Mango mania

Keitt mango from California's Coachella Valley
Keitt mango from California

I didn’t grow up eating mangoes. They may be one of the most popular fruits in the world, but the produce available at the military commissaries where my mom usually shopped didn’t get much more exotic than oranges and bananas.

Not until I began eating my way through the myriad Indian restaurants in Silicon Valley did I discover the joys of this luscious tropical fruit. Mango lassi, a cool concoction of pureed mango and yogurt, quickly became my favorite beverage to accompany searing hot curries and spicy samosas. Then I began encountering it everywhere – in salsas, baked goods and a friend’s signature black bean salad.

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Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

Every year about this time, I question my sanity. Tomatoes are ripening so fast on my vines that I can’t keep up with them. Trays of beautiful, red, orange, yellow and purple heirlooms crowd my kitchen counters.

When it comes to planting tomatoes, I have no common sense. In the spring, all I can think about is the incomparable flavor of a warm, ripe tomato just plucked from the vine, the pleasant jolt of acid balanced by sweet, juicy flesh. I adore Cherokee Purples with their smoky undercurrent and hint of salt. But it’s hard to resist the sunny sweetness of the beautiful yellow and orange Big Rainbow streaked with red. And I keep trying for a decent crop of the finicky Brandywines despite years of failure.

We only eat tomatoes when they’re in season, so by the time August rolls around, we’re ravenous. Sometimes we try to get a jump on the season with early tomatoes from the farmers market, but they’re rarely as deeply flavored and juicy. I do have a weakness for dry-farmed Early Girls from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz, but grocery store tomatoes are almost always a disappointment.

Still, by mid-September, we’ve already eaten our share of sliced tomatoes, BLTs, caprese and panzanella salads. My husband and I will can some salsa, dry a couple of batches and make a basic spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker to freeze for later. Yet we’re always looking for a new dish, something simple and easy that puts the focus on the tomatoes.

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Cookies from the Web’s newest blogger

Allow me to introduce myself: My name is Aleta Watson and I live to cook and eat. Northern California readers may recognize me as the food writer and restaurant critic from the San Jose Mercury News, but I recently left the rapidly shrinking world of newsprint for the seemingly limitless possibilities of the Internet.

Here, I plan to explore the culinary universe, following my palate wherever it takes me. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

My primary interest is cooking. While I’m fascinated by exotic ingredients, I feel a responsibility for the planet. That means I’ll be cooking mostly with organic, seasonal produce, often from farmers markets. It’s no sacrifice since that’s almost invariably where the best fruits and vegetables are to be found. I may not be ready yet to limit myself solely to food produced within a 100 mile radius from my home, but I think it makes sense to buy locally whenever possible.

My taste and curiosity are wide ranging. In the past, I’ve written about everything from figs to fava beans, from grits to souffles. Still, nothing makes me happier than a homemade cookie. Bakery cookies just can’t compete and store-bought are rarely worth the calories. So I’m kicking this blog off with a terrific oatmeal cookie I’ve been making for family and friends for years.

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