Creamy Zucchini Pesto

The summer garden in our climate yields bumper crops of zucchini, basil, tomatoes, peppers and cucumber. We eat everything tomato: Caprese and Greek salads, spaghetti with meatballs, pizza, pasta with marinara, BLTs. Jars of sauces and salsa are put away for the winter. Peppers are dried for paprika, or roasted and peeled and tucked into the freezer. Cucumbers are pickled or chopped and preserved as relish.

But zucchini, oh zucchini, what do we do with you? Despite vowing to plant less every year, we always seem to find ourselves overwhelmed when we take a little stroll out to the garden.

another zucchini that got away

Another giant zucchini

(“Where did that one come from? I swear it was not here yesterday!”)

How do zucchini grow so fast? And what the heck does one do with all these zucchini at one time?  2 cups of shredded zucchini in a loaf of zucchini bread will barely touch the windfall.


A typical daily harvest of zucchini from the summer garden

Then there is the basil. It wants to be cut, over and over again, so that it does not set flower and die. But every time we trim the tops of the basil, it responds by branching out and rewarding us with even more of the fragrant leaves that beg to be cut, again and again.pesto ingredients

Zucchini and Basil

(This could be the start of something good)

Necessity is the mother of invention when cooking from the summer garden, and in this case an invention that is more than the sum of its’ parts. Pesto made with only basil is so flavorful it can be overwhelming at times, but using less leads to a somewhat dry pasta dish. Shredded and sautéed zucchini can yield a rich concentrated pan of creamy zucchini deliciousness, but one that is admittedly mild in flavor.  Mixing the two together is a great way to make a creamy, flavorful sauce for pasta, while maximizing healthy veggie intake by including all of that zucchini in the dish. Don’t be shy about using some of your larger, less than perfect zucchini for this recipe.

This sauce can also be frozen to enjoy some of that bounty of zucchini and basil in the winter.

Here then is the recipe for:

Creamy Zucchini Pesto.

For the sautéed zucchini:

6 cups coarsely shredded zucchini

¼ cup finely chopped onion (optional)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

Put the shredded zucchini in a large strainer and sprinkle it with the salt, mixing the salt in well with your hands.  Now let the zucchini sit to drain, pressing it down every once in a-while to push out any liquid. Let it sit for ½ to 1 hour, if you have the time. If not, you can just let it sit for a few minutes. The longer it sits, the more liquid you will remove from the zucchini. It your zucchini is especially watery It can also be placed in a dish-towel, which is then twisted up and squeezed hard to remove liquid.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, if using it, and saute in the pan for a few minutes until soft. Now add the zucchini to the pan.

raw zucchini in pan-1

Cook the zucchini over a medium low heat, stirring every few minutes until it is very condensed and is starting to brown. This will take 20-30 minutes or so depending upon the size of your pan and the temperature. 6 cups will cook down to about 2 cups at this point.

cooked zucchini in pan-1

Sautéed shredded zucchini

(This also makes a great side dish sprinkled with a touch of parmesan cheese) 

Turn off the heat and let the zucchini cool while you prepare the pesto.

For the pesto:

2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) chopped or shredded parmesan cheese

2 large or 3 small cloves of peeled garlic

¼ cup toasted nuts or seeds (you can use almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds. I used sunflower seeds).

3 cups basil leaves (removed from the stems, washed and spun dry)

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

Put the garlic in a food processor. If the cheese is chopped in large pieces, add it to the food processor as well. If you are using shredded cheese, don’t add it yet. Pulse and scrape down with a spatula until finely chopped.

Adding nuts to the food processorAdd the nuts to the food processor and again process until finely chopped. I used roasted sunflower seeds in this batch.

Now add the basil leaves and process until finely ground. Gradually add the olive oil through the feed tube and continue to blend the mixture until it is a coarse paste, stirring down with the spatula several times. Add the zucchini puree to the food processor.Adding the shredded zucchini

Sautéed shredded zucchini being added to pesto mixture in the food processor.

Process the mixture until it makes a nice sauce.  If you are using grated cheese, now is the time to mix it in as well. (Consider your preferences when processing the sauce. If you like more texture, process for less time but if you like a very creamy smooth sauce, process longer).

completed pesto

The final zucchini pesto sauce

This makes enough sauce for 6 very generous servings (about 2 ounces of dry pasta per serving). Cook the pasta in boiling water until done and drain it. Reserve a bit of the hot pasta water to add to the sauce to heat it and loosen it. If you like your food very hot, you might also want to heat the sauce for a few minutes in the microwave or on the stove before adding the pasta to it. I put the sauce in a large glass bowl, big enough to hold all of the pasta and sauce, and add the hot pasta water to the sauce.(I use about 1/2 cup of the water or so, but it depends upon how cooked down the zucchini is). Then I heat it slightly in the microwave. Do not boil or overheat the sauce though!

Add the pasta to the sauce and mix it all together. Serve with a sprinkling of additional grated parmesan cheese if you like. I like to serve this dish with a side salad of fresh garden tomatoes dressed with a light olive oil vinaigrette.

the final pesto dish

Fettucine served with creamy zucchini basil pesto 

Nutrition Analysis per serving for sauce only (makes 6 servings):

180 calories, 8 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams protein, 15 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

A Chainsaw Alternative for the Less Robust Amongst Us.

