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In the Garden

Jan 02, 2017 03:03PM ● By Lesley Stiles
Fortunately for us, we have an abundance of winter produce throughout Bay Area farmers’ markets and lots right here in Diablo Valley. Winter citrus is beyond abundant in January and begging to be zipped out of skin and shared. Satsuma mandarins are fantastic for healthy lunches and snacks, but citrus in our winter comes in so many varieties that it is difficult to leave farmers’ markets without bruising biceps to carry it all out. Blood oranges, tangelos, mandarins, honey tangerines, pommelos, and several varieties of grapefruit (not to mention tooth-achingly sweet, plain old oranges in several varieties, including Cara Cara) abound and beg to be taken to a nice home. A very fortunate friend of mine, upon returning from Paris, was so taken with red grapefruit sprinkled with brown sugar and brûléed, that she bought a blow torch to do her own. 

Aside from fruits, winter vegetables are at their peak of sweetness and busting out of their clothes with flavor (wait, that’s us.) Roasted beets sliced up with winter tangerine slices and lemon juice and sprinkled with toasted walnuts is a work of art for eyes as well as the tongue. Roasted winter vegetables are granted, by law, to adorn any foods known to mankind. By themselves, lovingly draped in olive oil and showered with sea salt and caramelized in a hot oven, said vegetables can be thrown into stews of any kind, polenta, risotto, and scrambled eggs, and over lettuce and spinach, wilting them as you grab a fork. Kiwis have also made their abundant Northern California harvest debut and make their own sweet, valley-wide splash into salads and onto plates.

Colored cauliflowers have taken over farmers’ market tables the past few years. Questions ricochet in minds regarding nutrition, if the color will stay after cooking, and whether they are genetically modified. While white cauliflower is the most abundant and oldest, dating back to the 6th century and well known as a favorite of Pliny the Elder, orange cauliflower is gaining speed. Genetic modification plays no part in any of the brassicas, and orange, aka cheddar, cauliflower is actually a mutant that first showed up in a farmer’s field in Toronto, similar to the Cara Cara orange’s beginnings. Having 25% more Vitamin A than its white counterpart, the orange variety owes its hue to beta-carotene. Purple cauliflower owes its unnatural shades of lavender and lilac to the presence of anthocyanins, the same mineral that colors wine and rhubarb. This cauliflower is whitish inside but does retain some color after cooking. Green cauliflower is often known by and called Romanesco or broccoflower and has a nuttier, sweeter flavor than its colored siblings. 

Hot, roasted cauliflower is amazing and retains the color of its flowers. Cut into bite-sized pieces, toss in olive oil and fresh chopped garlic, shower with salt, and roast in a hot 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Sugars quickly surface under the heat and caramel ensues. Soups from the brassicas are delightfully simple yet stunning. Sauté cauliflower, onions, and garlic in olive oil until brownish. Add white wine and chicken stock to well and cover. Simmer till very soft and puree. Season with salt, pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. Serve with a gremolata of chopped parsley with lemon peel, garlic, olive oil, and salt. It’s always a welcome addition to the party of roasted winter vegetables and surprisingly nice as a salad tossed with yuzu or lemon juice and olive oil, finished with grated fresh pecorino. 

Color has appeared on golden, parched hills and ridges, and animals start to burrow out along trails, while late winter flowering bulbs adorn shell-shocked gardens. Spring bulbs are popping heads up, looking around like the veggie version of the rodent. Vegetable gardens should be producing lots of carrots, lettuce, and greens to be lovingly snipped and sweetly devoured. I recently discovered that instead of thinning carrots and beets one by one, you can snip the tops off at the ground with small scissors. This action withers what is beneath, leaving room for others to get bigger as well as netting you a nice little handful of green tops and shoots to add to your salad. Peas should be climbing high on their fence or strings and sporting astounding white blossoms that morph into peas as you gaze on them. Winter peas sautéed with a bit of olive oil, mint, and garlic are simply sumptuous and something I could almost live on.

Along with taking back our personal food systems, we may now find ourselves with time to actually exercise again. Once again, I have to get into my yoga mind and be indifferent to unfamiliar faces nervously taking up real estate in my spot on the studio floor. As clichéd as it may sound or actually is, this is a really good time of year for rebirth and reevaluation of your life, goals, and, yes, dreams. Definitely get a realistic resolution list together and carry out attainable tasks and visions for yourself and loved ones. Even though it is incredibly egotistical to think you can change anyone, your moods definitely can, so the better you are, the better your surrounding populations become by virtue of proximity to positive energy alone. Trust me, when you are happy, everyone is, and if they are not, it is easy enough to get out of their proximity or offer an orange and a walk to help them move into that side of the brain. Happy New Year everyone, and as usual….don’t forget to breathe.

Breaking news!

I am honored to have been invited to join the team of chef’s teaching various cooking classes at Back To the Table Cooking School in Lafayette. Go to the website for an amazing array of classes and dates to choose from.


The Farmers’ Market Lovers Calendar for 2017 will be available for delivery the week of January 10, 2017. Order at or e-mail [email protected].  

Citrus and Avocado Salad

1 pound mixed baby greens salad 

1 orange, peeled and sliced

1 tangerine, peeled and sliced

1 large grapefruit, peeled and sliced

1 kiwi, peeled and sliced

1 large avocado, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a salad bowl combine the lettuce with the citrus, kiwi and avocado, and lightly toss. Add the olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste and toss lightly again. Serves 4.



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