Monday, January 28, 2008

What Grade Do You Get? Guest Blogger Serena Shares Her Tips for Eating Healthier

Ok, so how many of you know that you should include more servings of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables in your daily diet? Yes, just as I suspected all of you knew that one. Great, you received an A grade for this test question. Now onto your second test question. How many of you are eating the recommended daily amount of 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day? Aha, just as I thought, a minority of you. But if you are meeting the recommendation, congratulations and keep up the great work; however for a lot of you it looks like you are receiving a failing grade for this one, for now. As your dutiful nutrition professor I feel compelled to guide you toward an A grade.

I often ask my peers, mentors and students what is their personal disconnect between knowing and acting. The knowing being that fruits and vegetables are good for you and the acting being obtaining, preparing, and consuming them. What I have found is three reoccurring themes.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables “go bad” too quickly.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are too labor intensive to prepare.
  • I just don’t like the way they taste.

In order to address each of these barriers I have created a “study guide” so you can be well on your way to that desirable A grade.

Problem: Fresh fruits and vegetables “go bad” too quickly.

Solution: Simply buy less and buy fruits and vegetables that have a longer shelf-life. Start with an attainable goal of 1 serving of fresh fruit and 1 serving of fresh vegetables a day. In this way when you go to the grocery store you need only purchase 3 apples and a bunch of grapes to last a week. These specific fruits will last the week for a single person. (Hint: start with the grapes and keep them in your refrigerator). For your vegetables, bagged lettuce will last up to 7 days (or more) if stored properly and winter squash, onions, celery, cauliflower, and potatoes much longer.

Problem: Fresh fruits and vegetables are too labor intensive to prepare.

Solution: Purchase fruits and vegetables that are simple to prepare. Yams only need a scrub, time and a hot oven. Bagged lettuce only needs a quick rinse, tangy vinaigrette and handful of nuts. Apples and pears, merely need to be eaten. Additionally, over time, both farmers and grocers have adapted to our frenetic lifestyles, developing either new products like broccolini (a hybrid of broccoli that requires no chopping and only a quick steam or sauté) or value-added products such as prewashed and chopped green beans.

Problem: I just don’t like the way they taste.

Solution: All this requires is a sense of adventure. If you don’t enjoy Napa cabbage give the slightly sweeter (and very delicious) Savoy cabbage a try. Don’t relish the thought of steamed zucchini tossed with butter? Try it roasted with tomato sauce. By altering either the variety of vegetable or the method of preparation you should find a wide range of fruits and vegetables that you will not only enjoy, but dare I say crave.

I hope you found my study guide helpful. As your nutrition professor I would like to encourage all of you to study hard (i.e. eat more fruits and veggies), retake the exam following all that hard studying, and give yourself that A grade you deserve! You can do it. Just remember to start small and try different fruits and vegetables and/or find new ways to cook the classics. Good luck and happy studying!


-Serena Marie is a fourth year Nutritional Biology Doctoral Candidate at the University of California, Davis. Her primary research focuses on the genetics of body weight and the investigation of gene x diet interactions. Serena is adjunct faculty at Napa Valley College teaching, Nutrition Today, an introductory nutrition class for non-science majors and is a guest lecturer for Physiological Genomics and Clinical Nutrition at the University of California, Davis.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Episode 8 - Food Newscast

Food Newscast is here! Our first issue of Food Newscast includes stories about a vegetable orchestra (it's true, you can play music with veggies), NYC fruit and veggie carts, a tip for mothers to be, plus more. Check out the newest segment to the Produce Picker Podcast and let us know what you think. Feel free to comment below this post by selecting the comment tab or send emails to

To watch this episode in a bigger format visit

Saturday, January 12, 2008

How to Choose Apples and Some Insight Into the Wax Used to Make Them Shine

In previous tips and episodes of the Produce Picker Podcast (see Ep. 1) I've talked about things to look for when choosing perfect apples. To review, make sure when choosing apples that you follow these simple guidelines:

  • Apples should feel firm and heavy for their size
  • Be free of blemishes (bruises, soft spots, stem punctures)
  • Appear shiny with tight looking skin (which of course means passing the apple wrinkle test)
This final point, shiny looking skin is a result of a wax coating which occurs naturally on apples but has to be replaced after harvest. I've had several questions about what the wax is made of, why it's there, and is it safe to eat? Let me tell you a little about this waxy surface.

Before apples are picked from the tree they develop a waxy coating that helps to protect the apple from losing its moisture and prevents shriveling. However, after the apple is picked from the tree it gets washed at the orchard to remove any dirt, leaves, and other various debris picked up during harvest. Once the apple has reached the warehouse it has a wax applied back onto the apple to help protect it during the shipping process. Without this wax apples would show up to your local market severely depleted of moisture resulting in a soft and mussy apple, something I think we can all agree would not be very appealing or tasty for that matter.

So what exactly is the post harvest wax applied to apples made of and is it safe to eat? To begin with, yes it's safe to eat. According to the U.S. Apple Association all waxes applied to apples come from "natural ingredients and are certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be safe to eat."
They come from natural sources including carnauba wax, from the leaves of a Brazilian palm; candellia wax, derived from reed-like desert plants of the genus Euphorbia; and food-grade shellac, which comes from a secretion of the lac bug found in India and Pakistan. These waxes are also approved for use as food additives for candy and pastries. (Now you know why your chocolate bars melt in your mouth but not in your hand…)
When applied to each apple the natural wax used by growers only consists of one or two drops of wax. According to the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association it only takes approximately one pound of this wax to cover up to 160,000 pieces of fruits and veggies.