I am not sure how it happened, but we have a division of labor in our orchard chores and I have evolved into the head orchard pruner.  Most of the time, I prune the trees myself, using a variety of hand tools including pruning shears and loppers. When the going gets tough, I will call in my son or husband.  I am not a large, nor a strong woman, and I also have a variety of aches and pains associated with older age and overuse. At times I have carpal tunnel, shoulder pain, neck pain,.. you get the drift. After a bout of tackling some of our 150 plus citrus and orchard trees everything seems to flare up. And when the branches I want to cut are more than a few inches in diameter, there are long bouts of struggling and a few choice words as I tackle to get them cut with hand pruning saws, loppers, whatever it takes. Because I don’t like to ask for help.

When I finally break down and ask for help, eventually the guys will get out their burly chainsaws and as I stand there pointing out which branches to cut they will make short work of what I have struggled with for far too long. I have always been tempted to get myself a smaller one of those darn chainsaws but they are heavy and expensive and to be honest they scare me. So this orchard pruning struggle has gone on for over 20 years now and it has only gotten worse as I have gotten older and my trees have gotten larger. Sigh….

This week, my son found a solution to my problem that is so exciting I just have to share it. This is what he brought to me (I love that kid!).


It is a battery-powered reciprocating saw otherwise known as a sawzall, with a pruning blade.

Check out the diameter of the cut it made in seconds.

example of a cut

This tool is fabulous! It weighs about 7 pounds with the rechargeable battery and it is very easy for me to operate. At a little over 100 bucks for the saw, and another 15 for a pack of the special Diablo pruning blades, it is less expensive than a chainsaw too. I just can’t believe I spent all these years struggling to find this tool. It really will be a lifechanger for me.

Okay, enough sharing for today. I need to go outside and cut some stuff!

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

3 Ingredient Creamy Lime Pops

Citrus season on Burgeson Family Farm always starts with the lime harvest. Before the very hot summers have faded to the crisp days of autumn we treat ourselves to cool lime-centric drinks on the porch in the evening: gin and tonic, greyhound and margarita cocktails and sparkling water on ice with generous wedges of lime plucked from the tree just minutes before. When I walk by the trees, laden with fruit, it is almost impossible for me to resist grabbing a lime, scratching the aromatic rind and inhaling the intoxicating aroma. We load our car with bags of limes to sell at the farmer’s market and farm stand at Garden Earth Farms, our sister farm in Santa Rosa, and the drive to deliver is like 2 hours of aromatherapy.

limes with flowers

Limes on the trees at Burgeson Family Farm. Note the bees are at work pollinating a new crop which will be ready in the spring. It is uncommon for us to have 2 crops in one year but it looks like it will happen this year.

This is the pop recipe that “started it all”, the pop obsession in our family. Lime pops are so cool, creamy and tart; it takes only 3 ingredients and minutes to make the mix, and to me they are more satisfying and delicious than a key lime pie.  This recipe will work with any limes, either the small little Key limes with their intense acidity and aroma and multitude of tiny seeds, or the big juicy seedless Bearss limes, or even store bought supermarket Mexican limes.

key and bearss limes

Key limes on the left and Bearss limes on the right

(Many people think that only key limes are yellow but all limes will turn more yellow when they are very ripe. Note the Bearrs limes are actually more yellow than the Key limes.)

If there is a farmer in your area growing limes, I urge you to  buy some at least once to make this, or your cocktails, with them.  Most of the limes in the grocery stores are shipped from Mexico, and they are far from freshly picked. The oils in the zest of a freshly picked lime add so much to the flavor of this recipe. You may want to keep one on hand to “scratch and sniff” for a pick me up.

3 Ingredient Creamy Lime Pop Recipe

For this recipe you need only 3 ingredients:

Limes (4-5 large ones or about 10-14 small ones)

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces) (I use organic)

1 ½ cups of non-fat Greek yogurt (I use organic, usually either Straus, Clover or Wallaby because I have actually seen their farms and “happy cows” as I travel about Northern California)

Finely zest the rind from the limes. I love this little tool, a microplane grater, for making a very fine zest:

microplane grater rind

You should have 2 Tablespoons of zest. Note the beautiful fine zest this tool makes.

a fine lime zest

Squeeze the juice from enough limes to make ½ cup.  This handy citrus juicer makes that task a breeze.

juicing limes

Put the juice and zest in a bowl. Stir in the condensed milk.  Add the Nonfat Greek yogurt and mix well. I use a hand whisk. You can also whip it in a blender which will make the mixture fluffy and the pops will be more light and creamy once frozen.

whisking ingredients

(I like to mix it in a measuring cup with a pour spout for easy pouring into the molds).

Note: These are high in protein and low in fat (see the analysis below). If you would like the recipe to be even higher in protein and lower in sugar and fat, you can add more of the Greek yogurt. That can be done according to your taste, as it will make them tart.  They also will be a bit less creamy.

Pour the mixture into the popsicle molds. This recipe will make 10 popsicles of about 1/2 cup each.

filling pop molds

If you don’t have molds you can use small paper cups, but I urge you to consider buying some popsicle molds. They are the most used piece of kitchen equipment we have purchased in a long time. For more about popsicle making and molds take a look at this other blog post I have on pops.

Put the popsicle sticks in the molds.

insert sticksDon’t shove the sticks all the way to the bottom. That will leave a short stick for eating. The mixture should be thick enough to suspend the sticks at the right depth. If not, freeze for awhile and then insert the sticks about halfway into the molds.

