[My own creation, inspired by our group's favorite sample salad. See recipe, below.]
After a whirlwind three days at the Dole Salad Summit, I finally woke up yesterday in my own bed. Glancing out the window, it seemed to me that something was a little “off”: the sky outside looked just a little little less blue, the grass a little less green, the earth a little less burnished. (And the fact that I had to cook my own meals for the first time in 3 days kinda sucked, too).
(“True, Mum, but you have us. Doesn’t that make up for everything? Okay, don’t answer that.“)
Was it the indescribably beautiful landscape that impressed me most? Getting to meet and play with 19 remarkable bloggers, many of whose blogs I’ve been following for a long time? The fabulous food and drink? The resort-like quality of the accommodations? No. What made the greatest impact, for me, was observing the passion and commitment of the Dole employees themselves, learning more about the company as a whole and its practices and policies when it comes to their products.
Along with the enthusiasm and dedication was a clear intention to pay attention and really listen to their consumers’ wants and needs, and to strive to improve wherever they can. I left Monterey having experienced a shift in my own perspective, one that I truly hadn’t anticipated before leaving for the trip.
At the Dole Processing plant and the “Lettuce 101″ tutorial. Could you name more than 28 kinds of lettuce by sight? Naw, me, neither.
Today, I thought I’d share some of the highlights (and believe me, there were many), plus my own impressions over this and the next post.
Oh, and a couple of killer salad recipes, too.
[Warning: Lengthy post ahead. You might want to read for a bit, then stop and have a little salad break before returning to wrap up reading the post.]
[A favorite sample salad: Arugula, Avocado and Mango with Macadamia Nuts]
I. Butter (Lettuce) Me Up in the Morning: A Visit to the Dole Offices and Product Tastings
Our first stop on Thursday after a continental breakfast at our hotel was the Dole Fresh Vegetables office building, where we soaked up some statistics about the company, their products, and the huge variety (200 products!) of vegetables they grow. I learned more than I ever imagined about lettuce and salad (actually, more than I ever imagined there was to learn about lettuce and salad). Interspersed between our roundtable discussion, information on the different types of lettuce and some lively commentary on our favorite ways to use veggies, we were served samples of Dole’s new salad mixes or greens.
The group favorite by far was a combination of arugula with avocado, mango and macadamia nuts in a pineapple vinaigrette (see photo, above), which also inspired my own salad recipe, below.
Another favorite taste test (for me, anyway) was the new Salanova Butter lettuce, a tender, delicate variety that is visually stunning in its resemblance to a giant, blossoming rose, petals hugging a hidden core. One cut across the bottom and each leaf is transformed to a single bite-sized piece. SO tender and delicious! I am counting the days until this baby makes its way to Toronto.
[Standing on the iceberg lettuce field after harvest. The discarded lettuces are turned over for compost. Background: fascinated bloggers. Foreground, a real farmer!]
II. Outstanding in Their Field: Meet the Farmer, Eat Some Lettuce
After the meeting, we hopped on a bus to the Salinas Valley to view some of the lettuce fields and the men at work harvesting. We traipsed over a cushy carpet of iceberg lettuce leaves where the heads had already been harvested, gazed in awe at the harvesters prepping the lettuce for its trip to the processing plant (the lettuce is touched but once by human hands–housed in gloves–before it is sent to the plant and made into your packaged salad mix. How cool is that?), and chatted with Mark Pisoni, who represents a fifth-generation farmer with Dole (note to self: California farmers are definitely more hunky than Ontario farmers).
As we bobbed along the winding California roads, a backdrop of impossibly beautiful mountains and sky, Terry Foley, the General Manager of Commodity Operations, answered a slew of our questions.
Here are some of the key queries (and Terry’s answers) that I found most thought-provoking:
Q. Does Dole grow organic products? I was disappointed to learn that the answer to this question was, sadly, “no.” They are, however, involved with integrative pest management and natural means wherever possible. In one recent study, according to Foley, researchers found that 85% of packaged produce showed no pesticide residue at all. As another blogger noted, “Now that I know that, I may not feel I have to buy organic next time I shop at the grocery store if I see your products there as well.” The fact that the products are mostly “clean” was a huge eye-opener for some of us, and we urged the company to let more people know about that fact.
Q. Does Dole use GMOs at all? No. A clear win.
Q. What kind of packaging does the company use for their salads? Recyclable plastic that is made from 70% previously recycled materials. Again, win-ning!*
Q. Does Dole grow its own vegetables? The surprising answer here was, again, “No.” Obviously, Dole could easily farm their own produce, but they choose to do only about 10% of the direct growing. The remaining 90% of their produce is grown by independent farmers with whom they’ve established long-term relationships (in one case, up to five generations with the same family). In fact, I was struck that so many of the growers and harvesters have been with the company for as long as they have; the company has, clearly, spent a lot of time and effort to build mutually beneficial, long-term connections with farmers and other workers. I was repeatedly impressed by the Dole employees’ passion, enthusiasm and knowledge about their company, its operations and products.
[Field workers handling lettuce--but only once.]
While I’ve always been aware of Dole and certainly purchase their pineapples and bananas on a regular basis, the salad mixes were, as a rule, generally outside my purview; I mean, my subconscious mind was aware of their existence as they glided through my peripheral vision, but I didn’t think one way or the other about them. My preference was always for organic.
Over the course of this event, however, those veggies took on a new connotation: like the nerdy guy in high school who finally got a good haircut, decent clothes and switched from plastic glasses to wire rims–hey! I’d consider dating him now!–my impression changed. While I certainly hadn’t harbored a negative impression of Dole, I’d say my previous feeling was, at best, neutral. After learning as much as I did, however, I’d now feel perfectly happy eating these mixes. For those who don’t want to spend the extra on organic, or don’t have access to a farmers’ market, or simply want the convenience of buying all their food in one place, I’d certainly consider them.
