Holiday gift ideas got you stumped? Give Arizona food products

If gift ideas have you stumped this holiday season, consider buying a food product from an Arizona artisan.What do you get the person who has everything? Something he or she can eat, that’s what.Don’t know what your teenage niece is into these days? Don’t waste money trying to figure it out. Make her a basket filled with the coolest local chocolate, candy and hot sauce so she can name-drop and impress her friends.Want to brag to your snow-clogged relatives about our warm weather? Send them a box of Medjool dates or a bottle of olive oil.HOLIDAYS:  27 places for Thanksgiving Day dinner | 5 uniquely Arizona holiday traditions & events | Downtown ice-skating wonderland set to open | 'Bad Santa 2' offers Christmas leftovers | Gift guide: 25 fun 'experiences' to give kids | November festivals around Phoenix | Holiday cooking classes and eventsBesides supporting a local business, buying edible gifts could save you a few dollars, too. Most food products sold at grocery stores for home consumption are exempt from state sales tax, though they are subject to city taxes.Here are a few items to start filling your Arizona foods gift basket:Forget precious stones, give the “diamond of dates.” Medjool dates are large, sweet and luxuriously chewy. Gift boxes from Sphinx Date Co. are filled with Arizona-grown Medjools — plain, stuffed with local nuts, dusted with coconut and coated in chocolate. Sphinx also uses nature’s candy to make bread, jam, hot sauce and salsas. Try the sweet-heat of the salsa verde, made with tomatillos, green chiles and Medjool dates. Pick up the Sphinx catalog for professionally made gift trays, tins and boxes.Cost: $7 for a four-piece, assorted Medjool date frosted box; $7.95 for date salsa at Sphinx Date Co., 3039 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. 480-941-2261.Details: Which grocery store makes the best pumpkin pie? | Top Continue Reading

‘Fare Play’: The event where foodies gather to discuss their favorite topic — food

The Valley is filled with culinary knowledge that never sees the light of day.On May 25, we'll launch a series called Fare Play, a night at the theater where guests can sample food from four local chefs before watching and participating in a thoughtful discussion focused on an aspect of the Valley’s dining scene.The kickoff event is Wednesday, May 25, at Phoenix Theatre.The topic: Phoenix barbecue.First, we'll gather in the courtyard to hang out with fellow food geeks and try some smoked meat from four Arizona pitmasters, including Scott Holmes of Little Miss BBQ, Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue, Oren Hartman of Naked BBQ and Justin Johns of Jay's Barbecue in Tucson. Then we'll move into the Judith Hardes Little Theatre for a discussion and Q&A. Little Miss BBQ has suddenly raised Phoenix’s barbecue scene to national prominence, but it's not the only game in town. Plenty of other Valley cooks have been smoking meat, low and slow, for years, if not decades. We’ll take a look at the influences on the local barbecue scene; talk about how a breakout hit changes the calculus for everybody else; and discuss how we see barbecue in Phoenix evolving in the coming years.Other Fare Play events will explore topics like the state of Arizona’s craft-brewing community and where it’s going; or what influences have shaped the Arizona Mexican cuisine. Each evening will bring fresh insight into what makes our dining scene unique, as well as something tasty to nibble or sip.I want Fare Play to provide diners of all stripes with fun opportunities to come together, learn a little and celebrate all of the delicious things the Valley has to offer.Come join me! RELATED:  Dare to try exclusive chef dishes never seen on a menu? Join Armato for 'Daring Dining'Check back at for future event Continue Reading

