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California Walnut Harvest Tour, Sacramento California

Travel, Nutrition NewsCarlene ThomasComment

I am a mega nerd for all things food process. The moment I get to see food or product growing I am running off the bus into the fields with my camera (Reference: please talk to everyone who came on the peanut tour with me when I saw a cotton field for the first time). There's something really special about seeing a food you have in your kitchen in the most real form. And that's coming from someone who grew up surrounded by farms and gardens. So I'm not just some city slicker fascinated by a potted plant. That's why when I do get the chance to travel and learn more about a food process, I am all in to learn and capture it for you .

This past weekend I headed to Sacramento California with California Walnuts for walnut harvest season! 99 percent of all walnuts grown in the US come from California. So if you want to experience harvest to packaging in under 3 minutes, definitely check out the video from my trip below. 

In terms of Sacramento things, we stayed in the Citizen Hotel which is weirdly the most DC hotel I've ever seen. It belongs back home vs Sacramento. Everything is politically themed (also- amazing striped wallpaper). Beyond that we ate dinner at Hook and Ladder and Mulvaney's which are both apparently very Sacramento things to do. 

California Walnut Harvest Tour, Sacramento California

The morning of the tour itself, we went to Barton Ranch which has I think 5 generations of walnut farmers. The processing plant had an amazing cross section slice of a 99 year old walnut tree, that unfortunately had to be taken down due to disease, with plotted points within the rings. Since the rings each mean a growing season or year within a cross section, they correlated to family photos during these 99 years. It was such a great idea. 

But back to the walnut orchard: in short, it's beautiful. If you watch the video footage I took, it's just a Vogue shoot waiting to happen. The tree canopy is beautiful and they way the light filters through is a dream. Our tour started in a part of the orchard that was in the first phase of harvest which requires shaking the trees for the nuts to fall on the ground. 

California Walnut Harvest Tour, Sacramento California

After the nuts are on the ground they are swept into rows and essentially sucked up in a giant vacuum and then carted to the huller (below) to remove the hull or outer part of the walnut. 

California Walnut Harvest Tour, Sacramento California

After they're hulled and dried, they go to a processing plant where some amazing machinery cracks it perfectly, sorts it and it ends up in the store. Really, the person who came up with this process is a genius. It's so efficient. 

Once these walnuts end up with you, they're typically purchased for culinary vs snacking purposes, at least in the US. In Asia they're loved as a snack nut. That being said, using walnuts as sauce thickeners,  meat substitutes, or as a 'breading' on things is nothing to push aside. There are tons of ways to use walnuts.

California Walnut Harvest Tour, Sacramento California

 The nutrition benefits walnuts provide are astounding. They're the only nut significantly high in omega 3 ALA's (2.5 grams per ounce) and have the highest polyphenol antioxidant levels among tree nuts. And okay, that's cool, but the fact of the matter is it really, really can effect your health. We listened to three research presentations and in the next year or so there are some amazing studies that will be published in terms of walnuts and cancer, cognition (specifically related to memory loss), heart health and weight. There's a biochemist out of West Virginia who is focusing on breast cancer and walnuts... I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say about her ongoing research except...holy sh**. I'm eating walnuts from now on. 

If you're inspired to start adding walnuts to your menu, you're in luck! We certainly love walnuts here:

California Walnut Harvest Tour, Sacramento California

Disclosure: Thank you to California Walnuts for bringing me along on this trip! I was not compensated for tweeting/Instagram-storying/blogging etc about this event.

Middle Season (Summer-Fall) Honeycrisp Harvest Bowl

Cooking, Healthy Hostess, Main DishesCarlene ThomasComment

Hi, hello. Welcome to the most awkward time of year: kind of after summer but also a little bit fall. Maybe the best recent example of this is NYFW, where bloggers were wearing coats on 90 degree days in early September. It's not time guys.  On the plus side, most farmers markets across the US are busting at the seams. I know here in Virginia we have tomatoes AND apples (The best of both worlds). And while lots of recipes right now are just diving straight into fall-fall-fall, I want to be realistic. It's still summer no matter how much you want to wear a sweater and you still have access to both seasons of produce and flavors. So break the rules. Use those green beans AND apples in a middle season harvest bowl. Like a badass. And also someone who suddenly remembers how once November rolls around how their greatest desire is summer produce. 

