Berry Good Times

This is the month to leave no stone unturned, as tree-ripened peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots are at the peak of perfection.

The August farmers’ market is also loaded with dozens of varieties of vine-ripened tomatoes; crunchy, bursting-with-flavor cucumbers; a color spectrum of sweet bell peppers; the best just-picked corn; mountains of tiny summer squash; and tender young green beans. Pick up a bottle of California extra-virgin olive oil, and your meals for the week will pretty much make themselves. For dessert and warm-weather snacking, you can’t beat sweet-as-candy grapes; juicy watermelon; ruby red strawberries, and so many of their multi-hued cousins.

One of my favorites is the elusive boysenberry, so seldom found fresh in supermarkets due to their fragility. Their season is also pitifully brief, so it pays to seek them out now. Eat your fill this month, and preserve a secret stash to enjoy throughout the year. Boysenberries freeze well, and make exceptional jams, pies, cobblers, crisps and such.

The boysenberry resembles the blackberry in appearance, but has a deep red-to-purple color and rich, distinctive sweet-tart flavor.

Northern Californian Rudolph Boysen created the hybrid boysenberry in 1923 by crossing a raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry—to my mind, the best of all worlds. It took years of nurturing by esteemed farmers and other horticulturists to develop the berry we know today. In fact, it was their signature boysenberry preserves that put Knotts Berry Farm on the map.

As summer winds to a close, there seem to be an inordinate number of picnics and barbecues happening. This is the perfect time to showcase the season’s bounty—from homemade salsa and veggie-centric salads, to the last of summer’s fruits. The following recipe works well as a potluck dessert, as it has all the goodness of pie without any of the last-minute mess of cutting and serving in the great outdoors. I often place each square in a paper cupcake liner before piling them into a basket or other picnic-friendly container for easy serving.

Boysenberry Crumb Bars

Buttery Pastry Dough2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Boysenberry Filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)

4 cups farm-fresh boysenberries

Optional: Confectioners’ (powdered) sugar for serving

  1. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan; line the bottom and sides with parchment or foil and grease again. Position the oven rack on the lowest level and preheat to 350°.


  1. To make the dough: Combine the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on Medium speed until soft and light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.


  1. Reduce the mixer speed to Low and mix in 2 1/4 cups of the flour, occasionally scraping down the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula. Mix just until smooth and well blended.


  1. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape about 3/4 of the dough into the prepared baking pan. Use the palm of your hand to evenly press down the dough without compressing it too much. Refrigerate the dough-lined pan until needed. Work the remaining 1/4 cup flour into the remaining dough with your fingertips, forming 1/4- to 1/8-inch crumbs. Set aside at room temperature.


  1. To make the filling: In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the lemon juice. Fold in the boysenberries, stirring gently to coat.


  1. Spoon the filling over the chilled dough, spreading into an even layer. Scatter the reserved crumb mixture over the filling. Bake until the filling is bubbly-hot and the crust is cooked through and barely browned at the edges, 30 to 35 minutes.


  1. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Carefully lift the slab of baked dough out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut off the browned edges if desired; then cut the slab into 24 (2-inch) squares. Store in an airtight container. If desired, just before serving sprinkle the squares with confectioners’ (powdered) sugar.


                                                     Berry Good Things to Know

 Boysenberries are drupes, meaning each berry is composed of dozens of tiny sack-like fruits called drupelets. (How’s this for idle cocktail-party chatter?)

The proper balance of sweetness and tartness occurs only when berries are left to fully ripen on the vine. Once picked, they will never taste any better.

Refrigerate unwashed berries in a shallow airtight container lined with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.

Rinse berries clean just before using; and gently pat dry between paper towels.

Berries are high in Vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.


…and the livin’ is easy

A morning spent at the July farmers’ market is my happy place. The combination of blue skies; truckloads of just-picked sweet corn; and the intoxicating perfume created by juicy stone fruits, plump blackberries, ripe strawberries, and fresh flowers does it to me every time. Top it all off with a little live background music, and I’m ready to do some serious shopping. There’s a reason I keep an ice chest in the trunk of my car.

Sometimes there are not enough days in the week to eat all the produce I end up lugging home. But between veggie-centric meals; seasonal desserts and snacks made from seasonal fruit; my own small-batch preserving; and sharing the bounty with lucky neighbors, nothing ever goes to waste.I’m all about relaxed, one-dish meals, especially in the summertime when produce is at its peak. It’s time to show it off. The following salad is a fairly typical offering; serve it with crusty artisan breadfrom the farmers’ market and you’ve got yourself one company-worthy lunch or dinner. For dessert? Wedges of ice-cold watermelon. For a vegetarian option, simply eliminate the chicken and add some crumbled California goat cheese.

Yes, there are a number of steps involved; but the good news for the host is that all of the prep—including the grilling—can be done at your leisure in the cool morning hours so you can assemble the salad just before serving. Easy peasy.