Now put the molds in a flat spot in your freezer and patiently wait for at least 4-6 hours for them to freeze completely all the way through. The sticks must be completely frozen in the middle of the pop.

To remove the popsicles from the molds put some very hot water in a glass. (I heat the water in the glass for a minute or two in the microwave). Dip the pop in the hot water for 10-20 seconds or so, until it slightly releases from the sides of the mold. Now squeeze the mold a bit to loosen the pop, hold the pop with the handle facing down and slide it out of the mold. If it does not come out easily, do not pull too hard on the stick or it might come out of the pop. Instead, heat it in the water again until it releases easily.

You can refreeze the pops on a tray until they are very hard, so they don’t stick together, then store them in a container or plastic bag in the freezer. They theoretically will last a long time, but practically speaking, it is doubtful they will be around all that long. They are that good.


Creamy Lime Pops

Nutrition Analysis per Pop (Makes 10):

152 calories, 6 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat,

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Creamy Fruit Pops

finished pops 1

Who doesn’t love ice cream cones and ice cream bars? The cold creamy texture is such a treat on a hot summer day. In our household we love ice cream, and we were buying too much fancy organic ice cream for both my budget and my sensibilities as a dietitian. ½ cup of premium ice cream has as much saturated fat as many of us should be eating in an entire day, and who eats only ½ cup? Certainly no one in my family.

Another concern that I had about eating so much ice cream is that it was displacing other desserts that might be higher in healthy antioxidants (ie fruit). It is pretty clear by reading the ingredient labels and by tasting, that most ice cream, even those with fruit flavors, contain a nutritionally nominal amount of fruit.

Fruit and fruit juice pops are a great way to have a cold treat on a hot summer day while increasing our daily intake of fruit. But I will be honest, sometimes I like a creamy treat, and fruit or fruit juice pops, while tasty at times, are just too icy to replace ice cream to my palate. I want something more like an ice cream cone or ice cream bar.

This summer we developed a method for making creamy pops that have displaced almost all of the ice cream we were eating. There are endless variations on our theme but the common ingredients that contribute to the creamy texture are a seedless fruit puree of some type and sweetened condensed milk. Sweetened condensed milk  is a “magic ingredient” for creamy ice cream without making a cooked custard base or even using an ice cream maker to churn. America’s Test Kitchen uses it for a simple chocolate ice cream recipe in this YouTube video. Why not take the creaminess provided by the condensed milk and apply it to a healthier fruit popsicle, a kind of hybrid popsicle/ice cream bar?

In most cases besides fruit and condensed milk, we add a bit of vanilla yogurt or Greek yogurt. If we are being decadent we might fold in a touch of whipped cream. Ground nuts, nut butter, low-fat cream cheese and whey protein powder have also occasionally made an appearance. You really can let your imagination go wild.

Here are the general directions for making:

Creamy Fruit Pops

To make creamy fruit pops, you first must purchase popsicle molds. We have tried several types and they all work fine. Adrian likes the Zoku classical popsicle molds.They come with their own reusable plastic sticks.

I prefer the molds I purchased at Cost Plus which use the traditional wooden popsicle sticks.

I hate drippy frozen pops so I also tried push-up type popsicle molds and recommend them for all those messy eaters out there (yes, that would be me!)

Next, you make smooth puree of fruit. We typically use berries, apricots or plums. Cook the fruit in a glass bowl in the microwave or on the stove until it has broken down into a mush. Using an immersion or stand blender to grind the cooked fruit can speed this process along. The puree will look like this raspberry puree, which is smooth but has a lot of seeds.

cooked puree with seedsWe like our pops to be very smooth, so we strain out the seeds and skins from the puree. We use a fabulous attachment for our Cuisinart citrus juicer called a Power Strainer. cuisinart with attachmentIt pushes the fruit puree through small holes leaving the seeds behind.

strainer in actionWe use it all the time for tomato sauce and fruit purees. Unfortunately it is no longer being made and we will probably cry if it ever breaks. I did find that you can buy it used on Amazon. Alternatively a hand strainer such as this model is a worthwhile investment for making smooth purees and sauces.  Even a stainless colander type strainer with a spoon or a pestle can be used to remove the seeds. You can also just leave the seeds and skins in for more fiber if you would like.

A typical ratio for the mix is 3 cups of fruit puree , ¾ cup sweetened condensed milk and ½ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt. I like organic sweetened condensed milk and organic yogurt so I try to use this whenever possible. Mix this up and taste. If it is not sweet enough or creamy enough for your preference, add more condensed milk (an entire can is 1 ½ cups which is quite a bit but we have used this amount on occasion, especially with lime and lemon pops). If it is not tart enough, or you want more of a yogurt pop, you can add more yogurt. For 3 cups of fruit puree we typically use between ½ and 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, and between ½ and 1 cup of yogurt (either nonfat Greek or vanilla yogurt). If you prefer more of an “ice cream”, decadent pop, you can fold between ½ and 1 cup of cream whipped to soft peaks into the mixture. Another way to get a more rich or creamy pop is to add nut butter or finely ground nuts to the mixture (about ¼ cup or so).

