Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creamy Pasta Bake

Twenty two years ago my husband, then boyfriend, made his favorite meal for me ... Baked Ziti.  Little did I know it was the only meal he knew how to make, but it was also one he had grown up with and still craves to this day.  Filled with pasta, tomato sauce and a good amount of creamy ricotta, this dish also became a favorite of our children, until they became lactose intolerant.  For years we've simply skipped this favorite dish in favor of alternative dairy-free pasta meals, but they alway have a little yearning for this old favorite.

A simple mention from my son last week of "I wish we could have that ziti" had me turning to the internet to see what I could do.  With alternatives including tofu, dairy-free milks, and brewer's yeast, I didn't see anything that I thought would do for our family until I spotted a recipe using cashews.

Cashews?  Could it work?  In a word... yes!  Is it exactly the same as the old ricotta version? No.  But did anyone care?  Again, no.

With one of those new high-powered blenders (my beloved Blendtec) on my counter, a simple spin in the Twister Jar had a cupful of cashews turning to a creamy cashew butter in no time.

With my sauce simmering along with the vegetables of the evening (this evening featured asparagus and mushrooms) I removed the pan from the heat and added a few Tablespoons of the creamy cashew butter.  In no time I had a sauce reminiscent of our creamy ricotta version and into the oven it went.

Serving up the dish to the family the first comment from my son held frustration as he asked for his lactose pills along with a reminder that "Mom... you know I can't have this...".

"Yep...", I responded, "you can have this.  It's dairy-free."

Quizzical looks fluttered through their eyes and hesitant forks speared the pasta as they asked "What did you do??".

Shortly thereafter the conversation switched to the usual what we did today topics and in mere minutes I had 4 clean plates.  No one commented through the meal what they thought of the dish, but the "Hey mom... don't lose that recipe!" tossed over my son's shoulder as he left to finish homework warmed my heart and confirmed what I  had already thought.  We have a winner.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chocolate Avocado Mousse #dairyfree

Ahhh... Chocolate Mousse.  Creamy and chocolaty with a luscious, silky mouth feel, what could be better??  Well, if dairy doesn't work for you, just about anything other than this cream-filled concoction.

Chocolate Mousse, for me, goes back some 40+ years as I spent evenings at Dad's restaurant, The Windjammer, in Tiburon, CA.  With a requirement to finish either my steak or shrimp (I spoiled was I?) along with my vegetables, Marcel, one of Dad's best waiters, would then treat me to a special Chocolate Mousse.  Creamy and decadent, I hadn't a clue the amount of calories in that heavenly concoction, and then it didn't matter.

Entering my 20's I learned to make the dessert myself with a friend's "old family recipe" from a grandmother in Germany.  I don't know who  first thought to put those 4 incredible ingredients of chocolate, cream, sugar and eggs together resulting in the silky, luscious mousse has my ultimate thanks. 

However, moving into my 40's the amount of cream-filled desserts in my diet has dwindled in favor of moderation and "waist management".  Add to that the fact that my kids don't digest dairy, and mousse hasn't found its way to our menu plan for over 10 years.  

Enter my beloved avocado.  Rich and creamy in its own right, did you know you can substitute avocado for butter in your baking?  Not only that, but we used a combo of avocado and avocado oil as a substitute for heavy cream in this fabulous mousse.  Bringing a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, avocados in moderation can also work to help reduce cholesterol and fight against heart disease with their heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Lusciously creamy like its full cream cousin, no one will know your healthy secret when you serve this decadent Mousse for dessert.  Join me??

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quinoa Salad with Kale and Chickpeas

Once again I'm totally late to a food trend... this time it's kale.  For years I've read the incredible health benefits of this high fiber, iron-rich, vitamin k and antioxidant filled leafy green, but to be honest, I've always been a little scared of it.  Kale just seemed sort of tough, and it was... well... it was really, really green.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I just didn't find it appealing.