1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes

1/4 cup California olive oil, plus extra for the corn

1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a knife

2 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

5 ears corn


3/4 pound farm-fresh green beans

1 large Fresno or other mild chile pepper, seeded if desired, thinly sliced

1 cup vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, stemmed, halved if large

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

5 or 6 large handfuls baby arugula leaves

Basil-Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Freshly ground black pepper


  1. To make the marinade: In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and pepper flakes. Whisk in the oil. Stir in the rosemary and garlic.


  1. Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry. In a large heavy-duty zipper-seal bag, combine the chicken and the marinade. Seal the bag, turning it several times to coat the chicken. Let stand 2 hours at cool room temperature or refrigerate for up to 24 hours, turning the bag occasionally to distribute the marinade.


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; and prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook until bright green and barely tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into the ice water to cool. Trim off and discard the stem-ends of the beans. Cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths, if desired.


  1. Prepare an outdoor or indoor grill over high heat. Shuck the corn, and use a damp paper towel to remove any excess silk. Trim off the stem-end of each ear of corn, creating a flat base so it can be held upright when removing the kernels. Rub corn with oil and season with salt. Grill, turning, until golden and lightly charred in spots. When cool enoughto handle, working one at a time, carefully hold each ear of corn upright on a large rimmed baking sheet, with the flat end positioned securely on the sheet. Cut downward with a large knife to remove the kernels.


  1. Remove the chicken from the plastic bag, discarding the marinade and garlic. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt. Grill the chicken breasts, turning once or twice, until nicely browned on the outside and white throughout but still juicy on the inside, 8 to 10 minutes total. When cool enough to handle, cut or tear into bite-size chunks. Combine the corn and chicken in a large bowl.


  1. Add the green beans, chile pepper, tomatoes, red onion, and arugula to the bowl. Pour in about 3/4 cup of the Basil-Lemon Vinaigrette and toss gently to mix. Taste, adding more vinaigrette if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss again. Transfer to a large rimmed serving platter or shallow bowl and serve at once.


Serves 6 to 8.

Basil-Lemon Vinaigrette

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced or crushed through a press

Fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes

3/4 cup California olive oil

2tablespoons chopped fresh basil

In a 2-cup measure or bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the pepper flakes. Whisk in the oil to blend. Stir in the basil. Taste, adding more salt if needed. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.(Any leftover dressing can be used in other salads during the week.)

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.


Bring on the ‘Cots!

Anyone who has ever purchased an apricot at the supermarket has probably already learned an expensive lesson: don’t bother. Occasionally, if you’re fortunate enough to find fruits that are organically and locally-grown, they may indeed taste okay—but you will surely pay a premium for the rarity. This is yet another good reason to buy your produce at the farmers’ market.

In order to develop their distinctive floral fragrance, sweetness, and velvety texture, apricots need to ripen on the tree. There is simply no other way. Unfortunately the tree-ripening process also leaves them soft and far too fragile to ship without bruising. This may be less of a problem for California locavores, but many of the apricot orchards that once blessed our state have been replaced by housing developments and high-tech office parks, seriously reducing sources for tree-ripened fruit. Due to increased land values and the related expenses, apricot growers who held their ground and stayed in business now must often rely on selling to large commercial canners, jam-producers, and other fruit preservers in order to remain solvent.

To meet consumer demand throughout the United States, scientists thought the answer was to develop bruise-resistant apricot varieties designed to appear picture-perfect for weeks at a time and withstand all sorts of abuse during shipping. Too good to be true? You bet. One bite into that tough, mealy little orb and you’ll know you’ve been had. It’s frightening to think there is an entire generation that assumes this is how apricots should taste

When you first encounter a golden pile of tree-ripened apricots at the farmers’ market, no doubt you’ll immediately want to eat your fill out-of-hand. Go ahead. Be greedy. Apricot season is short but sweet, making this a perfectly justifiable indulgence. But don’t forget to purchase a pound-or-two more to incorporate into family meals for the week. Start the day with apricot halves topped with Greek yogurt, a few California almonds, and a drizzle of local honey. At cocktail time, tuck a spoonful of goat or blue cheese into pitted apricot halves. Make your own compotes and chutneys to serve with pork or poultry, or add apricots to a Moroccan lamb stew.

The following free-form tart is called a galette in France or a crostata in Italy. Regardless where you live, this rustic dessert is a winner. If making a traditional pie terrifies you, this easy preparation provides all of the flavor with none of the angst. And no peeling required!

Perfectly ripe fruit is arranged on a pastry round, then the ends of the dough are folded up and over to create an edge that holds in the juices. If you feel the urge to get fancy, top the fruit with some toasted sliced almonds or a splash of amaretto before baking…but simple is usually better. Once apricot season comes to a close, you can make this dessert with berries, peaches, nectarines, or plums.

This pastry is a dream to work with, but when pressed for time substitute a sheet of prepared pie dough.