We like to blend the ingredients to a fluffy texture in a blender on high speed to aerate, but whisking with a hand whisk or using a mixer would also work. This is the final raspberry mixture.

raspberry pop mixNow pour your mixture into the molds, insert the popsicle sticks, pop them in the freezer and wait for at least 4-6 hours or more until they are firm.To unmold either let them sit for a few minutes out at room temperature to soften, or hold them between your hands to warm up, or dip in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds to soften the outside to un-mold. Don’t pull too hard on the stick before the outside is soft, or try to remove them before the center is frozen, or the stick will come out leaving you a pop in the mold without a stick!

finished raspberry popYum, a creamy raspberry yogurt pop.

These pictures show preparation of a variation which is a creamy raspberry fruit pop with a swirl. When filling the molds, the raspberry is alternated with spoonfuls of the swirl ingredient. Once the pop is filled, a knife is swirled through the two flavors lightly.

The raspberry mixture was 3 cups raspberry puree, ¾ cup sweetened condensed milk and ½ cup nonfat Greek yogurt.

The cream cheese swirl was made by blending 4 ounces of low-fat cream cheese with 1 cup vanilla yogurt and ¼ cup of sweetened condensed milk.

filled popsicle moldThis is the swirled cream cheese/ raspberry mixture in the Zoku Classical molds before freezing.

The toasted hazelnut swirl was made by toasting ½ cup hazelnuts in the microwave for 1-2 minutes until lightly toasted. They were then ground to a paste in the blender, and blended until smooth along with ¼ cup of sweetened condensed milk, ½ cup nonfat greek yogurt and ½ cup of vanilla yogurt.

filled mold swirl popsThis is the swirled raspberry hazelnut mixture in the Cost Plus molds.

The popsicle sticks were then added and the pops were placed in the freezer.

popsicles tucked away in freezerFinally the pops were dipped in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds and un-molded.

Here is an array including cream cheese swirled, hazelnut swirled, and raspberry yogurt pops.

raspberry popsA mix of cool raspberry and raspberry swirl pops.

What a welcome treat on a hot summer day!

We have made blackberry, plum, raspberry, grape, blueberry and apricot. We have also made key lime, orange and lemon (using just the juice and rind with condensed milk and yogurt or whipped cream). Our main ingredients are always what we grow or what is in season. I still have not tried peach, but for those of you with peach trees and a bumper crop I urge you to give that a try. We have added peanut butter, cashew butter, hazelnut butter and whey protein powder.  Every pop has been tasty, or so it seems, as none are left in the freezer!

As you can see, ingredient amounts are really left to your imagination. Just use what you like, add what you have, taste the mixture before you freeze it and go from there. Good luck with your creations and happy summer!

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

The California Mediterranean Diet: What to Eat

As I have stated in previous posts a “California Mediterranean Diet” as a symbiosis of the healthy foods and eating patterns associated with the old food ways of the Mediterranean, with the new and modern creativity and environmental consciousness of California cuisine. The vibrant immigrant culture of California has led to an explosion of unique spices, flavors and cooking styles that are being applied to the locally grown Mediterranean ingredients to form a uniquely tasty and healthy cuisine. Many studies have shown benefits to a Mediterranean style eating plan. The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine most recently published a Spanish study which supported the benefits of the traditional Mediterranean Diet in reducing heart disease in a high risk population.  As in previous studies discussed elsewhere on this site, this study showed that a diet based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish, as well as liberal amounts of fat from olive oil and nuts, is associated with good health. California has a Mediterranean climate, and produces over 50 percent of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States. By eating these locally grown foods, residents of California can enjoy the health benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet  while also supporting local agriculture and limiting the environmental impact of their food choices. Below is a rough guideline of the California Mediterranean Diet when planning menus for adults. The ranges show the minimum and maximum amount of food in each category. Younger more active men need higher amounts. Less active, older women need lower amounts. In addition the amounts vary from day to day to allow flexibility with menus but this provides a rough outline of the average intake I recommend. This is not a diet prescription for any specific medical conditions or for weight loss. If you have a specific medical condition requiring diet modification I urge you to make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian for further guidance. Note:  The California Mediterranean Pantry list on this site contains specific recommendations for brands and types of foods marked with * . These are the foods to eat every day and the approximate amounts per day:

Slide13    Vegetables*: 5-12 servings per day:

A serving is 1 cup raw or ½ cup of cooked vegetables. Onions, garlic and tomatoes should be used frequently. California grown fresh or frozen vegetables (or canned in BPA free cans) should be chosen over imported products.

Slide12Fruits*: 3-6 servings per day.

A serving is ½ cup raw fruit such as berries, 1 medium piece of fruit or ¼ cup of dried fruit. It may include up to ½ cup of natural fruit juice (such as pomegranate or citrus) as one serving of fruit per day. California grown fruit, either fresh, frozen, dried or canned in BPA free cans should be chosen over imported fruit.


 Nuts or nut butter*: ½ to 2 ounces daily (almonds, walnuts, pistachios and peanuts are all grown in California and are very healthy nuts to consume)


 Whole grains*: 3-8 ounces per day

 An example of 1 ounce is 1 slice of whole grain bread or ½ cup of cooked grain such as brown rice, oats, whole grain pasta etc.

yogurtMilk products: 2-3 servings per day:

A serving is 1 cup milk or 1 cup yogurt or 1 cup Greek yogurt. Locally produced Organic or grass fed sources of dairy products are recommended.