Get ready. Amazon-Whole Foods deal will change how you buy food forever

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Rafael Romero, vice president of CREC’s retail division, was given an incorrect title.For anyone in the business of selling, supplying or hauling groceries: Things just got's $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods instantly makes it a major player in the U.S. grocery industry and that leaves a lot for shoppers, retailers and other companies involved in the industry to chew on.The online seller is bringing its firepower to a grocery industry plagued by razor-thin profit margins. The move could slice into profits for food manufacturers, other supermarket chains such as the nation's largest by market share, Kroger, and behemoths like Walmart, which is currently the biggest seller of groceries in the U.S. with more than one-quarter of the market, according to Euromonitor. It also potentially creates a challenge for companies that deliver groceries such as Fresh Direct and Peapod, and ready-to-cook ingredients and recipes to customers' doors, like Blue Apron and Sun Basket.“Once Amazon is a player in the industry, anything can go,” said Joe Agnese, senior food retailing analyst at CFRA. “The big threat is what else they can do. Now that they have a retail presence with (more than) 400 stores, long-term they can expand on that threat. They can (bring) pricing pressure. They could bring down prices and everyone would have to match them or lose share."For years, Amazon has burst into new areas of business introducing the ease and efficiency of shopping online by bringing books, electronics, clothes, household items and some food items, often at low prices, to shoppers' front doors. The value, convenience and the ability to easily comparison shop online hastened the demise of both smaller shops and many big household names. Remember bromook superstore Borders? Electronics chain Circuit City?The broader retail Continue Reading

How Amazon could change your Whole Foods

There's one big question likely on your mind now that Amazon has rung up its largest purchase ever with the $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market: How will CEO Jeff Bezos change my local Whole Foods store?Just like's product offerings, the possibilities are limitless. Depending on how you shop, this deal could mean eventually you never have to set foot in a Whole Foods store again —- because you would order online, drive up to the store and have your groceries stuffed in the trunk, or have them delivered straight to your front door.Or, you could make a Whole Foods your neighborhood hangout, where you come in, order a beer or glass of wine and sit down at a touchscreen display — and open your Amazon or Whole Foods app. After inputting your grocery list, someone gathers all your goodies up while you dine on pizza or a sandwich. Maybe even test the latest Alexa-powered devices. A COMPUTER BAR IN THE STORE?"It can be more of an all-encompassing experience," said Karyl Leggio, a professor of finance at Loyola University’s Sellinger School of Business. "If you have a Whole Foods with a bar area you could have some computers, you could sit there and shop at Amazon and (see) some sample product they have there. That's a great extension for Amazon." Amazon-Whole Foods: The Internet wonders how life as we know it will change Things won't change overnight at the more than 460 Whole Foods stores, but some have already become destinations for more than organic foods. In addition to having prepared foods to go, many have morphed into full-blown restaurants — nicknamed "grocerants" — even with a bar serving wine and local and regional craft beers on tap. GROCERY PICKUP CENTERS?And Amazon has very publicly been experimenting with new ways to transform the grocery shopping experience, from drive-up pickup of online orders to checkout line-free shopping. So it makes sense that some of those Continue Reading

Phoenix food bank feeding more hungry people than ever

Every Tuesday beginning at 4 a.m., families gather at The Church on Fillmore in downtown Phoenix.By 9 a.m., the line wraps around the block as more than 500 families show up with empty grocery baskets, strollers, laundry baskets, milk crates and red wagons.Ice-cream vendors roll past on bicycles, selling cool treats to those in line while mariachi music lilts from a pickup parked on a nearby corner.The people have come for food: fruits, vegetables, leftover baked goods donated by grocery stores, beverages and, if they're lucky, fresh meat.For some, the food will last a week. For others, it will be the only assistance they get all month. The assistance is separate from the state's food assistance program, known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Some of those standing in line don't even qualify for SNAP benefits.The food, provided free, is for anyone willing to wait hours in line.It is one of St. Mary's Food Alliance's 43 mobile pantry sites that bring food to neighborhoods in need by partnering with churches, elementary schools and other volunteer organizations to help distribute the food.These days, St. Mary's Food Bank is feeding more people than ever before, distributing about 70 million pounds of food during the 2012-13 fiscal year, the period for which the most recent data is available, St. Mary's spokesman Jerry Brown said.For comparison, that's 26.5 million pounds more than St. Mary's distributed pre-recession in fiscal 2008. St. Mary's distributes food among more than 330 partner agencies, including mobile pantry sites such as The Church on Fillmore, Brown said."This is an area of extreme poverty," Brown said as volunteers handed food to the families who have been waiting in line.The recession officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, although Arizona and other states are still struggling to bring some indicators of good economic health back to pre-recession levels.Ray Buckley, a recovering addict and volunteer at Continue Reading