Buttery Pastry Dough (recipe follows)

1 pound ripe apricots (8 to 12 apricots), pitted and halved or quartered, if large

6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

  1. Prepare the dough and chill as directed. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.


  1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 13- to 14-inch circle or oval about 1/8-inch thick. (It’s fine if the shape is slightly irregular. There is also no need to trim the edges of the pastry; they should remain a bit ragged.) Loosely drape the dough around a rolling pin and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.


  1. Arrange the apricots on top of the pastry, leaving a wide, 2- to 3-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the apricots with the 6 tablespoons sugar and dot with the butter. Using your fingers, fold the pastry border up and over the filling, pleating the pastry as needed to fit. Brush the pastry edge lightly with water and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar.


  1. Bake until the apricots are bubbly-hot and the pastry is crisp and golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the galette cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then use 1 or 2 wide spatulas to slide it carefully onto a wire cooling rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, cutting into wedges with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Serves 4 to 6. This is best served the same day it is made, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Buttery Pastry Dough

 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and refrigerated until firm

1/3 cup ice water


  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Process briefly to blend. Add the butter and process for 5 seconds.


  1. With the machine running, add the ice water, processing just until the dough begins to come together. Form the dough into a smooth ball and flatten into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or as long as 2 days. Freeze for longer storage.


The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

Seeing Red

Most farmers’ markets are only getting started this month, “setting up shop” in asphalt parking lots across the United States. But here in Danville, where our farmers’ market thrives year ‘round, we’re merely picking up speed. Tender young veggies abound, along with a seasonal kaleidoscope of locally-grown sweeties: look for plump apricots, luscious cherries, and juicy cantaloupe. And strawberries. O, those beautiful berries!

Some foods are so perfect in their natural state that it’s a shame to mess with them too much. Take farm-fresh strawberries, for instance. Oh sure, you can boil them up for jam or jelly. Or toss them with rhubarb for a rosy pie filling that tastes of spring. You can bake them into an airy soufflé or freeze them into icy sorbets. All very nice. Or you can just grab one by its little green cap and pop it into in your mouth…and the taste sensation probably won’t be any less spectacular.

But this month ushers in times—like a Memorial Day cookout, a bridal shower, or graduation party—when you feel the urge to gild the lily and showcase spring’s perfect strawberries in an original way… without spending hours in the kitchen. The following recipe could be the answer.

This two-part spread is a study in contrasts: warm, oozy cheese topped with cool, sweet-tart strawberries, made even more irresistible with the bite of fresh ginger, the mild heat of jalapeño, and the refreshing sensation of lime and mint. Best of all, it’s a snap to make, and feeds a crowd.

Instead of baking the cheese as directed in the recipe, you may choose to make your life easier still by simply spooning the salsa over a room-temperature wheel of brie or a log of California goat cheese.

Alternatively, double the salsa recipe and serve it as a dip for pita or tortilla chips, or alongside a plain omelet or cheese quesadilla. It also makes a tasty condiment for grilled or roasted pork or poultry. More adventurous souls will spoon it over chocolate ice cream for dessert. It’s all good.

There’s no need to wait for a special occasion to make this, however. This versatile, low-cal salsa is equally delish served over plain yogurt or cottage cheese.

Baked Brie with Fresh Strawberry Salsa

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon local honey

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 small jalapeño chili pepper

1 1/4 cups hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries (about half of a 1-pint basket)

1 or 2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves

1 (5-inch) wheel of brie (about 15 ounces)

  1. In a bowl, mix together the lime zest, lime juice, ginger, honey, and salt.
  2. Wearing rubber gloves, remove the stem, seeds, and ribs from the chili pepper and chop finely. Add to the lime mixture; then gently stir in the strawberries, green onion(s), and mint to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes (or as long as 6 hours) to blend flavors. This makes a generous 1-cup of salsa.
  3. About 45 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the cheese on a heatproof serving dish and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the wheel of cheese is soft when touched in the center but still holds its shape. Spoon the chilled salsa over the hot cheese and serve with plain unsalted crackers (water biscuits), wheat biscuits, or baguette slices. Serves 10 to 12 as an appetizer.

Berry Good Things to Know

–A shiny berry is a fresh berry. Once picked, strawberries lose their natural sheen in a matter of days.

–Locally-grown berries are inevitably more flavorful and have a more succulent texture than varieties grown for shipping.

–Fresh green caps, intense perfume, and vibrant, uniform color are other qualities to look for in strawberries. Avoid those “white shoulders” that mean the berries were picked before their prime. Also remember that bigger is not always better!

–When stored properly, farm-fresh strawberries can last 1 week or longer in the refrigerator. Here’s the secret: Line a plastic container with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Gently pile in the unwashed strawberries with their green caps intact. Top with another paper towel, seal with an airtight lid, and store in the lowest part of the refrigerator. 

–Do not rinse strawberries or remove their green caps until just before using.  Rinsing berries removes their naturally protective outer layer; and their caps prevent water from soaking into the strawberries, diluting the flavor and altering their texture.