Middle Season (Summer-Fall) Harvest Bowl

The key to a good healthy harvest bowl is a variety of colors and textures. The important thing is flavors that are compatible. No one is stopping you from adding last night's steak with blue cheese to that rosewater fruit salad except you (and me through this screen). When it comes to bridging seasons it becomes even trickier. There's a saying "if it grows together it goes together" which some people use for building recipes. So you see the problem when we start crossing seasons... As a rule of thumb, I would stick to only one or two strong seasonal flavors per bowl plus a bridge item. In this bowl, green beans have a distinctive flavor, as do sweet potatoes. To balance that out, I have microgreens on the more neutral side (not a bitter variety) and honeycrisp apples. The bridge is the chicken and the walnuts. Chicken can go either fall or summer so easily. It just depends on how you spice it. The spice blend here is a cumin chili and sugar mix which brings to mind summer grilling but also warmer spiced fall chilis and meat dishes. The walnuts are caramelized like I did in this brunch recipe. They easily cross from season to season as well. 

Middle Season (Summer-Fall) Harvest Bowl

From a nutrition perspective we have a variety of nutrients (check out these colors!) in addition to two important things for satiety: protein and a healthy fat. The walnuts are our heart-healthy fat source (high in omega-3 ALA and it has 5x more than the next highest nut) in addition to a source of protein. Chicken is obviously another protein source here, but if you're vegetarian, you can swap this out for some roasted chickpeas with the same spice blend. 

Another note about the chicken in this recipe: I call for organic or farm raised chicken, which is a first on this blog. But after a recent run in with conventional chicken from the grocery with woody-breast (not dangerous but TERRIBLE texture. You can read more in WSJ on this here) I am OVER IT. Quality protein is really important and after tasting this again in this chicken which was incredibly tender and moist, I can't go back. Not worth the calories. Not worth the yuck in a recipe. 

Middle Season (Summer-Fall) Harvest Bowl
Middle Season (Summer-Fall) Harvest Bowl

Middle Season (Summer-Fall) Honeycrisp Harvest Bowl

serves 2

/// Ingredients ///

Bowl

  • 1 medium-small honeycrisp apple, sliced
  • 2 1/2 c chopped roasted sweet potato (2 medium peeled and cubed)
  • 1 1/2 T olive oil
  • salt and freshlky ground pepper 
  • 1 c microgreens
  • 2 handfuls green beans, ends cut- blanched
  • 8 oz boneless skinless organic or local farm raised chicken breast
  • 2 t cumin
  • 1/2 t chili powder
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1/3 c crème fraîche
  • 1/2 T finely grated dark chocolate bar
  • 1/8 t powdered ginger

Caramel Walnuts

  • 1/2 cup walnut halves
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 T butter
  • pinch of salt 
  • Directions: Add walnuts, brown sugar and butter to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter and sugar melt, stir to coat walnuts, reduce to medium-low and cook for seven minutes as the product thickens. Stir constantly. Add salt and instant coffee, stir and use a rubber spatula to pour onto parchment paper on a pan to cool in a single layer. Once cooled, break apart walnuts. 

/// Directions /// 

Roast sweet potato by tossing with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet pan and bake at 350 F for 25 minutes, or until the potato cubes are able to be pierced with a fork or knife. While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, heat a cast iron skillet with neutral oil on medium. To make cumin mix add cumin, chili and sugar in a small bowl. Add a sprinkle of salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle cumin seasoning mix on each side of the chicken breast. Sear on one side on the pan, flip to the other side, turn down the temperature to low, add 1/4 cup of water and cover. Cook until the internal temp is 165 F. To make the dressing, stir crème fraîche, dark chocolate and powdered ginger together. Place in a small dish to dress the bowl later. Blanch green beans. To plate, slice the chicken into strips or cubes and add everything to a large dish in quadrants. 