So buff up an apple on your sleeve and enjoy the nice crunch of a juice filled McIntosh (pictured above) all the while knowing that the wax providing it's nice sheen and moist, flavorful taste is as natural as the apple itself and has been in use since the 1920's.

Additional resources for this article:
Washington Apple Commission and The U.S. Apple Association
Picture Provided by The U.S. Apple Association

Thanks for reading!

Ray a.k.a. The Produce Picker

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How to Cut Open a Pomegranate - Episode 7 - Produce Picker Podcast

In this episode of the Produce Picker Podcast I'll teach you how to cut open a pomegranate and avoid the mess that is usually associated with getting the seeds out of a pomegranate.

Episode 7 - Transcript (this is new feature that allows you to read the episode and/or use it as a guide while opening a pomegranate).

First off let me welcome you back to another episode of the Produce Picker Podcast. I'd like to apologize that it has been so long since the last episode but with the holidays upon us, which also includes a birthday for me, that meant a pretty hectic schedule. But I'm back now and speaking of the holidays let's learn how to open an increasingly popular holiday fruit, the pomegranate.

I've put down a paper towel on my cutting board to help prevent staining the board. The juice of the pomegranate will stain pretty much anything it touches so you might want to take precautions to protect your clothing and your work area. You'll want to begin by removing (with a knife) the crown or top of the pomegranate. Move on to the bottom and do the same.

Next, score (lightly cut into) the sides of the pomegranate by taking your knife and pressing it into the tough skin of the pomegranate. You only need to cut deep enough to get through the red outer lining of the pomegranate until you hit the pith or white part just underneath the red exterior. You'll be making four cuts or scores into the pomegranate, one on each side, extending from the top to the bottom of the pomegranate.

Grab a large sized bowl and fill it with water. You'll be pulling the pomegranate apart and taking out its seeds underwater. Using this method allows for separation between the pith and the pomegranate seeds. It also produces less mess.

Now let's begin pulling apart the pomegranate and getting to our ultimate goal, the delicious seeds (the seed is actually inside a sac of juice known as the aril). Place your pomegranate into the bowl you just filled with water trying to work as much as you can underneath the surface of the water to limit the amount of juice that will inevitability squirt from the pomegranate, staining anything and everything around you.

Break the pomegranate into four sections pulling apart the sections along the cuts you made earlier in the pomegranate's skin. These sections should come apart relatively easy and just allow them to float in the bowl until you are ready to separate the seeds from the pith.

Now simply begin pulling the skin and pith away from the seeds of the pomegranate. The seeds will sink to the bottom while the pith will float to the top. Do this for all four sections until all or most of the seeds have been separated from the pomegranate.

Next simply remove the pith that is floating on top of the water either by hand or with a strainer of some sort. I recommend using a mesh strainer like the one pictured on the right (picture supplied by: in order to get as much of the pith out of the water as possible. Using this type of strainer known as a sieve makes it easier because of its handle, to get the strainer into the bowl and remove all the pith. I didn't have one handy at the time of filming and you'll notice I leave a few pieces remaining on top of the water. We can simply remove these after the water has been drained.

Empty the bowl of water and seeds into a larger strainer or colander with small holes. Take out any remaining pieces of pith that are still amongst the seeds. All that's left is to transfer the pomegranates seeds to whichever type of container you like and of course, a taste test. Yep, fresh pomegranate seeds are the way to go. It's worth the small amount of time and effort. Try this technique and live a healthier life with the antioxidant power of delicious pomegranate seeds and juice.

The Produce Picker Podcast can now be found on a variety of sites. We've built a profile page on each to introduce you to the show and keep in touch with each other. Choose your favorite site, sign on or sign up and become a friend of the show! Here is a list of various places to find the show. I hope to see you there soon!

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Ray a.k.a. The Produce Picker

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Prickly Pear Fruit, Cactus Fruit, Indian Fig... Whatever you call it it's an exotic treat done many ways

I recently answered a question from a person who was looking to find out how they should choose, eat, and prepare Prickly Pear fruit. Here is the advice I provided and some links to additional info and recipes for Prickly Pears.

Generally there are two common types of prickly pear fruit, the green and red cactus fruit. First try to choose (red) prickly pears that are reddish-orange to purple in color and free of mold spots as these tend to be the sweetest of the prickly pears.

The seeds are fine to eat just be careful when biting into them because these little guys are quite hard.

If you bought your prickly pear from the grocery store they are most likely without larger spines, however, there still remains very small, hard to see spines. You can try putting the pear in a bowl of cold water which helps to remove some of the spines but using something to hold the pear other than your bare hands is always recommended (highly recommended).
Often times the spines are so small you can't see them and this means that when they stick into your hand it will be hard to find them as well. I've spent too much time under a strong light with a pair or tweezers trying to pull these small, very painful spines out of my fingers.
Despite this minor hassle, the prickly pear fruit is worth checking out just remember to use something (plastic bag, paper towel, etc.) to pick up the fruit at the store and while preparing it to eat.

To get to the fruit/flesh simply cut off both ends of the pear (top and bottom), make an incision down the length of the pear cutting into the skin just until you get to the meat and then simply peel away the outer layer. You should be able to role the tough outer skin right off the meat of the fruit. Then enjoy anyway that you like. Check out this episode of Produce Picker Podcast which shows how this techique is done!

The flavor has been likened to kiwis, berries, or a tart watermelon but I don't seem to get this same impression, I'd rather just eat a kiwi. There are however several ways to prepare the prickly pear fruit which make it more interesting and quite flavorful. For instance check out this cool recipe for prickly pear sorbet!

Prickly Pear Sorbet Recipe

Andy Boy Cactus Pear Cheesecake

Prickly Pear Cactus Video

Photo By Wandering Chopsticks

Ray a.k.a. The Produce Picker