–To clean strawberries, place in a colander or large sieve and rinse quickly under a gentle spray of cold water. Pat dry with towels; then remove the green caps, if desired.

–To hull strawberries (i.e., remove the green caps), use the sharp tip of a paring knife; the pointed end of a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler; or a strawberry huller—an inexpensive tweezer-like gadget available at most cookware shops. This removes not only the leafy green cap, but also the tough little core beneath it.

–For best flavor, eat strawberries at cool room temperature.

–1 cup of halved raw strawberries weighs in at around 49 calories. They are a good source of vitamin C, and also contain potassium, iron, and folic acid.

The  Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!







The Ides of April

Chances are you’ve already filed your income tax returns…or, at least, handed over everything to your accountant. This is as good a reason as any to pamper yourself.

If you’re in a funk or simply feeling the financial pinch of tax time, a night on the town may not be in the cards. But here in California good food is always an affordable luxury, especially when you shop at the farmers’ market.

Spring is here, and the market is abloom.After months of little more than juicy citrus to satisfy our cravings for fresh fruit we revel in early strawberries, with armloads of bright flowers to lift our spirits. Also look for locally-grown asparagus, squeaky-fresh artichokes, crunchy peas, fava beans, crisp celery, and young beets.Spring is short but sweet, so shake off the seasonal doldrums and make the most of it.

Often without ever having tasted them, beets are scorned by kids and grown-ups alike. You’ll always find canned beets in lackluster salad bars, a jolt of color radiating from beneath the clear plastic sneeze-guard. A walk past the bussing station of any less-than-glamorous restaurant—where stacks of abandoned salad plates are dotted with slimy purple remnants; their shocking-pink juices bleeding into rivers of ersatz dressing—certainly does nothing to improve their image. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The first thing to remember is that canned beets are about as sexy as canned peas.

Available year-round, the best tender young beets—no larger than a golf ball—are now piled high at the farmers’ market. Earthy, sweet, and delicious, with vitamin-packed greens that are not only edible, but downright tasty. For a change, try white or golden beets, or the candy-cane striped Chioggia variety. (But don’t expect miracles. The Chioggia variety cook to a uniform color.)

A salad made from “real” beets is a thing of beauty, whether served as a side dish or—accompanied by a loaf of crusty artisan bread–a light meal on a warm day.


–Large beets tend to have a woody texture. Look for small, firm beets with crisp green tops attached. Perky leaves indicate they have been freshly harvested.

–To store: Cut off the beet greens, leaving an inch or so of the stems attached, as the leaves tend to draw moisture from the roots. Refrigerate the greens for up to 2 days in an open plastic bag. The bulb-shaped beet roots, when stored unwashed in their own plastic bag, will last a week in the refrigerator.(Any longer, and their natural sugars convert to starch.) Scrub beets well just before cooking.

–Don’t get caught red-handed: Red beets bleed. Wimps like me wear thin latex gloves when working with them. For those who yearn for the more tactile approach, avoid unsightly stains by washing your hands, cutting board, and knife immediately after peeling and slicing. (If needed, scrub stubborn stains with coarse salt.)And wear an apron to avoid The Jackson Pollock Syndrome.

–Beets can be eaten raw: just peel and grate before adding to salads. (I once worked with an editor whose beet-loving husband regularly consumed them in their natural state, merrily eating them out-of-hand like an apple. But that’s a whole other story.)

–Cooked beets can be peeled and refrigerated in an airtight container for several days, so it’s smart to cook more than you’ll need for a single meal.

–For the best flavor and least mess, roast beets with their skins and “tails” (root ends) intact. See recipe for details.

–Beets are done when the tip of a sharp knife can be easily inserted and withdrawn from the center. When properly cooked, their skins will slip off easily, using a paper towel or your fingertips.


1/3 cup California walnut halves and pieces

2 bunches (8 to 10 beets total) small-to-medium beets—any variety—with greens attached

1/3 cup California walnut oil or olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon California red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves (optional)*

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

About 2 ounces soft California goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in a baking dish and bake until lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Let the walnuts cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  1. Cut off leafy greens from the beets, leaving about 1 inch of the stems attached to the roots, and set aside. Scrub the beets under cold running water. Put the damp beets in a small baking dish, add a few tablespoons of water, and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast until the beets are tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 35 to 50 minutes, depending upon size.Set aside to cool.
  1. In a small jar, combine the oil, orange juice, vinegar, tarragon, a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, about 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and the mustard. Seal tightly and shake the jar until the vinaigrette is well blended. Taste, adding more salt or pepper as needed.
  1. When the beets are cool enough to handle, rub off the skin and cut the beets into 1/4-inch thick slices. Combine the beets and about half the vinaigrette in a bowl, tossing gently to coat. Cover and set aside to marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or longer if refrigerated.
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Rinse the beet greens well and tear into large pieces. Add greens to the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the leaves to a colander and rinse under cold running water. Drain well and squeeze dry.
  1. To serve, toss beet greens with the remaining vinaigrette. Spread the greens on a small serving platter and top with the marinated beets. Scatter the walnuts and goat cheese over the top and serve at once. Serves 4 to 6.