Knowing the health benefits though, I began adding kale in very small doses to our smoothies and blended juices, and no one even knew it was there.  Then Liv came home from dance one night begging to try Kale Chips after her highly respected choreographer, Miss Abbie, sang the praises of its crunchy goodness.  We tried it, and low and behold when drizzled with a little truffle oil, roasted kale is awesome!!  But in a salad?  I  just couldn't get over the toughness.

However, a lack of spinach earlier this week had me turning to that bag of Tuscan Kale just waiting to be used.  Chopping it up really, really small, the kale found it's way into one of a lunch-time regular, my beloved quinoa and chickpeas.  Adding a squeeze of lemon and a splash of avocado oil to the mix I've found a new love.

So here I am discovering that kale really isn't all that bad just when many food blogs and websites are calling an end to the kale trend.  What do you think... is kale here to stay??

Friday, March 14, 2014

Natural Products Expo West, 2014 - Top 10 Finds and a few navigational tips

Heading out by myself early on a Friday morning I made my way north to the Anaheim Convention Center... home to the 2014 Natural Products Expo West.  Little did I know I would be joining some 67,000 of my new closest friends, but this record-breaking event shows the move toward natural and healthy products is not a fad.

With over 2,600 exhibiting companies, the Expo is, needless to say, a bit overwhelming.  Luckily I had a bit of research under my belt, and after bumping into Erika, of In Erika's Kitchen, I had a little guidance and a loosely laid plan of action.

Know that if you are not one of the very early birds, you will not be able to park at the Convention Center, but parking is easily found (along with free and plentiful shuttles) at the Angel's Stadium, just a few miles from the Expo event.  Attending on a Press Pass, my registration needed to be completed at the Convention Center itself, but other registrants have the ability to get their tickets at the Angel's Parking lot... a line that moved fairly slowly due to only one person working the desk, but a line that was shorter than the mobs we met at the actual event.  I can't advise which moved faster, but both were long.

Some people actually brought wagons!
Arriving at the Press Booth on level 3, I was thankfully met with a far shorter line and some 20 minutes later I had my pass and a "small gift" (so they described it) of a giant canvas bag filled with full sized goodies featured at the event.  While I loved most of the products in the bag, know that the bag was heavy, and beginning my day with a giant bag over my shoulder meant for aching shoulder hours later.  Think twice before picking up your press bag first thing in the morning, but also know that they tend to run out around mid-day.

With my registration completed I began my exploration on the third level, one which I had been told was the newer and smaller companies attending the Expo.  Some people had recommended skipping this level all together, however I actually found this level to be the most exciting.

Small booths filled with eager faces brought actual contact from the company owners themselves, and the excitement and hope they shared about their products was positively contagious.  I spent over an hour perusing this level, chatting along the way and came away with some of my favorite Expo 2014 products, products I hope make it big in the world.

Making my way to the ground level, giant booths with big names and mobs of people intermixed with smaller booths and more mobs of people.  Some super friendly, some too busy to even answer a question.  But many products like Mama Chia, Bob's Redmill, Annie's, Navitas Naturals, and Odwalla brought familiar names and exhibits of products new and old.  Note the lower level featured even more food and health care products.

A few tips I will remember for next time:
  • Bring a few pens and a small notebook.  With so much going on sometimes the information thrown at you can be overwhelming.  I took notes on flyers and more in a notebook and also in the notes section on my phone.  Helped so much when I came home and tried to sort everything out.
  • Bring business cards, I made numerous connections at the Expo.
  • Read the exhibitor lists before you arrive and make a list of those you don't want to miss.
  • Grab a map of the venue.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes!
  • Give yourself lots of time to meander and explore
  • Don't grab free things just because they are free... I saw a lady lugging a bag of cat litter then I heard her mention, "I got this for free... and I don't even have a cat!".  Why??
  • Talk!  Get in there and talk to the vendors.  I met so many wonderful people with stories I enjoyed and the experience brought faces to the company names.
Liv Life Top 10 Finds at the 2014 Expo West

Bob's Red Mill
Whole Grains
Ok... this may not be an actual "new" find as I'm already a big Bob's Red Mill fan, but I met Bob!!  Not only did I meet him, but he gave me a personally addressed and signed book and took a photo with me.  I'm thinking we are pretty good friends now.  He even tweeted me to say he was so glad I came by.  Yep, I'm thinking BFF's...