Middle Season (Summer-Fall) Harvest Bowl

What do you eat in 'middle season'?

Women in Food Season's Bounty Rooftop Dinner

Women in Food Interviews, Northern VACarlene ThomasComment

Here's a delicious recap of our second Women in Food dinner at The New Bridge with Chef Ryan Ross from this past weekend. Since I just interviewed Elizabeth for our Women in Food series last week, I won't re-tell the story of how this event ended up starting (you can read about it in the first dinner recap here). The cool thing about these dinners is they end up having a totally different vibe each time. Because Ryan cooks hyper-seasonally (she seriously builds the menu when she's here from the Pacific North West a few days before!) the food is of amazingly different than the dinner in spring!

Even Martha, the bad ass farmer and former lawyer who brought a lot of the produce and eggs for the dinner, was telling me she's still harvesting tomatoes and melons, right as her fall squash are coming in! You just roll with what Mother Nature gives you. Sometimes Mother Nature is the really nice Aunt with no kids who likes to give you things because it's Tuesday. 

fleur de chevre virginia women in food dinner
deconstructed deviled eggs with marigold aioli - Virginia women in food dinner
wild roots apothecary women in food dinner

For starters we had fleur de chevre (goat cheese rolled in salts and flowers and micro greens) with deconstructed deviled eggs with marigold aioli and these rosehip hibiscus cocktails. One of the mixers in the cocktail is from a new to me woman run company in Virginia called Wild Roots Apothecary. Their product was used in three beverages throughout the course of the night and I clearly have some beverage-product-stalking to do. 

women in food dinner- york oysters

Deep breaths here. The first course was oysters. I am not an oyster person. I never grew up eating them. They essentially look like snot in a shell.  I had some in June while sitting in a goat barn for a fancy-schmancy-private dinner (long story) and they just did not sit well with me as much as I was willing to try and like them (like anchovies plain). So needless to say, I was a little afraid. But man, how good do these look? So I ate them, and if Chef Ryan makes me oysters, I'm in. I'm not sure about the rest of the population. We'll get there. 

These oysters are extra cool because they're from the York River in Virginia. There's a female farmer down there who has been working her ass off to re-establish sustainable oyster populations and bring them front and center to Virginians. And after a little Googling myself, Virginia is actually known as the 'oyster capital of the East coast'. So there you go.  Just another reason to explore oysters.

many summer tomato tart women in food dinner virginia
skillet fried chicken with kale waffles virginia women in food rooftop dinner

The oysters were followed by a curried pumpkin soup, a many tomato tart (I WILL EAT THIS EVERY DAY) and a skillet fried chicken and waffles. And the waffles were made out of blue corn and kale. The irony of this particular course is that in Elizabeth's women in food interview last week, chicken and waffles was the food trend she was done with. So of course, Ryan was out to put chicken and waffles back in Elizabeth's good graces. Good news: Elizabeth loves these chicken and waffles. 

When it comes to food philosophy, I don't think there's a food you hate...I think you just haven't had it made properly yet. Maybe the best example I've had of this is when I told our friend how much I dislike bok-choy and he asked if I would drink it in a bloody mary. Touché. 

women in food rooftop dinner , the new bridge
women in food rooftop dinner , the new bridge
women in food rooftop dinner , the new bridge

We finished the night with a blonde zucchini cake topped with miso maple caramel (THIS) and acorn squash ice cream and a nettle orange tonic. Is your mind just swimming in possibilities for end of summer menus now? Every time I see Ryan post on Instagram, I'm inspired to really put in the work to prepare what the season has to offer. 

What are you eating in this late summer-early fall window?

� Healthfully Ever After & Carlene Thomas 2011-2014