Slide16   California Extra Virgin Olive oil*: 1 to 4 Tablespoons per day

These are the foods to eat on a weekly or almost weekly basis and the amounts per week:

Slide14   Legumes (cooked dry beans and peas)*: 3 -6 cups per week

Slide18  Fish: 6-15 ounces per week (wild or sustainably raised, fresh or frozen)

chicken    Chicken:  6-15 ounces per week ( Preferably Organically grown or cage free vegetarian fed and grown without antibiotics or growth additives)

The following foods are not necessary but can be eaten weekly in the following amounts if desired:

cheese 2Cheese: 0-3 ounces per week (organic or grass fed dairy preferred)

oil and margarine  Non-hydrogenated soft tub margarine, mayonnaise, canola and/or grapeseed oil: 0-3 Tablespoons per week * (non GMO canola oil preferred)

butter  Butter: 0-2 Tablespoons per week (organic or grass fed dairy preferred)

red meat 3Red Meat: lean cuts of grass-fed beef, lamb, pork: 0-8 ounces per week

eggs Whole Eggs: 0-3 per week (free range or organic, vegetarian fed preferred )

chocolate  Dark chocolate:0-3 ounces per week

sugars and sweeteners   Sweeteners (honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, organic sugar):

  0-7 Tablespoons per week

The foods listed below are foods to eat less frequently than once a week. They are foods eaten mostly for entertainment, not nutritional value. They are not a necessary part of the diet but would be fine to have on occasion if desired: Fatty cuts of meat such as pork shoulder, ribs, bacon, sausage, salami, marbled beef steaks, etc. Ice cream Homemade baked goods (cookies, pies, cakes, etc.) and other baked foods/breads made with white flour and sugar Candy Cream Gravy, cream sauces There are a lot of foods I do not recommend eating so I did not bother to list those but they are mostly processed foods such as: fast foods, foods with artificial flavors and colors, baked goods made with shortening, sodas…you know…junk food.

Slide36Packaged processed snack foods are not part of a California Mediterranean Diet!

Slide35Processed, nitrate-preserved meats, and packaged meals are not part of a California Mediterranean Diet either!

Vitamin Mineral Supplements: Women over 50 may benefit from Calcium Citrate (The most easily absorbed form of calcium): 1000 mg (or less depending upon current dietary intake of calcium sources) per day with Vitamin D. Men and women over 50 may benefit from B complex (mostly for B12) If fish intake is on the low end of the range consider omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil). 1200 mg total EPA plus DHA per day. (If you have any medical conditions or are taking any prescription medications check with your doctor or dietitian before starting any supplement regimen)

Another important part of a Mediterranean Diet is how and where the food is eaten. Food should be savored in a pleasant setting and with the company of family or friends.

© 2014. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

Pomegranates: How to get the seeds and how to make pomegranate juice

Pomegranates are such a beautiful, nutritious fruit that it is a shame that so few people get the chance to enjoy them. Many are intimidated by the process of removing the seeds, and obtaining juice from the seeds is even more overwhelming. But the delicious reward for your endeavours is unequaled, and it really can be a relatively clean and painless process if done correctly.

Often the pomegranates you buy in the store have been picked before they are fully ripe. The best pomegranates are the ones that are so ripe they have started to crack. Obviously at this point they do not store well but this is when the color is the darkest and they are the most sweet. We try to pick our pomegranates right before they crack. Unfortunately when I picked today for the market on Tuesday, we had waited so long most of them looked like this.

I won’t be able to sell this pomegranate but it will make great juice and it will be easy to open!

We use most of the pomegranates we grow to make juice. We love to
mix the juice with tonic water, or spirits such as vodka or tequila to make
cocktails. It also can be boiled down to make pomegranate syrup to use in

We tried using citrus presses and other easy methods to make
the juice, but we have found that the skin and pulp impart bitter flavors to the juice
so we have gone back to using a somewhat laborious method which involves
first removing the seeds from the pomegranate, then getting juice from the

Here is how tp get the seeds from the pomegranate:

First remove the skin from the top and bottom of the
pomegranate. Cut around the circumference but only through the skin, not
deep enough to cut the seeds. This will prevent the task from becoming a big
juicy mess!Cut around the circumference of the pomegranate both top and bottom but do not cut through the seeds, only through the skin.

Now peel off the skin. Notice the seeds are whole.This is because they were not cut with the knife.

Peeling off the top and bottom to reveal the lovely seeds inside.

There can be some pomegranate spray, so I usually do this step and the steps afterwards holding the pomegranate under a bowl full of water.  The water contains almost every bit of spray. If I do this while watching TV rather than outside or in the kitchen, I cover the sofa with an old sheet as an extra precaution.

Now cut from top to bottom in about 5 or 6 locations around the perimeter of the pomegranate. Again, these are shallow cuts that only cut the skin, not the seeds.

Now  break the pomegranate apart along the natural segments, and remove the seeds from each segment. This is less messy if it is done under water.

Note the natural segments of seeds that have separated from the skin and membrane.  Gently scrap away those seeds from the membrane and let them drop into the water.

The white pulp will float to the top and the seeds will sink to
the bottom of the water. Now skim the pulp off the top of the water,
and strain the seeds, and they are ready to go.

If you dry the seeds on a cloth and then store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator, with folded paper towels on the top of the seeds, they can last for weeks. You can sprinkle them on salad, on your yogurt and oatmeal or just grab handfuls for snacks.

If you want to take it to the next level, you can make juice.