Clean, Lean and Sexy
 A tasty snack food line that is not only delicious but isn't loaded with sugar or artificial and unnecessary ingredients
 Passing this booth one couldn't help but stop.  First, the name, Clean Lean and Sexy, alone caught my eye, then the smiles and personalities of the owner Suzie Carpenter and PR rep Nancy had me chatting in no time.  Passionate about her products, Suzie's products are made with real ingredients and will never contain gluten, soy, corn or dairy.  As the mom of a daughter with Celiac, she learned quickly how to read an ingredient label and went on to create her own snack products.

"My secret is I'm obsessed. Not only with good food, but with what's in it. When my daughter was diagnosed with Celiac's disease, I had no choice but to become an expert label reader.  My Clean, Lean and Sexy snacks are always Gluten Free and made with simple, clean ingredients. That is my pledge to you!"

Featuring an addictive Air Popped Pop Corn, Gluten Free Pretzels, and two whole food natural energy bars (I'm partial to the Coconut Cashew version!), Suzie's foods can be ordered online.

 "Olomomo® (pronounced “o-lo-MO-mo”) means "Momo's world" and refers to the nutty adventures of "Momo" the monkey.  Olomomo aspires to bring innovation to the nut industry with the most delicious and unusual nuts in the world. Our roasted nuts are a micro-batch, premium, high-energy, amino acid and protein-rich snack designed to taste great with coffee, tea, beer and wine.  They're a GREAT premium mouth-watering snack for anyone on the go - athletes, travelers, busy moms and kids. Olomomo Nuts are coming soon to a coffee shop, smoothie shop, grocery store, outdoor sporting goods store near you."

Also catching my eye with the personalities behind the tables, Olomomo Nuts has recently been named one of the Top 10 Natural Brands to Watch in 2014 by New Hope Natural Media.  Known for premium flavor profiles and product innovation in the nut and snack industry, I was lucky enough to taste their new product, the Vim Vinegar and Sea Salt Almonds.  Blending  exotic Japanese umeboshi plum vinegar with just a hint of sea salt, I could have stood around chatting and snacking on their nuts all day.

With products like   Mango Chipotle Zinger Almonds and Righteous Cinnamon Cayenne Almonds packaged in snack sized bags, this products is indeed something to go nuts for!

Good Belly
GoodBelly’s delicious organic drinks deliver a powerful daily dose of live and active probiotic cultures of Lactobacillus plantarum299v, a well-studied probiotic strain formulated for daily digestive health.* Refreshingly dairy-free, soy-free and vegan. Simply good to the core.

Super excited about this one.  Probiotic Juice Drinks... and always dairy-free.  I tasted their juice drinks and also a shot, and I have no doubt that Good Belly will earn a regular spot in our fridge.  I have visions of smoothies and blended juices using these products in my future.  Stay tuned!

  • Always dairy-free, soy-free and vegan.
  • Unlike many ‘live and active cultures’ found on the market, GoodBelly’s probiotic strain survives the stomach’s acidic environment in order to reach the rest of the intestinal tract.
  • While LP299V® is widely available in Europe, GoodBelly is the only beverage in the United States that offers this probiotic strain.
  • And most importantly, GoodBelly promotes healthy digestion.*
 The Ultimate scoop for uses in dietary food supplements, culinary, baby formula, and products containing powders, liquids and more.  Just Scoop, snap, flip and pour!

Just totally cool... who doesn't need one of these little gadgets?   My husband travels and when attempting to pour a serving of protein powder into a water bottle it always makes a mess.  This little Scoopie solves the problem.