*If you don’t have—or don’t like—fresh tarragon, just omit it, or substitute fresh parsley or chives. Don’t bother using dried tarragon. It can be nasty stuff.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!


A Departure from Tradition

This is the month when everyone is Irish…if not in fact, at least in spirit. That alone is cause for celebration, but March also marks the arrival of some of spring’s sweetest crops at the farmers’ market.

While shopping, don’t limit your purchases to spuds and cabbage needed for the traditional American-style St. Patrick’s Day meal. Also treat yourself to a bunch or two of freshly-dug beets; a few baskets of early strawberries; and plenty o’ green: squeaky-fresh artichokes; sweet locally-grown asparagus; tender baby lettuces; plump fava beans; and peas of all persuasions. It’s going to be a good week.

You may also want to re-think the corned beef and cabbage thing. Maybe this is the year you want to simply to nibble something good in front of the television as you watch The Quiet Man. Enter: Irish Nachos.

This hearty dish includes all of St. Patrick’s favorites, piled high onto a bed of warm, crispy potatoes.What’s not to like? Instead of opening a few cans, as one often does for classic nachos, this one is brimming with fresh ingredients, all in the colors of the Irish flag. Think of it as a deconstructed baked potato with a hint of the Emerald Isle. Serve with small plates and forks for a casual supper, or as a super-snack for sports fans.

This crazy fusion is a crowd-pleaser; and all the elements can be prepared ahead, and are easily multiplied as needed.There’s no point in offering an actual recipe here, as you are the master of your nacho destiny. Add as little or as much of the ingredients as you like. Here is the architectural blueprint for making your masterpiece, along with a couple of helpful recipes.

How to Assemble Irish Nachos

  1. Make a batch of Crispy Smashed Potatoes (recipe follows). If you will be serving soon, do not turn off the oven. Transfer the potatoes, along with any crispy potato bits, into a shallow baking dish and topwith a generous handful of cheese.

As far as the choice of cheese, your options are wide open. You can get fancy with crumbled soft goat cheese, but a robust, Irish cheddar or a bit of farmhouse blue are other good choices. If you would rather stick to the basics, use shredded Monterey jack or another favorite, cheddar.

  1. If desired, top with your choice of meat and another handful of cheese. Place in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has softened or melted (as you prefer) and the potatoes are heated through.

Any protein will do here, but coarsely chopped cooked bacon or pancetta; crumbled cooked sausage; or bite-size shreds of corned beef all work well.

  1. Top the warm potato mixture with a mound of very thinly sliced green cabbage or a shower of baby arugula leaves, and drizzle with Herbed Sour Cream (recipe follows). Place the remaining Herbed Cream in a small serving bowl.
  1. Scatter 2 or 3 thinly-sliced green onions and 1 shredded carrot over the top. Serve at once with a couple of large spoons, so guests can serve themselves. Pass the reserved Herbed Sour Cream on the side. Serves 4 to 6. Maybe.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

12 Yukon Gold or red creamer potatoes, each about 1 1/2-inches in diameter

Coarse (kosher) salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons California olive oil

  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover, and about 1 tablespoon of coarse salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat; then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes. (This part can be done hours in advance, so all you need to do is roast the potatoes just before serving.) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  1. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil, turning to coat.Arrange the potatoes in a single layer. Using a potato masher or a large fork, smash each potato until it’s about 1/2-inch thick. (Don’t aim for perfection here. You want plenty of nooks & crannies, with bits of potato spilling out.) Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes, turning once, until nicely browned, 25 to 30 minutes.


Herbed Sour Cream

1 1/2 cups sour cream or plain yogurt

3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

3 tablespoons minced fresh chives

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill, basil, cilantro, or tarragon

1teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Dash of cayenne pepper

  1. In a bowl, combine the sour cream, parsley, chives, dill, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne. Stir until well mixed.
  1. Serve at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

Other options to consider

  • Check your produce drawer! Veggies like diced bell pepper, blanched fresh peas, or bite-size broccoli florets add healthy crunch and more green!
  • Guacamole aficionados always appreciate another dose of their favorite green; or a drizzle of tomatillo salsa for a touch of heat.
  • I always think 1 or 2 sliced jalapeno chile peppers are always a good idea. No, they’re not the least bit Irish, but the color works—and I love the added zing.
  • Still yearning for beans in your nachos? Try shelled fava beans or edamame.
  • Not feeling that layer of meat? Omit the meat and cheese altogether and, just before serving, scatter thin slices of smoked salmon or trout over the top.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!