Here is a huge soup pot filled with pomegranate seeds ready for making juice.
Adrian often does this job while he is watching TV. He covers the sofa with a sheet because he prefers to not use the water, so it can become a somewhat messy job. Check out that sheet.The juice can be made with either raw or cooked pomegranates. We have found it is somewhat sweeter if we cook them. If you are planning to make juice and do not have a juice press, you should heat them to get the maximum yield. Put a small amount of water in the bottom of the pot, smash them down slightly with a potato masher to release more liquid, put on the cover, and slowly heat the pomegranates, stirring occasionally, until they have come to a simmer and have broken down but have not boiled, and the juice has been released. Then let them cool.

These are the pomegranates after heating and cooling. They are now ready to be pressed.

Cooked pomegranate seeds ready to be made into juice.

The seeds are then placed into a juice bag which we purchased, along with our little tabletop press, at The Beverage People, which is in Santa Rosa. It is an Italian Fruit Press and is made by Ferrari. You can also use a large piece of muslin if you are planning to squeeze the juice by hand.

The pressing-1Pouring seeds and juice into tabletop press

Before we had this tabletop press, we used a large old wine press we had, and before that we just used muslin or a cloth bag and squeezed by hand. The little tabletop press is by far the best way to go when you have a lot of pomegranates and are planning to make juice every year.

If you are doing this by hand, just place the pomegranate seeds in a fine mesh strainer and let the juice run out freely. Then put the seeds in a muslin bag or in the middle of a large muslin piece and twist the top until the juice is squeezed out of the bag. Continue to twist and squeeze the bag or fabric until you can get as much juice out as possible. You can get about 3/4 of the juice out without using a press. We got about 1 cup of juice per pound of seeds squeezing by hand. This is the seeds from 2 large pomegranates.

We put the bag of pomegranate seeds in the press, gradually
screw it down to create pressure on the seeds and the juice runs out of the
spout into our collection device.

The juice-1This may be the best pomegranate juice you have ever tasted!

From there we pour it into bottles and freeze or can it to use year round.

Nutrition Note: pomegranates are high in phyto-nutrients
associated with a reduction in disease. Much of the strongest research has suggested that eating pomegranates or drinking the juice can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. The research on reducing the risk of prostate cancer has been especially promising.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

California Summer Farro Salad

The finished saladCalifornia Summer Farro Salad

This salad showcases a unique method of preparing zucchini for salads by shaving and salting it. Every fresh ingredient in this recipe is in season right now, making this salad a showcase of healthy California summer produce.  Serve California Summer Farro Salad as a light main course for lunch, or add some grilled chicken or fish, or perhaps some cooked dried beans or other legumes for a heavier, higher protein dinner.

For the farro in this recipe I use the 10 minute farro from Trader Joe’s.  I empty the whole bag in 6 cups of boiling water with ½ teaspoon salt and cook it boiling and uncovered for 10-15 minutes until it is tender, then drain it. The whole bag makes about 4 cups, which is the right amount for this recipe.

Unprocessed farro can take a very long time to cook, whereas quick-cooking or pearled farro will take less time to cook and will be less chewy when done. Read the directions for whatever product you plan to use and cook it accordingly.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking the farro for this recipe, add the chopped kale or chard if you are planning to use it.

Ingredients for Salad

  • 4 cups warm drained cooked farro (½ teaspoon salt used in cooking water) with
  • 1 cup of washed chopped greens such as chard or kale.added to the farro during the last 5 minutes of cooking (these greens are optional but add color, flavor and nutritional value)
  • 2  Tablespoons California Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 cups (about 3-4 medium) zucchini, shaved, salted with ¼ teaspoon salt, mixed and drained according to these directions (It will be about 2-3 cups after salting, draining and pressing)
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 cup chopped red and/or green bell pepper
  • ½ cup sliced pitted Kalamata olives
  • ¼ pound low-fat feta cheese, crumbled.

 The salad dressing ingredients:

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (this is the juice of about 2 large juicy lemons)
  • ½ cup California extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large fresh cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped.
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper


  • Mix all the dressing ingredients together and set aside
  • Cook the farro (and kale or chard if using) and prepare the zucchini (the zucchini must sit after salting for at least ½ hour)
  •  Once the farro is cooked, drain it and immediately stir in the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Let the farro sit until it is no longer hot. Lukewarm is fine.
  •  Add all the other salad ingredients to the farro.

All the ingredients ready to mixCalifornia Summer Farro Salad Ingredients

  • Pour the salad dressing over the ingredients and mix well. Serve right away, or refrigerate for up to 2 days before serving.

zucchini and farro salad_edited-1A Healthy Sized Serving of California Summer Farro Salad

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

Shaved Zucchini for Salad

shaved zucchini 2

The summer garden in California brings an abundance of perfect ingredients for salads. Delicious, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes. Peppers of all colors, both mild and hot.  Cucumbers, fresh herbs, garlic, onions and the last of the lemons for the year. But one thing is missing for those who might want to eat a home-grown salad: lettuce. Unless you live in a cool coastal or mountain climate, the heat that ripens the other delicacies of summer causes lettuce to turn bitter and bolt into flower and seed prematurely.