What do you think? Have you ever tried Dole salads or lettuces? What’s your impression of the company?
III. Déjeuner with Dole: Our Lunch at La Bicyclette
A short bus ride later, we found ourselves at La Bicylette, a quaint, authentically French corner bistro in the heart of Carmel.
Now, normally, one would never connect authentic French food–cream sauces, butter, poached salmon, butter, cream, butter and a smidge more butter–with the anti-candida diet.
[My carrot risotto was so good that one of the non-vegans at our table preferred to share mine rather than the cream-laden one!]
However, after conferring with our tour organizers, Amanda and Kelly, who conferred with the restaurant’s floor manager, Caroline, who checked with the two sous-chefs, James and Christophe, those of us at the “Special” Table (Dana, Amie, Irvin, Shannalee and Tim, Stephanie and I) were treated to an impeccable meal, perfectly plated and presented. First up were mixed greens and beet salad, followed by vegan Carrot Risotto and a brimming plate of grilled mixed veggies and toasted hazelnuts. The risotto practically exuded richness while somehow remaining fairly light, offering a hint of orange zest from within the mounds of carrot-soaked arborio.
As we decompressed from the morning’s activities, our chatter overtook the space and we talked about all that we’d learned, the surreal surroundings, organic vs. conventional produce, the beauty of Monterey and Carmel, our blogs (of course), travel, tattoos and photography; and we learned that Amie really, really likes salsa.
[Almond-Berry Tart slices.]
Dessert was a lavish sliced almond-berry tart and chocolate mousse (I savored a huge bowl of fresh berries instead. Let me tell you, they sure know how to grow them in California. Easily the best berries I’ve ever eaten). Satiated and happy, we practically rolled ourselves into the bus to make the trek to our penultimate stop of the day.
IV Final Stop Pre-Dinner: The Processing Plant
By this time, we were all a little faded after trudging through the fields and hopping on and off the bus (What? You mean you don’t feel sorry for me?), but we were instantly re-energized and enthralled by our tour of the Dole processing plant, where the work of cleaning and packaging the salads takes place.
Gil Oetzel, Director of New Product Development, conducted a mini tutorial and fun quiz on the myriad varieties of lettuce before we were ushered into the plant itself to observe the operation in action. There, we were entranced by the men and women who cleaned, dried, bagged, boxed and shipped the salad mixes, all with a coordination, precision and grace that is usually reserved for the ballet stage. For me, this was (another!) high point of the day.
[Who knew that romaine could look this pretty?]
The final food-related event of the trip occurred Thursday evening, when the folks at Dole threw a spectacular party for us on the hotel’s outdoor terrace; the next morning, just before leaving, we took a tour of 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach. But given the monumental length of this post already, I’ll share more about those next time!
Instead, I’ll leave you with my latest salad creation, highlighting mango (or pear) combined with avocado, pine nuts, and a base of baby greens (in this case, arugula, spinach, mizuna, and radicchio) in a light and tangy pineapple-tarragon dressing.
Like the earlier pineapple-based dressing I made, this one uses fresh pineapple and veggies for much of the base, allowing for less oil in the mix. The pineapple in this dressing is my nod to Kelly’s orignal, which she presented to us Thursday morning. I shared it with the HH this evening, and it transported me back to bluer skies, greener fields and an expansive carpet of iceberg lettuce beneath my feet.
* I sincerely apologize for the Charlie Sheen reference. In fact, there is no real connection between Sheen and Dole at all. Though I suspect that Charlie could probably stand to eat more salad.
Other Dole Summit Posts:
- Lettuce Begin the Festivities: Dole Salad Summit Day One
- Grilled Romaine with Sweet and Smoky Dressing–and Sayonara, Summit
[Disclosure: Dole paid for my travel, accommodations and food during my stay. They did not ask that I write a positive review of them, or a blog post about them at all.]
Salad of Mixed Baby Greens, Mango, Avocado and Pine Nuts in a Pineapple-Tarragon Vinaigrette
Suitable for ACD Stage 2 and Beyond
This salad was inspired by our group’s favorite sample at the Dole Fresh Vegetables offices. The pineapple in the dressing adds sweetness and tang, while the cucumber provides bulk and a slight creaminess.
For the Salad:
7-8 cups (1.7-1.9 liters) mixed baby greens (I used one package of Dole’s “Sassy Baby Blend” with spinach, arugula, mizuna and radicchio)
1 mango, sliced, or a ripe Packham or Bartlett Pear, cored and sliced (use pear for the ACD)
1 just-ripe avocado, peeled, cored and sliced
1/4 cup (60 ml) lightly toasted pine nuts
2 green onions, white and light green parts only, sliced
For the Dressing:
1 cup (240 ml) fresh pineapple chunks
1 cup (240 ml) fresh peeled cucumber chunks
1/4-1/3 cup (60-80 ml) fresh cilantro leaves, to your taste
2 green onions, white and green parts only, cut in chunks
2 tsp (10 ml) dried tarragon, or 1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
10 drops plain or lemon flavored stevia liquid
Make the salad: Place all ingredients except pine nuts in a large salad bowl. Set aside.
Make the dressing: In a blender, blend all dressing ingredients. Pour over salad in bowl and toss to coat. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
I’m sharing this recipe at Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.
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Other salad recipes on DDD:
- Avocado Pesto Dressing (gluten free; ACD all stages)
- Mock Green Papaya Salad (gluten free; ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
- Quinoa and Wild Rice Salad (gluten free; ACD Stage 3 and beyond)
- Salad Greens with Apples, Beets and Almond “Feta” (gluten free; ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs