

People who enjoy my salads often get annoyed when they discover that I usually mix the dressing right on top as I go.  “How can I recreate that Michelle!?”  I like a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic salt, pepper, sugar, sometimes mustard, sometimes honey, sometimes apple cider vinegar, sometimes celery salt…  (Sorry.  That’s not helpful; it’s annoying.  I think you get the picture…)

I promise to post some actual salad dressing recipes soon.  Honestly, though, when you’ve got so much good stuff in your bowl, a simple vinegar and oil (my general go-to) dressing from a bottle can do just fine too.

Drum roll please… Tah-dah!

salad

Some tips: Add the juice from oranges or pears to the dressing: yum!  This salad was served as part of a meal, but you can make your salad the main dish by adding some protein and maybe some bread or crackers on the side.  My preferred protein pals include chopped chicken, chickpeas, kidney beans or fresh nuts (walnuts, pecans=smile.)  Candied nuts taste marvy, but pack on the calories, so I usually just use plain.

Get creative with your salads.  My mom likes chopped cauliflower and broccoli in hers.  Sometimes we don’t even include lettuce or other leafy greens.  Gasp!  I know.  Shocking.

Farmers Markets ROCK!

brussels before

OK.  So here’s where the “Minnesota” in me really comes out.  Do native Californians really understand how absolutely ridiculously over-the-top lucky they are when it comes to produce?  I think, perhaps, not.

Consider this, when I lived in Minneapolis years ago, I–along with thousands of other Twin-City’ers–used to count down the months (yes; months) till the farmer’s markets would open.  And then we’d scramble over to them every chance we got before the harvest season ended–usually 10 weeks or so–when the stands got packed up again till the next year.

Here in California, there is no such scrambling required!  We are soooo fortunate for the year-round-multiple-locations farmer’s markets in this state.  To find information about a California certified farmer’s market near you, click here.

So what’s so great about a farmer’s market?  Girlfriend, I could go on… Whereas produce at a big super market (Von’s, Ralph’s, etc…) is typically grown for uniform size, shape and color, farmer’s market produce is grown for a little something I like to call, uh, taste.

Not all farmer’s market produce is certified organic, but because it’s locally grown, it doesn’t need to be treated with all the junk that gets sprayed on produce at big markets to make it last on the shelf and look pretty.   Also, because the produce is grown locally, purchasing it means you get to do a little something I like to call “supporting the local economy” which is a darn nice thing to do.

Shopping at a farmer’s market it pleasant, friendly and inspiring.  Pretty much every smiling vendor has samples awaiting and will help in choosing a melon for today or for later in the week.

Farmer’s markets help me feel connected to the seasons too.  Why should I purchase a plum from Chile when right now is citrus season in So-Cal?  Apples are uh-mazing right now too at the local farmer’s markets and don’t even get me started on the winter vegetables…

Too late.  I’m started.  Brussel sprouts have become a favorite (yes, you read that right: favorite) at my house.  My three kids and husband inhale these little green “fairy cabbages” so quickly that I typically purchase at least three pounds a week.

Here is a photo of what these balls of yum look like after Michelle has waved her wand over them.

brussles after

I’ll put the “Calva-Despard Favorite Vegetable of all Time = Brussel Sprouts” recipe here for your convenience, and will also place it in the vegetable section of my recipe page for future reference.  I know.  I’m a giver.

Ingredients:  Brussel sprouts (you don’t have to go for three pounds…) olive oil, fresh garlic and salt.

Directions:  Set oven for 400 degrees.  Rinse Brussel sprouts.  Cut off think stem at the bottom of each sprout.  You can leave the sprouts whole or cut in half, depending on the size.  Most important is that all the pieces be pretty equal in size so they’ll be fully baked at the same time.  If you notice mine, some of the larger ones have been halved, but the smaller ones are whole.

Place sprouts on a cookie sheet with a rim.  Cut and quarter one fresh garlic clove per pound of sprouts and place the pieces in different places on the tray, amongst the sprouts.  Drizzle with olive oil and give a few shakes of salt.  Bake for 2o minutes.  Remove from oven and mix up the sprouts with a spatula to turn the browned sides over.  Test with a fork for tenderness.  Put back in oven for 5 -15 more minutes depending on the size of your sprouts.  They really do vary so it’s hard to say exactly.  Check after five minutes if you’re unsure.

The garlic serves to sort of infuse the sprouts with an aromatic presences of garlic.  I do eat the cloves too, but my kids say they’re too strong.

Enjoy!