THIS READER cares! The spirit of Thanksgiving began three years ago for businessman Brian Rice, and this week he expressed it with a $40,000 donation to City Harvest and the Daily News Readers Care campaign. Yesterday, soup kitchens and food pantries across the city got to enjoy the fruits of Rice's donation: 3,600 turkeys with all the fixings. It was three years ago that Rice, a former Staten Island resident who now runs a direct mail firm in Bayonne, N.J., was watching television the night before Thanksgiving and was stunned to learn about a shortage of turkeys at the city's missions serving the poor. The next day, Rice called his deli owner mom, Rosalia, to enlist her help for what became an order for 175 cooked hams and 175 turkeys. Then Rice gathered his family and friends together and hit the road to deliver the largess to places such as the Bowery Mission. Along the way, he created a foundation called With or Without Someone Else (WOWSE) to help children. Not only did he and his foundation donate $40,000 to City Harvest, but they helped distribute the turkeys. The Daily News and City Harvest have been running the city's oldest and largest food drive for 23 years. Readers are urged to drop off nonperishable canned goods at local firehouses, police stations, Modell's Sporting Goods stores and The News' lobby at 450 W. 33rd St. The hunger-fighting group has a staff of 80 plus 1,400 volunteers and 16 trucks to distribute the goods. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Ants on New York City streets, sidewalks crave junk food, study finds

It’s not just people who love the food in New York City. So do certain ants. The most common species of ant found on the pavements of New York City and in cities around the world has a taste for human food — more than other ant species found primarily in parks and other green spaces, a study says. “The ants that live alongside us in our cities also seem to be those same species that can eat the same food that we do, and do so the most,” said Clint Penick, a post-doctoral fellow at North Carolina State University and lead researcher of the study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The researchers gathered up samples of more than 20 species of ants from the sidewalks, medians and parks of Manhattan, and tested them to see how much of a particular carbon isotope was in their bodies. That isotope is linked to corn and sugar cane found in much of what people eat, from meat to junk food. Researchers determined that ants eating more human food would have higher isotope levels. The ant with the highest levels was the pavement ant, Tetramorium species e, which researchers said is the predominant ant on city sidewalks and medians. Among the samples, ants that were from park areas had lower isotope levels than ants that were taken from street medians. Eating human food could be an advantage for the pavement ants, allowing them to thrive in areas where their natural diet of dead insects and other things might not be so prevalent, Penick said. “Humans bring a ton of general resources,” he said. “The species that can take advantage of these resources the best, sort of wins.” Penick said further research would look into whether the ants have a preference for human food even if their natural food sources are available. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Investigators find cache of 1,000 weapons in food and toilets at Twin Peaks ‘breastaurant’

In the rush to ditch their weapons, members of rival motorcycle gangs stashed knives, guns and blunt objects anywhere they could, including the blood splattered bathroom of a Waco, Texas, restaurant, authorities said. An arsenal of at least 1,000 weapons including an AK-47 were discovered stashed inside the trashed Twin Peaks “breastaurant” in the days that followed Sunday’s deadly gunfight, according to the Guardian. Nine bikers associated with the Bandidos and Cossacks, dubbed by the Justice Department as outlaw motorcycle gangs, were killed in the melee. Waco authorities had deemed the Twin Peaks restaurant uncooperative in putting a stop to the battle, effectively shutting it down as investigators searched the building for evidence. Among their findings is a stockpile that is at least 10 times bigger than what Waco Police spokesman Sgt. Patrick Swanton initially estimated to reporters shortly after the chaotic battle unfolded. He had only seen a scattering of weapons that included assault rifles in the parking lot near bodies of fallen bikers. A toilet and bags of flour and tortilla chips are among the hidden caches, revealing concealed knives and guns, Swanton said. The number of weapons suggested to investigators the gathering of competing gangs was no ordinary recruiting session, but a bloodbath waiting to happen, authorities believe. “It goes to show the criminal intent,” Swanton said, according to the Waco-Tribune. He says it “indiciates to the public that these are not clubs, these are criminal gangs that came here with the intent or anticipation of violence.” Police had also anticipated their violence based on a tip and stood by the restaurant in both uniform and undercover guises just in case. Regardless of their presence, a “turf war” brawl that started in the bathroom spilled out Continue Reading