We understand that to gym goers and competitors in the fitness industry, it's essential that they have simplicity within their everyday routine and contest prep. We saw the difficulty in taking a pre-workout/protein supplement on the go because the scoop that typically is provided in the supplement tub was much larger than the circumference of that of a normal water bottles opening/spout creating a mess. - See more at:
The ULTIMATE scoop for uses in dietary food supplements, culinary, baby formula, & products containing powders, liquids, & MORE! Just scoop, snap, flip & pour! - See more at:
"We understand that to gym goers and competitors in the fitness industry, it's essential that they have simplicity within their everyday routine and contest prep. We saw the difficulty in taking a pre-workout/protein supplement on the go because the scoop that typically is provided in the supplement tub was much larger than the circumference of that of a normal water bottles opening/spout creating a mess."

Perfect Bar
 "Around here we do things a little differently. Perfect Foods Bars are delicious, great tasting bars that DON'T have any added chemical preservatives. We start with a delicious, creamy blend of freshly ground peanut butter and almond butter, then add organic honey and nutrient dense whole foods and whole food protein. They taste so good, you won't believe they're so good for you."

Perfect Peanut Butter, Perfect Almond Butter, Perfect Almond Coconut... oh my, yes!   I'm pretty picky when it comes to bars, but these flavorful beauties had me hooked with the first taste.  I love that the ingredients are all recognizable as "real" food, and I love that there is no refined sugar.  

Family owned and operated, Perfect Bars are names as one of the 10 Best Recovery Bars by Runner's Magazine.  Found at Whole Foods, Spouts, Jimbos and numerous other stores here in Southern California, these bars have become a regular in our house already.  The Perfect Foods Bar - Peanut Butter. THE ORIGINAL, Gluten Free High Protein Bar can also be found on Amazon or ordered on line at

 Matt's Munchies

 "A banker by profession, Robert took over the kitchen and six months later, voila! Chef Robert emerged with amazingly tasty and nutritious premium fruit snacks. Robert named the new product Matt’s Munchies after his son, Matthew, who helped develop the unique flavors. With intentions as pure as their products Chef, Matt and Sous Chef Linda (momz) seek to brighten the snacking landscape together with their exciting munchies!"

Fruit snacks have always been a favorite with the kids in our house, however these snacks caught my taste buds by surprise.  The Island Mango sample sent me on a momentary trip to the tropics.  Filled with mango and a touch of tropical coconut, these fruit snacks are anything but ordinary.  

Family owned, this company moved from New York to California in 2009.  Found in some Whole Foods as well as Mother's Markets, I'm hoping to find these munchies closer to me soon! 


Lavilin Underarm and Foot Deodorants have evolved into effective alternatives to aluminum-based deodorants. Now, because our consumers have asked, Lavilin has developed a full line of deodorants, body lotions, and foot creams based on the original concept of targeting the root causes to solve problems, not just mask them! All the company's products have been developed with an awareness of the three elements – energy, harmony and proper cell development – required to achieve healthy, vital, and fresh skin.  All Lavilin products utilize plant extracts and oils to help address odor, dryness, and cracked skin – never containing aluminum or alcohol!

We've been looking for an aluminum-free deodorant that actually works for quite some time.  The Lavilin booth took the time to chat with me and their passion for their product has me ready to try.  With samples here at home, Liv and I are giving this product a go this week, and so far so good!  With products including the deodorants, foot care, skin and body, we're excited to find this line.

 Suzanne's Specialties
All natural, vegan and organic, sweeteners, desserts and toppings

This vegan and organic line of products turned my head, but it was the taste of the Marshmellow Creme (the first, and only, all natural, vegan marshmallow creme) drizzled with a Chocolate Rice Nectar that had me swooning.  Bringing a full line of organic rice nectars and fruit sweeteners, Suzanne's Specialties can be found at Whole Foods.

All of our fat-free, gluten-free, non-GMO and vegan sweeteners are made with only the highest quality USDA Organic or All-Natural ingredients. They contain no preservatives, refined sugars, artificial colors or artificial flavors.
We don't over-refine grains to the point where the identity of the plant itself has been removed, because we believe that there is a healthy value in retaining as much of the original color, proteins, residual oils, and micronutrients of the grains as possible. Our products are truly sweetened the way Mother Nature intended.