Comfort in the Familiar

Most of us have undergone a detox of sorts since January 1. But between the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day and The Year of the Rooster and every other holiday-centric excuse we find for feasting, our dietary choices often expand right along with our waistlines.

Through thick and thin, however, the farmers’ market remains our portal to healthy living. More veggies; less meat. Processed foods are scarce. No elevator music = no stress. Plus, shopping in the open-air is downright invigorating.

This month’s market is brimming with juicy citrus fruits, crunchy apples, creamy pears, and other sweet starlets from the waning days of winter. February also signals the arrival of early crops like sugar snap peas and strawberries, offering a sneak-peak of coming attractions.

As we wait for spring to launch into full swing, now is the perfect opportunity to explore more common vegetables we sometimes take for granted, or view as not being “special” enough for company. Just give them a New Year’s makeover! Show everyone that plain-Janes like broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms can be as glamorous as their short-seasoned cousins.

The following has become my go-to winter recipe for both potlucks and entertaining large groups at home. Prep is limited; the recipe is easily multiplied; everything cooks together in a hot oven; and it can be served either warm or at room temperature. And, oh yeah, it also tastes great. There’s nothing ho-hum about these vegetables.

Roasted Broccolini with Herbed Mushrooms

1 1/2 pounds mushrooms (any variety), halved if large

1/2 cup California olive oil

2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 pounds broccolini, tough ends trimmed

1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

  1. Position one oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and another rack in the center. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. On a large rimmed baking sheet, combine the mushrooms, about 6 tablespoons of the oil, the thyme, soy sauce, and pepper Toss gently to coat.

Spread into an even layer and place the baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven. Roast, stirring once, until the mushrooms are browned and tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the broccolini on another large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt. Toss gently to coat. Spread into an even layer and place the baking sheet on the center rack in the oven. Roast the broccolini, turning once, until the stems are crisp-tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 10 to 15 minutes.

  1. Arrange the vegetables decoratively on a large platter. Serve at once, or let cool to room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.

Recipe Afterthoughts

It’s all cruciferous. I happen to be partial to broccolini, a natural hybrid of broccoli and Japanese kai-lan. (Sometimes you will see it labeled as “baby broccoli.”) The smaller florets and long, thin stalks with tender skin make for speedy prep in the kitchen. If you are a fan of pleasantly bitter broccoli raab, it makes an easy substitute. And when substituting plain ol’ garden-variety broccoli, simply peel away the tough skin from the stems and cut lengthwise, from stem through the florets, into smaller spears.

Don’t be timid when roasting vegetables. A little char at the edges adds visual appeal as well as flavor. (After a childhood of eating water-logged veggies, it also makes for a pleasant surprise.)

If soy sauce seems out of place in this recipe, don’t worry. It will not make the mushrooms taste like Chinese takeout. It simply boosts the umami factor, helps with browning, and adds sodium to bring out the natural flavor of the mushrooms.

I like to use an assortment of cultivated and wild mushrooms for this dish—as grand or as meager as budget allows. The exotic ones taste wonderful, of course, and make the dish look like more of a Big Deal.

If you’re fresh outta thyme, finely chopped rosemary makes a tasty substitute. If you must use dried herbs instead of fresh, use a generous 1/2 teaspoon only.

If you are inclined to gild the lily, it never hurts to shave a bit of Parmesan over the top before serving.

Although the recipe makes 4 to 6 generous servings, it has been known to serve 8 or more as part of a buffet. If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, use the veggies to fill omelets. Or eat them cold, directly out of the refrigerator. Whatever.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!






Starting Over…Again

I’ve already abandoned the whole New Year’s Diet thing. For the first week or two I documented my carb, fat, and caloric intake with military precision. But now that I’ve dropped a few pounds, I’m over it. I figure any reasonable regimen is bound to be an improvement over December’s champagne-fueled evenings and Christmas-cookie-breakfasts.

In the aftermath of holiday excess, it is comforting to sit down to a healthy meal at home…providing it’s something appealing and delicious. The good news here is that the words “healthy” and “delicious” need not cancel out each other.

I know I can’t stray far off track when I’m at the farmers’ market. With no shelves of salty snacks or candy aisle or liquor department to divert my attention, I feel quite virtuous as I shop in the open air. For me, this is about as good as it gets. So as I’m leaving the market, I reward myself with a bouquet of fresh flowers. Yup, that’s how I roll.

One of the cruel ironies in life is that the New Year begins in winter, when we are naturally inclined to hibernate in the coziness of our homes. This has the potential of becoming a danger zone, for nothing satisfies like comfort food on a chilly evening. But “comfort” doesn’t have to mean giant bowls of cheesy pasta or a small trough of ice cream. Nor does it mean a scoop of nonfat cottage cheese and a few limp lettuce leaves. Somewhere, there is a happy median.

Fellow January dieters can rejoice that sweet potatoes are one of the few starchy vegetables that ranks low on the glycemic index. They are also high in vitamins and A, B6, C and D; and a good source of potassium, calcium, folate, magnesium, iron, and beta-carotene. If you have never tasted sweet potatoes without a blanket of molten marshmallows on top, you are in for a pleasant surprise.