Planting seeds: Young students in Brooklyn learn to grow and sell foods in school gardens

Brooklyn’s farms may be long gone, but one school is giving students a chance to delve into the city’s agricultural roots. Kids at Public School 216 in Gravesend learn to grow, cook and even sell fruits, vegetables and herbs in a half-acre garden oasis in the school’s backyard. Students as young as preschoolers gather eggs from resident chickens and help cook them up as part of a curriculum that organizers say also meets rigorous Common Core standards. “Being outdoors and learning how things grow is very nurturing, particularly for young children,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who visited the school last week to help celebrate Earth Day and lauded it for helping kids understand “what food really means in our lives.” A cement lot at PS 216 was transformed into an organic garden by the privately funded Edible Schoolyard NYC program in 2010. It has grown to include plots and trees that yield strawberries, tomatoes, Asian pears, lavender and herbs. The program involves all of the school’s 600-plus students, who use math principles to measure plots and learn the science behind how wheat is processed. The lessons always include preparing a healthful meal, which is shared by students and teachers at a communal table. PS 216 students said the experience gives them more than just a new perspective on food. “The lessons I learn at the garden and the kitchen class fascinate me,” said fifth-grader Jaden Burgos, 11, of Gravesend. “You learn responsibility and how to take care of living things — things that are important to your life.” Kate Brashares, executive director of Edible Schoolyard NYC, said those lessons are the point of the program. “We’re teaching kids about health and wellness and nutrition and making the connection between growing food and eating food,” she said. Edible Schoolyard NYC is also working with PS 7 in Harlem on Continue Reading

Vacationing on Cape Cod means exploring its old New England towns in search of good food and fun

Cape Cod has beautiful beaches, of course. But vacationing on the peninsula in southeastern Massachusetts also means exploring its old New England towns in search of good food and fun. Turning off Route 6, and winding down narrow lanes, the town of Falmouth nestles on the southwestern tip of Cape Cod. Here, there’s lots of great shopping, and places to grab a bite. Locals gather for breakfast or lunch at Pickle Jar Kitchen (170 Main St.;, and eat blueberry muffin French toast and substantial sandwiches. Another popular spot here is Bear in Boots (285 Main St.,, a new gastropub with a piano built above the bar that serves up summertime favorites like lobster rolls and mussels and fries, and has fun weekly events like trivia on Thursdays, and live music every Friday and Saturday. Take a guided tour of Falmouth Museums on the Green, and learn about the history of the town, of the Cape, and what life was like there in the 1700s. It includes a walk through the Federalist home and surgery of Dr. Francis Wicks, which is wonderfully preserved and packed with original artifacts. It’s a shame that the nearby Palmer House Inn doesn’t do tours. Guests at this superior B&B are surrounded by Victoriana and other antique knickknacks. In North Falmouth, Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s restaurant, Red’s, named for onetime Celtics coach, Red Auerbach, is filled with his personal memorabilia, and overlooks Old Silver Beach . This summer, every Tuesday night, the hotel will hold an “Old Silver Beach Shore Dinner” (tickets required), offering a set menu of either a clam bake with Maine lobster, steamer clams, mussels, native sweet corn on the cob with poached baby potatoes; or, a barbecue alternative with meats, fresh-baked corn bread, and Cape clam chowder. To finish? S’mores, of course. The Mid-Cape’s center is Continue Reading