Earlier this month, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Carmel, California to attend the Dole Taste of Spain Salad Summit with a group of fellow food bloggers. Anyone who knows me well knows that the farmer’s market is my “happy place” so you can bet I was thrilled to visit America’s farm stand: the lettuce fields of Dole.
When I arrived to the ranch, I had a bit of down time before the festivities began so I decided to earn a few calories and go on the “Huff N’ Puff” hiking trail that led around our host hotel, Carmel Valley Ranch. From vineyards to rolling hills to luscious landscaping, the view along the hike was absolutely breathtaking. After a long Michigan Winter of indoor workouts, I will never take an outdoor workout for granted. I loved every out-of-breath minute.
After my hike, I decided to hit the pool while I waited for the girls to arrive. As someone with a degree in Hospitality Administration who has worked in the hotel industry for over 10 years, I am admittedly not the easiest guest to please. Let me tell you: Carmel Valley Ranch did not skip a beat. Complimentary value-adds were prevalent everywhere you turned – from the endless cold strawberry water poolside to nightly s’mores at the fire pit.
Sandy was the first to see me soaking up the sun by the pool and immediately came over to give me a giant hug. I can’t tell you how good it feels to finally meet someone you’ve admired and chatted with regularly over the internet for some time. There is just something about being face-to-face that is priceless.
Shortly afterwards, the rest of the gang arrived including Ali and Kristin pictured above. We decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and eat lunch poolside. Don’t be fooled by the salads you see above – the best part of our meal were the giant platters of truffle fries and onion rings we shared.
We had a bit of down time after lunch so we threw on our bathing suits and jumped in the pool. Just kidding. We’re bloggers. We turned on our laptops and exchanged advice on photo editing and organizing our in boxes. Top left to right: Chung-Ah, Heidi and Ali. I love the sneaky look Heidi made for the camera.
The next morning started on a fresh note with granola berry parfaits, green power smoothie shots and arugula asparagus salad with a poached egg on top. One note I loved about breakfast was a reminder to eat vegetables in the morning. We love bananas for breakfast but when’s the last time you added arugula or asparagus to that ever-so-important first meal of the day?
Once we arrived to the field, we were greeted by third generation farmer, Mark Pisoni. One common misconception about large produce manufacturers is that they actually own the farms. That’s not the case, they simply purchase vegetables from the farmers who own the farms. I loved chatting with Mark and hearing about his family’s life on the farm. (Fun Fact: He has several children who live right there on the farm with him. Their favorite vegetable is broccoli and they prefer it steamed with butter.)
Each head of lettuce is hand cut by the workers, many of whom have worked for Dole for 15-30 years. We learned that every morning they begin their day with a 15 minute stretch to keep their muscles loose and feeling good. They do the stretch again at the end of their shift. Breaks are also taken every two hours to give the workers a bit of down time. Little details like these are the reasons these workers stay with Dole.
I’m not sure what’s more beautiful – the background or the ladies above! Ok I do, the ladies win. But I also can’t get over those stunning mountains. Above from Left to Right: Tessa, Nikki, Chung-Ah and Dawn.
Afterwards we headed to a nearby Dole plant for a little lettuce pop quiz. I’ve never been so excited for a test in my life! That is until I realized there were over 25 types of lettuce we would have to match with their corresponding names. I can handle baby kale, mizuna and escarole. There were about 10 other varieties that I had never heard of let alone seen in person. Somehow I tied for 1st place but I’m thinking that was just luck.
Lunch was hosted at Paraiso Vineyards located in nearby Monterey County. Let me tell you, I was pretty bummed to be pregnant and unable to sample any of the vino!
Fortunately, the food more than made up for my lack of wine tasting opportunities. Yet again we were treated to a delicious menu full of Dole produce picked just down the road.
I’m pretty sure nothing makes me happier in life than a giant antipasto platter. Salty, savory and served at the perfect room temperature. I was in foodie heaven.
Thanks to the endless flow of wine, I think we were all feeling pretty good that afternoon.
Back at the resort, we divided into teams for a hands-on tapas competition led by the chefs at Mundaka, a Spanish restaurant in Carmel. Lucky for us, we would be having dinner there later that evening.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Spain so I know what authentic Spanish food should taste like. Mundaka nailed it in every way. They even took ingredients to new heights in ways I’ve never experienced before including the deep fried chickpeas with truffle salt. These salty little devils were served warm and I probably ate 1,000 of them. If you’re ever in Carmel, you absolutely must dine here.
For more incredible recaps from the trip, please check out these lovely sites from my friends who joined me:
Sandy, Reluctant Entertainer
Catherine, Rabbit Food for my Bunny Teeth
Chung-Ah, Damn Delicious
Kristin, Iowa Girl Eats
Heidi, Foodie Crush
Tessa, Handle the Heat
Ali, Gimme Some Oven
Thank you again to Dole who invited me on this once-in-a-lifetime trip!