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In the Garden

Jan 08, 2019 08:42PM ● By Lesley Stiles

Lesley Stiles

Citrus Peaks in January

Perched on the edge of a new orbit around the sun can be exciting as well as a little intimidating. Most human beings exert measurable pressure upon themselves as well as enviably bizarre sincerity to perform in some super power way or another. Pulled out and worn like a necklace that scratches your throat, two long practiced and beloved January favorites, losing weight or quitting smoking, create a puritanically scandalous month in which to perform. 

An oasis of surrender follows closely come February. Oblivious to being declared out by a jury of portly, smoking peers, ancient, sacrosanct rhythms of daily ritual outweigh the former nonsense, and the year can begin in beautiful earnest.

Brilliantly themed images in your life let you know you are doing enough already. Stumbling with relief, we realize we always have an answer, it just may not be the right one. Critically enthusiastic as we are to have the perfect life, come the turn of the year, something that can take us away for a moment or more from our quest for perfection is the knowledge of familiar lengthening of the afternoon sun. Days are getting longer. Funny how this happens this time of year in the Diablo Valley. Cruising up from December 21, days are getting longer. 

As soon as your brain registers a temperature shift on your body, even from just walking outside in the cool air, it changes hormones as well as endorphins. Hormones of hope fueled by positive endorphins also thrive on mega nutrient, life- giving foods tucked from plate to mouth via fork and way back via farm. Fortunately for us, we have year-round farmers’ markets in case our autumn gardening goal fell shy of the intended plan. Green, leafy vegetables are screaming plentiful on bowed tables or in wild, Disney looking bunches in your backyard. Italian grandmas are singing opera at the abundance of choice we must partake in. 

Citrus is peaking this month in California’s central valley. Feeding the farmers’ market Jones is easy when you have new batches of blood oranges to procure each week. Harking originally from Sicily in the 1500s, blood oranges can be exciting to introduce to blood orange virgins. Slicing into one, you can shock tasters visually with their crimson shot scarlet flesh and juice. 

A mutation of sweet oranges, bloods can be smaller than their cousins but lack nothing in flavor when purchased fresh locally at their peak. Less acid along with a weird fruit pigment combine for a winter treat that seasonally lingers only a short time, prompting immediate seek-and-find maneuvers at farmers’ markets. 

Variety of Ways to Use Citrus

Haunting, tropical tastes with raspberry and mango nuances, blood oranges lend their talents smoothly to a plethora of culinary pleasures. Try fresh squeezed juice in champagne and blush the cocktail pink to go with your cheeks. Margaritas crave the addition of the blood juice as well. 


Create a stellar main or side dish by slicing and roasting yellow beets. Blend color and flavor by adding magenta segments, toss with rice vinegar, and place on winter arugula dotted with chevre. Fennel, jicama, and bloods make a stunning and brilliantly crisp salad that thrills olfactory senses as well as taste buds. Reduce blood juice with a bit of cream and add segments at the end for a luxuriously thrilling roasted chicken breast. Toss sharp watercress with blood segments and juice and drizzle with lemon oil and cracking salt to create the perfect foil for fresh grilled fish. Snagging bloods at your local farmers’ markets is a coup, making you as popular as a ruler when you share that love around.

Broccoli, a base vegetable if there ever was one, yells with reincarnated carnality, “It’s my season, fool, get me off this table!” She ain’t alone, friends, winter ‘round these parts is wicked rich with seasonal produce. It will take a trip to the farmers’ market a few times to see it all, and by then you are in a hooked pattern, much like that brilliantly beautiful old necklace that softly chafes your neck but you continue to wear because it brings out your eyes, everyone says so.

Here’s an announcement, as crazy as it may seem!! We are thrilled to spill the beans that we are taking over Roxx on Main in Downtown Martinez. Roxx will have expanded evening hours and dinner hours as well as your favorite weekend bands and creative cocktails. Stay tuned for more info as we go. Doing a few changes inside, so we are looking at the beginning of March to get back open for business! 


Butternut squash, celery and pancetta braised with oregano, fennel and faro

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

4 celery ribs, sliced in 1 inch pieces

1 leek, quartered and sliced thin

1 stalk green garlic, sliced thinly or 3 cloves garlic chopped

1 bulb fennel, cut in quarters and sliced in ½ inch pieces 

½ pound raw pancetta, diced

11/2 cups faro

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup white wine

1 cup chicken stock

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 cup total chopped herbs, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil and parsley

2 cups chopped kale

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot to medium high, before smoking. Add pancetta, leek and garlic and cook until pancetta is almost crispy, about 5 minutes. Add squash, celery and fennel and sauté 4 minutes more until veggies sweat. Add faro and sauté 4 minutes more to brown a bit and bring oils to the surface. Add wine and stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until squash is tender when pierced with a fork. Add zest and juice of lemon and let cook 1 minute. Add all herbs and greens and turn off heat. Cover 3 minutes and season with salt and pepper and serve. Serves 8