The summer garden also brings an over-abundance of zucchini. I think I have chucked at least a thousand zucchinis in the compost pile over my lifetime as a gardener. Ever on the watch for new zucchini recipes, I recently found some salad recipes using shaved zucchini prepared in the manner described below. What a revelation! Some of my success with this may be due to the wonderful, dense, sweet European varieties of zucchini we grow (Romanesco and Cocozelle ) but it still is surprising how the character of zucchini can change so much with this simple technique. Zucchini prepared in this manner is now replacing lettuce in many of my salad recipes with unique and often sensational results.

I recommend that you give this method a try. Start off by dressing it with a simple lemon based vinaigrette, or maybe a Caesar dressing with a touch of shaved parmesan. If you have plenty of fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes, and crisp mild peppers, use it in my California Summer Farro Salad recipe.

You should use medium sized zucchini for this recipe.

zucchiniThese are a mix of Cocozelle and Romanesco Zucchini.

Cut the stem and flower ends of the zucchini off.  If they are very long you may want to cut them in half so the final shavings will be about 3-5 inches long.  Then one by one, set the zucchini on the counter-top for support and using a potato peeler press down hard and cut long shavings on the top of the zucchini. Cut about 4-6 shavings, until you see the seeds, then turn the zucchini a bit and start on another side. Eventually you will have circumnavigated the whole zucchini. Don’t use the center, which is the watery, seedy part. It can be stored for another use, or thrown away.  The goal is to have firm, relatively thick shavings with not too many seeds or watery pulp.

Put the shaved zucchini in a colander. For every 4 cups of shavings, which is about 3-4 zucchinis, sprinkle on ¼ teaspoon salt, mixing the zucchini with your hand as you sprinkle. Continue to mix the zucchini well to distribute the salt, and let it sit for ½ hour to drain. The zucchini will look like this.

the zucchini shredsShaved salted zucchini

After about half an hour (you can go for longer, up to an hour if you like), press the liquid out of the zucchini and use it in salads or refrigerate it for up to one day to use later.

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

The Farm Bill: Unhealthy for You, Unhealthy for California Farms

veggies farm market

beets and carrots farm marketBeautiful displays of healthy food at a California Farmer’s Market showing foods receiving minimal subsidies.

Slide36Display of foods made from ingredients heavily subsidized

I think almost every American feels that small family farms should be supported. Stories of ancestors who lost their farms during the great depression are a part of many of our family’s heritages, including my husband’s. If farming in America were to decline, the consequences for our food security could be dire.

However, from good intentions of protecting farms, our government seems to have created a federal monster that is harming the health of America. The farm subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) in the farm bill are an example of a federal program gone astray by a broken political process.

America is suffering from an obesity crisis, yet rather than addressing this by providing subsidies to healthier foods, or at least NOT SUBSIDIZING less healthy foods, the farm bill continues to subsidize the foods that are causing us to become fat and unhealthy. The numbers associated with the subsidies to California farmers tell much of the story.

California produces more dollar value of agricultural crops than any other state. It is FIRST on the list of agricultural producers, followed by Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. However, the types of crops produced by the top states differ significantly. Most tellingly, California produces one half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the US. ONE HALF of all the foods that have been shown to be some of the healthiest components of a traditional Mediterranean diet. ONE HALF of the agricultural foods Americans need to be eating more of…

If the farm subsidies in the farm bill were in any way tied toward a reasonable agricultural policy, it would seem to me that they should provide some support to the California farmers who are putting fruits and vegetables on the plates of America. Ideally, these subsidies would help keep fruit and vegetable farmers in business and assure reasonable prices of these foods so Americans could afford them. Or at least, they would not subsidize farmers growing less healthy food (such as corn to produce high fructose corn syrup). But sadly, this is untrue. Instead, the majority of the farm bill agricultural subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) go to large wealthy farmers producing 5 crops: corn, soybeans, rice, wheat and livestock. In addition 70 percent of the farm subsidy payments (including crop insurance subsidies) go to 10 percent of the farms in America.

Even if things were just fairly distributed, with no preferred crops, it would seem that the top states in agriculture production would be those that got the most subsidies. For example, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, California and Minnesota should be in the top 5 in terms of the states receiving agricultural subsidies. That seems at least fair. And in fact, Iowa is first, Texas is 2nd, Nebraska is 4th and Minnesota is 5th in terms of the percentage of farm subsidy receipts.

But get this: although California is first in agricultural production and produces the most of what I call “healthy food”, and California pays more federal income taxes than any other state, California farmers are tenth in terms of their receipts of Farm Bill subsidies.

Even more disconcerting are the numbers behind California’s farm subsidy receipts. Almost all of the receipts go to producers of cotton, rice, wheat, livestock and corn. Almost  NONE of the farm subsidies go to producers of fruits, vegetables and nuts.  Even tobacco farmers in other states receive more subsidies than California fruit and vegetable farmers. Over 90 percent of California farmers receive no subsidies, and  much of the farm bill subsidies are now going to large, wealthy farm conglomerates.The environmental working group has prepared an excellent analysis of the negative impact of the farm bill priorities on farming in California and it is available at this link. 

The simple math of the farm bill’s impact on California is this:

  • California taxpayers pay 12 percent of all the federal taxes collected
  • California farms produce 13 percent of all the agricultural crop revenue in America
  • California farms produce 50 percent of all the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in America but
  • California farms receive only 4 percent of the farm subsidies in the farm bill and almost none of those subsidies are for fruit, vegetable or nut production

The way this adds up to me, California fruit and vegetable farmers are paying extra taxes to support corn, wheat, rice, soybean, and livestock producers. This is just plain wrong. I know so many California fruit, vegetable and nut farmers who are struggling to make ends meet. The price of good agricultural land in California is going up every day, and pressure to sell the land for development is an ongoing temptation faced by California growers. This lack of support by the federal government for California farmers adds insult to injury.