Sweet potatoes are born with paper-thin skin and a high ratio of starch to sugar; and they’re not terribly desirable at this stage. Only after a designated period of climate-controlled storage does the skin thicken into a protective barrier and the starch contained within convert to sugar—resulting in the creamy sweet potato we know and love.

The peak season for both sweet potatoes and apples is waning, so it’s the perfect time to indulge. The following torte makes a company-worthy side dish for roast pork or poultry; and an impressive vegetarian entrée when served alongside a warm loaf of crusty whole-grain bread and a lively green salad dotted with toasted sliced almonds and juicy orange segments. It’s also a very comforting way to ease into 2017.


31/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small thyme sprig, plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced or chopped, including the green tops

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste

1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled soft goat cheese

2 red-skinned sweet potatoes (yam variety), about 12 ounces each, peeled and thinly sliced*

1 large tart green apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, halved, cored, and thinly sliced*

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Use some of the butter to generously grease an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, then place the thyme sprig in the center of the pan.
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the chopped thyme, the green onions, flour, salt, sugar, and a few grindings of pepper. Toss gently to mix well. Stir in the cheese.
  1. Arrange a single layer of sweet potatoes in concentric circles over the bottom of the prepared pan, overlapping the slices slightly and taking care to not disturb the thyme sprig in the center. (This layer will be the only one visible when the torte is unmolded, so you’ll want to take the time to make it attractive.) Top with half of the apple slices spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with half of the cheese mixture; then drizzle with about 2 teaspoons of butter. Use half of the remaining sweet potatoes to make the next layer; and top with the remaining apple, the remaining cheese mixture, and 2 teaspoons of butter. Make the final layer using the remaining sweet potato slices and drizzle with the remaining butter. Press down gently to compress the mixture. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 40 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and bake, uncovered, until lightly browned at the edges, about 25 minutes longer. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes to 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen.To serve, invert the warm torte onto a warm serving plate and cut into pie-shaped wedges. Makes 1 (8- or 9-inch) torte, to serve 6 to 8 as a side dish.

* To simplify your life, use a mandoline or the slicing disk on a food processor to make uniform slices about 1/8-inch thick.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!






Feeding Your Inner Santa

As the year draws to a close, the farmers’ market takes on a new life. Along with plants, flowers, and greenery ideal for decorating and gift-giving, there are plenty of essentials for holiday meals, including just-picked cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pomegranates, persimmons, crisp apples, creamy pears, Meyer lemons, grapefruit, and tangy-sweet tangerines and oranges.

Having grown up in very modest circumstances in Ireland, my parents considered it perfectly reasonable to include a couple of fresh oranges to our Christmas stockings. We just saw it as a sneaky way of buying us fewer toys.

Then there was the year my father got his revenge on his ungrateful children by adding a few large russet potatoes to the bottom of each stocking. Imagine our excitement when we saw those bulging stockings hanging from the mantle! I’m still working through that one in therapy. But I digress…

Before going to bed on Christmas Eve, we always left Santa a couple of slices of my mom’s Irish soda bread slathered with butter, and a cup of hot tea with milk and sugar. (Coincidentally, this also happened to be my father’s favorite snack.)

raisin bread in a marketJust in case Santa drops by my house this year, I decided to set aside the traditional raisins for a change and give my soda bread a seasonal twist; along with an orange-scented honey butter. This will be good on Christmas morning, or anytime of day with a cup of tea, coffee, or hot cocoa.

Soda bread is so incredibly easy to make, the finished loaf leaves the novice baker feeling like a real pro. There is no temperamental yeast to deal with, for it is the chemical reaction between the baking soda and buttermilk that causes the bread to rise. My mom’s version goes one step further by adding an egg, which also lightens the texture.

And don’t overlook the gift-potential of this loaf, wrapped in cellophane with a big tartan-plaid bow.As holiday baking goes, this is a lot healthier than a batch of cookies… and takes less time to make.


4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon fine seas salt

1 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries

1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup stemmed and coarsely chopped dried figs

Finely grated zest from 1 orange

2 cups buttermilk

1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease a 9- to 10-inch cast-iron skillet with vegetable shortening. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; whisk gently to blend. Stir in the dried fruits and orange zest to coat with the flour mixture. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk and egg; mix until a stiff dough forms. (Use a wooden spoon if you must, but the most efficient way to mix this soft, sticky dough is with floured hands. Alternatively, the dough can be mixed in a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the dough hook… though, as far as I’m concerned, this just creates more stuff to wash!)
  1. Remove the dough from the bowl and mound it into the prepared skillet, roughly forming a round loaf. (Don’t be concerned it doesn’t hold its shape; all will be corrected during baking.) Lightly moisten your hands with water to smooth the top. Using a serrated knife dipped in flour, score the top with a large X, about 1-inch deep. This will ensure even baking… and is said to also scare away the devil. (One can’t be too safe when baking, after all.) Bake 1 hour or until the loaf is golden brown with a firm crust, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch thick slices. Serve warm, at room temperature, or toasted, with or without Orange-Honey Butter. Makes 1 (9-inch) round loaf.