Power Berries

While I can't find a web site for this company, their PowerBerries were positively fabulous!!  The vendor mentioned we should be able to find them in Costco soon.  While they weren't in my Costco yesterday, they are indeed something to watch for.


And there are my top 10 Favorites from the Expo West 2014!!  In our bag however I brought home samples of a multitude of snacks, grains, breads, and natural products, and Liv and my son have had a few that they feel are worth mentioning:

Barnana - With Liv's love of anything banana, these Organic Chewy Banana Bites were a big hit!
Crunchies Natural Snacks - Freeze-Dried and bursting with flavor, both kids loved the pineapple.
Bare Snacks - We all loved the Crunchy Coconut Chips and the Crunchy Cinnamon Apple Chips

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ancient Power Oatmeal with Chia, Walnuts, and Flax

We all know how good oatmeal is for us... but do you ever just get tired of it?  My son told me the other day "Don't ever serve it again!!  It's just SO boring!"  I'd say that's a challenge issued.  And so we've spiced up our oatmeal, made it more interesting and even made it healthier.

Long known to have cholesterol lowering benefits, (Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal contain a specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan - and since 1963, study after study has proven the beneficial effects of this special fiber on cholesterol levels), antioxidant compounds unique to oats, called avenanthramides are now being said to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  And if that isn't enough, according to The World's Healthiest Foods, oatmeal also has the potential to stabilize blood sugars, enhance immune response to infection, lower type 2 diabetes risks, and protect against postmenopausal breast cancer.  #superfood 

After reading all these oatmeal benefits I felt even more inspired to kick up our daily oats, and stirring in a tablespoon of chia seed brought not only an interesting texture balance, but calcium, antioxidants, omega-3's and protein (chia is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids).  And then we added a little flax meal.  Adding more omega-3's, flax also benefits the cardiovascular system in addition to bringing anti-inflammatory benefits.  Don't forget about its boost to digestive health as well!

Top all these wonderful nutritional benefits with a handful of fresh fruit, a sprinkle of cinnamon (cinnamon can help regulate blood sugar, reduce LDL cholesterol levels, has natural anti-infections compounds, and can help reduce pain linked with arthritis) and a spoonful of chopped walnuts (more Omega-3's, benefits to diabetes and heart disease, can increase your sperm count, and may help in warding off dementia), and you have one extraordinarily heathful and tasty (non-boring) bowl.  Oatmeal is back on our table.

Ancient Power Oatmeal with Chia, Walnuts, and Flax
Filled with ancient grains and fiber-filled oatmeal then topped with fruit and nuts, this oatmeal is raised to another level.  Stir in a little vanilla flavored almond milk and you have a dish even your teenagers will get up for!
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4 cups water
1 cups steel cut oats
3 Tbs ground flax meal
1 Tbs chia seed
vanilla almond milk (we like Silk brand as it does not contain carageenan)

Bring water to a boil in a large pot on the stove.  While waiting for water to boil, pour the steel-cut oats into a small bowl.  Add the chia and flax, stir to combine.

When the water is boiling, add the oat mixture.  Reduce heat to medium low and stir.  Allow to simmer lightly until the water has been absorbed (about 25 minutes).  Stir occasionally

Ladle into serving bowls and top with your favorite fruit, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a spoonful of chopped walnuts.  Serve with milk of your choice (we love ours topped with vanilla almond milk!)

Liv Life Note:  If you think far enough ahead, start your oats before you go to bed! Simply bring the water to a boil and add the oat mixture.  Turn stove off and cover.  Go to bed.  When you wake in the morning, most of the water will have been absorbed and you just need a quick heating and maybe a little water added to have your meal ready faster.

Friday, March 7, 2014

California Farm Tour and a California Mexican Rice Bowl

California Mexican Rice Bowl

"Do you know where these vegetables come from?" A question I remember asking my kids years ago as we wandered the grocery store.  