Every time the Farm Bill works it’s way through Congress these inequities are debated and changes are discussed, and every time the bill that finally passes continues this same pattern of encouraging growers of corn, wheat, even tobacco, more than the farmers growing the foods that Americans SHOULD be eating. The farm bill is being debated right now, and the bill that has passed on for a vote in the Senate last week continues the same old pattern. In an attempt to disguise the pork, they are now attempting to reassign some of the direct payment subsidies to additional “crop insurance subsidies” but it is just more of the same. There is an excellent blog post by Mark Bittman of the New York Times addressing that specific component of the program.

I urge you to call your representatives and tell them to stop giving subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) to unhealthy foods and big ag. The way I see it, if they can’t redesign farm supports to encourage healthy eating, or at least be fair in their distribution of support for different states with different crop profiles, then they should stop subsidizing farms altogether.

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

Preparing for the 2013 Summer Garden

For the last few weeks our dining room has been a bit of a mess. It has large south-facing windows, so this time of year it becomes a surrogate greenhouse of sorts. Seeds of our favorite garden annuals from previous years are started in these little Jiffy greenhouses.

Slide29The first plants we start are the slower growing peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. Then we will move on to the squash and melons.

Last year we really overdid it with the garden. We planted 30 types of tomatoes and a boatload of eggplant, squash, peppers and melons. A lot of what we grew was just not that great, including heirloom tomatoes susceptible to disease and with poor taste, bitter eggplants, peppers with thin walls…So I made a list of my favorites at the end of the year, and I am doing my best to stick with those this year and keep things smaller.

These are the tomatoes that “made the cut” for replanting again this year :

For the best flavor and reasonable amount of disease resistance for an heirloom I chose:

Slide90For the earliest, most productive and most disease resistant tomato I chose:


For the most flavorful, disease resistant and easy to grow hybrid tomato I liked:

Slide85However, I found out you can only buy plants of the Bonnie Original Hybrid tomato. So I planted seeds of a variety called Bonnie’s Best and we will see how that works out.

I like some color in my tomato salads so I like to plant a yellow/orange variety. Last year I had good luck with:

Slide88 I also planted Green Zebra, which has been very productive and can be used successfully as an alternative to tomatillos in green salsa.

Slide89I like to grow a few cherry tomatoes, as they are by far the most productive of any tomato variety. They also can be incredibly sweet, sweeter than any large tomatoes.  My favorites are:


I have had a lot of problems with blossom end rot on my paste type tomatoes. Any tips on good varieties for this area are appreciated.

Last year I planted a lot of sweet peppers and only a few made the grade to be planted again this year. These were by far the winners:

Slide91Sweet lipstick is a very productive pepper with thick walls, and when roasted they are very easy to peel. I roasted, peeled and packed zip-lock bags full of them in the freezer. They are great added to pasta dishes, or pureed as a simple sauce to perk up my cooking in the winter.

I also planted this pepper, which is great eaten raw or roasted. They are very large, and have thick, sweet crispy flesh.

Slide92I planted the standard jalapenos, as well as a moderately hot chile called Ancho Gigante, which can be used fresh and green for stuffing or can be harvested when red and used in chile sauce. I use frozen chile sauce all year-long for tacos and posole soup.

We face a lot of challenges growing eggplant in our area. It seems to get bitter and seedy. Since I do not eat a lot of eggplant anyway, I have decided to only grow one type this year. I have had excellent success with:

Slide96The only other seed I have started so far this year is my favorite summer herb:


In our garden cucumbers tend to get very bitter. I have been quite disappointed by some of the cucumber varieties we have grown over the years. Cucumbers are also one of those vegetables that you can easily over-plant. What do you do with 50 pounds of cucumbers all at one time? Adrian likes pickle relish but how much can a person eat in a year? I am planning to stick with only two varieties, which I will plant in a month or two when the soil is a bit warmer:



We have not planted our squash yet, but I do not like watery, seedy summer squash. I also do not want to be picking a 5 pound squash to chuck into the compost bin every few days. Therefore, I am planning to plant the one variety of summer squash I plant every year:

Slide98Romanesco has firm, creamy flesh with minimal seeds.

I have not decided on what type of melons to grow but I will be planting them along with winter squash in a month or two. Every year we grow the old favorite winter squash:

Slide100This year I am also looking forward to growing “Sweet Meat” which is a delicious large, thick-walled, meaty winter squash our friends grew successfully this year. It was so flavorful that we loved it just simply baked, and it was excellent added to soups and curry.

We have poor luck with beans, both fresh green beans and dried beans. I may simply pass on even trying to grow those this year. However, our hot climate seems to be great for growing cowpeas (also known as black-eyed peas) so we may give those another shot this year.

Slide97I was not aware until this year that there are so many different types of cowpeas available. I found a great selection at Baker Creek Seeds which is where I purchased most of my seed. I also got a few from Seed Saver’s Exchange.

I hope you will give a few of these favorites a try. If you are planning a summer garden, now is the time to get those seeds started. Do you have any favorites that you plant every year?

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.