Orange-Honey Butter

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon honey, or more to taste

Finely grated zest from 1 orange

Dash of salt

Mix together the butter, 1 tablespoon honey, orange zest, and salt until well blended.Taste, adding more honey if desired. Use at once, or cover and refrigerate.

Some final thoughts:

–If buttermilk is not something you normally use, fake it by placing 3 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice in a 1-pint glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to measure 2 cups and stir to mix. Let it stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, until the mixture appears slightly curdled.

–I think baking this in a cast iron skillet gives the finished bread more soul…or, at least, a better crust. If you don’t have one, just use a well-greased 9-inch cake pan.

–Remember to check the expiration date on the box or can of baking soda in your pantry. It definitely loses its oomph over time.

–The original recipe calls for 2 cups of raisins, minus the orange zest, and that version still tastes wonderful. As you wander through the farmers’ market, however, check out the wide assortment of dried fruits and nuts available to come up with your own signature holiday soda bread. I am already thinking about shaking things up with chopped pitted dates and walnuts or pistachios….

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!



Giving Thanks

The holiday season kicks into high gear this month, commencing with a very special meal on Thursday, November 24. There are no greeting cards to mail or gifts to buy—we simply gather together for a higher purpose. That’s what makes this day an American favorite.

Whether hosting your own extravaganza or simply providing a potluck dish, Thanksgiving preparations generally abide by the “old school rule” to showcase California’s bounty. This is no time to go hunting in the frozen foods aisle of your supermarket to grab an icy bag of some ho-hum product manufactured in parts unknown. Memories are not made from frozen pumpkin pie. We are better than that.

To get the freshest and the best from neighboring counties, shopping at the Danville farmers’ market this month makes more sense than ever. It is also the most meaningful way to show gratitude to the people who grow the food we eat throughout the year.

The farmers’ market is about as low-tech as it gets, yet you are sure to find the best selection of must-haves for your holiday feast. As you explore your Inner Pilgrim, there are no massive carts to maneuver through crowded aisles. No empty shelves to aggravate you. No fluorescent lights to blind your eyes. And best of all, no Muzak to rattle your nerves.

There is a gamut of just-picked greens, and local olive oil for salads; sweet potatoes to bake; russet and Yukon Gold potatoes to mash; onions, celery, and artisan breads for homemade stuffing; Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans, acorn squash, and plenty of other seasonal veggies for stellar side dishes; and freshly harvested walnuts and almonds to add crunch to everything from appetizers to desserts. For a touch of natural sweetness, look for local honey, plump raisins, and California dried apricots and cherries. All right there, in the crisp November air.

Circassian walnut isolated on white background

For those with dessert on the mind there’s a plethora of sugar pumpkins, as well as rosy pomegranates, fiery orange persimmons, creamy pears, and a rainbow of newly picked apples. For the aspiring home decorator (or very thoughtful guest), there is a staggering variety of Indian corn and gourds, along with locally-grown flowers, plants, and wreaths—fresh as can be, and often priced at a fraction of what you would pay elsewhere.

With all there is to do this time of year, advance prep is a must. I always like to keep some sort of nuts on hand to serve along with drinks, or to package in cellophane bags as a thoughtful gift for holiday hosts. Recipes for herbed, candied, or spiced nuts abound, but this one is my current favorite. (And judging from the number of times I’ve been asked for the recipe, others seem to like them, too.) These can be made well in advance, and—as an added bonus—smell wonderful as they bake.

The key here is to use fresh nuts—not some limp or rancid ones that have been languishing on a shelf for years. At the farmers’ market, rest assured you will buy only the latest snapping-fresh crop from California.

                                                         Spiced Praline Walnuts

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 tablespoons water

1 pound California walnut halves and pieces (about 4 cups)

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar*

1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a half-sheet pan with a silicone baking mat, parchment, or foil and spray with no-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg whites and water until foamy.  Add the walnuts, stirring gently to coat well. Scrape the mixture into a colander in the sink and let drain for 5 minutes. Wipe the mixing bowl dry with paper towels.
  2. In the same bowl, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, cayenne, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir to blend. Add the walnuts and vanilla and toss to coat well.
  3. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake, stirring 3 or 4 times, until fragrant and nicely browned, about 30 minutes. (Watch carefully so they do not burn.) Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack. If any of the nuts are stuck together, carefully use a fork to separate them. Let the nuts cool completely. Serve at once, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month. Makes about 4 cups.

* It is best to use only pure cane sugar here. Less expensive store brands are often blended with beet sugar that makes the caramelization process difficult, if not downright impossible.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!