"From the, uh, the vegetable store...?", was always their questioning answer.

The vegetable store indeed.  But where is that vegetable store?  Or the fruit store for that matter?

Just last week I received the answer to those questions as I participated in a behind the scenes tour of various farms in Southern California's Imperial and Coachella Valleys.  As guests of the California Farm Water Coalition, fellow bloggers Priscilla (She's Cookin'), Barbara (Barbara Cooks) and Jeanne (The Jolly Tomato),  and I visited local farms growing produce making up some 60% of our nation's winter supply.

Located in the very south of Southern California, the Imperial Valley boasts mild winter temperatures making it the perfect growing venue for winter vegetables including spinach, various types of lettuce, carrots, onions and broccoli, among numerous other varieties.

Every drop counts...
However, being part of a desert brings to the forefront the issue of an average 3 inches of rain per year, nowhere near enough water to grow crops to fill local packing plants with the necessary produce to supply much of the nation's food needs.  And with current California drought conditions making matters even worse, farms are doing everything in their power to irrigate crops as efficiently as possible.

While farming may seem like "big business", most of the farms in the valleys are still family owned, and many of these families have been farming their lands for generations.  Water scarcity in recent years however, has some farmers allowing their lands to go fallow for seasons, some seasons stretching into years.

The Faces of Farming
The Faces of Farming

Our tour brought us to local farmers working hard to keep their crops fully watered while staying up to date on the most efficient irrigation standards for each particular crop.  From sprinklers to drip lines, the precious water flowing from the Colorado River to the valley's irrigation canals is used at maximum efficiency.  (Read more about our tour from the Imperial Valley Press)

LaBrucherie Spinach Field
LaBrucherie Spinach Field
J.P. LaBrucherie, a fourth generation farmer with LaBrucherie Produce, brought our team of bloggers to one of his El Centro spinach fields and took us through the life of a spinach seed from planting to packaging.  Beginning as one of 3.5 million seeds in an acre, a spinach plant takes some 30-45 days to harvest.  Irrigated with sprinklers, these plants thrive in the local warm winter climate. 

While we missed the actual harvest, J.P. described the scene with a machine slicing the tender leaves from the plant, essentially doing what needed a field of people in the past.  The plant is then left to re-grow, but as the remaining leaves may be somewhat damaged from the initial cutting and simply not as pretty as the first round, these leaves are then cut for frozen or chopped packaging.

As an side interesting note... have you ever noticed those slender leaves in your spinach bag?  I've always wondered if they were another plant somehow mixed in by accident, however they are actually the first little leaves to emerge from the spinach sprout.  Same plant, simply a different shape.

LaBrucherie Romaine Lettuce
Moving on to lettuce, J.P. brought our team to his iceberg and romaine fields.  Entering the field the scent of fresh salad wafted around us as J.P. plucked heads from the ground, broke off the root end and and served up romaine crisper than any I've ever tasted.  Beautiful specimens are actually harvested by hand and packed right there at the field, a process I'd love to see in person one day.

Irrigated by furrows, the fields are tilted ever so slightly to encourage the water to flow from one end to another while keeping the produce dry and the roots wet.

Making our way toward the Coachella Valley, our next stop brought the heavenly scent of citrus blossoms as Dennis Jensen, of Seaview Packing, took us through lemon and orange groves.  With the groves nearing the end of the picking season new growth sprouted from the freshly manicured, squared off trees, and the fragrant blossoms brought the beginning of next year's crop to life.

Lemon Blossom
Lemon... 2015!
Driving through the citrus grove our van broke out into a tropical palm filled paradise and we soon discovered "the date store".  Apparently I'm the last person to know that the gorgeous "Date Palm" is actually where dates come from.  Taking us through the life cycle of a date, Mr. Jensen explained the laborious process of rising into the spiky (I've heard the spikes can puncture car tires) trees some 8 times in a season to prune, pollinate, pick, etc.

Deglet Noor Date Garden
Growing the popular Medjool and Deglet Noor (meaning Tree of Light) varieties, the palms provide a beautiful Garden (did you know a Date "Grove" is properly called a Date "Garden"?) and have piqued my interest in dates.  More on that in the weeks to come...

Moving on to the orange section of the farm, workers worked at picking the last of the beautiful Valencias from the heavily laden trees.

With a family-like familiarity, Mr. Jensen greeted workers with smiles and jolly laughs, and workers spoke with thankfulness and appreciation for the opportunities on this farm.  One woman in particular spoke how Mr. Jensen had passed his knowledge of the industry to her as they worked together and she now works in management at an adjacent farm.  Her contagious laugh had us all smiling right along with her.

Taking us through the groves Mr. Jensen passed out bags giving us the opportunity to pick and pack our own oranges showing that a certain skill is indeed necessary to pick quickly and properly so as not to injure the trees and branches or oneself.  Picking oranges in quantity is not quite as easy as it might seem.

Perfectly suited to drip irrigation, lines bring water directly to the root of the trees with no wastage in the process.

Automated to bring exactly what is needed, the water is pulled from the Coachella Canal, a branch of the All-American Canal, now a lined (it used to be an earthen canal,  and is now lined with cement) canal to eliminate seepage while flowing, farmers open aqueducts to bring water into ponds which is then readily available when needed.

Coachella Canal
Coachella Canal
Making our way passed the Salton Sea, a "sea" with a fabulous history of its own, our team made its next stop with Ellen Way of Prime Time Packing.  Another generational family farmer (her family has been farming since the 1700's), Ellen's quick smile and passion for agriculture exuded from every part of her as she took us through the life cycle of a pepper plant.

The largest Pepper Grower in California, Prime Time doesn't take its title of "The Pepper People" lightly.  Bringing green, red and yellow peppers to market nearly 365 days a year, Prime Time uses conventional fields as well as hothouses screened with mesh to assure the marketplace receives high quality peppers.

"One of the richest growing regions in the world, this fertile ground and warm climate are ideal for the demands of growing premium-quality peppers. Coachella Valley is the base of Prime Time's operations. Peppers are grown both in spring and fall seasons."
Prime Time

Pepper Plant
Actually a fruit, tiny peppers form after the plant flowers.  Grown conventionally in an open field, "plastic covered beds are used to cover the ground to aid in water conservation, weed control and to protect the fruit from direct soil exposure. Modern drip irrigation systems are utilized as well as the latest cultural technology."

Hence, each little plant gets its own personal water spout and is fed and watered just the perfect amount to bring big, beautiful peppers to our markets.

Pepper Plant - Prime Time Packing Co.

And then there are the hot house varieties.  Thicker walled peppers are cultivated in mesh hot houses which allows the pepper production season to stretch year round.  Hot houses bring a longer growing season, disease and insect as well as inclement weather protection and as much as 4 times the crop when compared to conventional methods.  However, those benefits come at a cost of some 4 times as much as conventional methods.

Prime Time Field - Coachella Valley - Pepper Plants
Prime Time's conventional pepper fields - Coachella Valley
With three completely different yet very similar farms under my belt, I returned home with a new appreciation for how important farmers are to our livelihood.  We may not think of them often, but they are indeed a daily part of our lives responding to our desires without us even fully realizing it.  Here's hoping the rains see fit to drop a little rain on our parched state to keep these farmers farming.  For more information see the California Farm Water Coalition... Food grows where water flows! 

With peppers on my mind, a few gorgeous red beauties found their way onto my grill for one of our favorite, yet very simple meals.  Filled with grilled peppers (I have a feeling the are from Prime Time...!), grilled onions (probably from the Imperial Valley), brown rice, beans and a loads of fresh ingredients (including ripe avocado most likely from one of my favorite farms in Temecula), this Mexican Rice Bowl has earned a spot on the favorite list.  Join me?  And when you get the chance... thank a farmer.

California Mexican Rice Bowl