I had the privilege of spending a full day on a tour of Lundberg Family Rice Farm in Richvale, CA. Here’s what I discovered about how this family-owned business takes rice from farm to table!
Hellooooooo again! It’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve posted here on the blog and it’s good to be back. Life has ratcheted up from busy to bonkers as my freelance food and nutrition writing career has taken me in new directions.
One such direction: the opportunity to occasionally travel on press trips. Last week I had the chance to go to Chico, CA for an insider’s look at Lundberg Family Farms, the rice giant whose products you may know and love at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and tons of other stores around the country. Owner Bryce Lundberg and his daughter Brita, along with several other members of the Lundberg family, graciously invited me and several other food writers on a day and a half of in-depth education about all things rice, rice cakes, rice syrup, and more. If you ever wanted to know, well, anything about the world’s most popular grain, they’re your folks. And now, to a much smaller degree, so am I.
Here’s a little bit about what I learned on my Rice 101 tour.
Kicking things off in a party bus
I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this post by mentioning possibly the coolest (and funniest) aspect of my time in Chico. To transport the six of us writers and two accompanying PR ladies around the Chico area, the Lundbergs chartered–wait for it–a party bus. As we climbed in to head to dinner the first evening, one of my fellow writers jokingly called it “the world’s most awkward bachelorette party,” since here we were, a group of total strangers piling onto a bus tricked out with neon lights and a mini bar.
But hey, but the end of our 36 hours together we got to know each other pretty well. We were practically like…
After a lovely dinner at The Red Tavern in Chico, which featured Lundberg mini rice cakes as part of a charcuterie board as well as some delicious black rice as the base for a cod entree, we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the day ahead.
Touring the farm
Our morning kicked off with an informative presentation about life on the rice farm–the company’s history as a pioneer in the organic farming movement, the fact that each season comes with different tasks and priorities, and how Lundberg is committed to providing a habitable environment for the waterfowl population of northern California, among other cool facts.
From there, we headed to the greenhouse, where one of Lundberg’s in-house botanists showed us the painstaking process of creating new rice varieties. Believe it or not, this is done by hand! The botanist carefully snips off the hulls of each rice grain in a “panicle” (AKA a “branch” of rice)–like the one below.
After snipping the rice grains open, the botanist pollinates each one with particles from a different breed of rice. The panicle gets covered for about 10 days and then, voila! a new breed is ready for planting.
Next up, we headed out to the rice fields for a two-part experience. We first had the chance to meander through a field that grows multiple rice types to snip off individual panicles, creating our own unique bouquet. Since Lundberg Farms grows a total of 17 types of rice and quinoa, from short-grain to long-grain and from white to red to black, it wasn’t hard to assemble an assortment with variations in color and texture.
Part two of the experience in the fields was participating in the harvest! October is rice harvesting season in northern California, and our small part to play (which I kept thinking would have absolutely thrilled my sons when they were little) was to ride in the big yellow combine as it threshed the heck out of the ripe rice grains.
The real surprise here: the inside of the combine was super cushy and comfortable. I had no idea modern combines have A/C and internal technology that practically looks like the inside of a military jet cockpit.
There was one more quick stop before lunch: a visit to the drying silos, where the rice is (you guessed it) dried and stored.
We even stepped inside one of the giant structures, but I must confess all I could think of was the scene in Witness where the villain gets killed from being trapped inside a silo as corn suffocates him. Still, wow! It’s a really impressive operation.
The Lundbergs then treated us to a lovely lunch at one of their homes overlooking the rice fields. Afterward, for a breather, we even spent an hour with a relaxing paint-and-sip guided paint activity! (No picture of this–I promise you don’t want to see my “art.”)
Finally it was time for the final stop of the tour: a walk-through of the rice cake production facility. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera on this portion of the tour, but suffice it to say, it was super interesting, much like an episode of How It’s Made.
We watched rice cakes shuttle their way from blank canvases on the production line all the way to flavor-infused, prettily-packaged sleeves ready to hit store shelves. We also discovered that 95% of Lundberg’s waste goes to renewable uses and that they pay close attention to best practices for employee ergonomics.
To cap off the day, we were treated to a dinner of the most delicious arancini rice balls I’ve ever tasted, plus chicken over wild rice and a coconutty rice pudding for dessert. Yum!
As a whole, the day was a great way to experience farming up close and personal, and a meaningful reminder of the fact that food comes from real people working real land. And for me, it was meaningful relationship-building with a company whose values I respect and whose products I really enjoy.
Favorite Rice Recipes
Finally, I can’t finish things off without some favorite rice recipes of my own! If you’re looking for some tasty ways to use rice from Lundberg Family Farms (or any other brand), check out these options:
What’s in a nutritionist’s kitchen? Consider this your backstage pass.
Have you ever wondered exactly what your dentist does for his teeth or what regimen your glowing aesthetician uses on her skin? I know I have. And before I became a nutritionist, I really wondered what people in this profession actually ate. Dietitians and nutritionists are supposed to be the ultimate healthy eating gurus, right? So what do they actually stock in their pantries and make their meals with?
Now that I’ve been licensed as a nutritionist for almost five years (my anniversary is coming up on April 1st!), the tables have turned a bit. I can tell you that when I grocery shop, I often notice what people put in their carts. And, just like some folks might get a thrill from snooping through other people’s medicine cabinets or private drawers, I’m always curious to see what foods people have in their home kitchens.
On the flip side, I totally get it when people are interested to know what my family eats in the everyday. I’ll DEFINITELY admit that my own home pantry, fridge, and freezer are far from perfect (both in terms of their contents and their organization). But in the interest of transparency–and hopefully in the interest of education on real-world healthy eating–I thought I’d share *exactly* what goes on behind closed pantry doors at my house.
Ready? Let’s start the VIP backstage pass tour of a nutritionist’s kitchen. (I feel like there’s a reality show premise in here somewhere.)
About a year ago, we finished a kitchen remodel that gave us tons of extra space–everywhere except the pantry. Whereas we used to have a walk-in pantry closet with a real door, now our dry goods are housed in more traditional pantry cabinets with pull-out drawers. Here’s a look.
If you ask me, canned goods are where mealtime magic happens. They add flavor, they’re cheap, and they last forever. I almost always have canned tuna, chicken and vegetable broth, several varieties of beans, and spaghetti sauce on hand. Other usual suspects in my pantry are jarred veggies like artichokes, roasted red peppers, and olives.
We’re not a huge cereal family, but when I do buy cereal, I like to look for brands that have limited sugar (like 8 grams per serving or less) and hopefully a hint of protein (like 3 grams or more).
Everyone needs a snack drawer! I try to fill ours with nutritious options that are high in fiber, protein, and/or healthy fats and relatively low in sugar. I also make a point not to get too many snacks in the ultra-processed category–aka artificial colors, lots of additives, and tons of sweetener. That’s why this drawer usually looks about like this. Nuts and seeds, dried fruits (if they’re not, like $800 at the store), whole grain crackers, and popcorn are pretty standard.
As you can see by now, my pantry isn’t the most pristine or well-ordered. (I warned you!) But I do at least try to keep pantry drawers organized by category, and this one is for grains–except for those lentils that snuck in.
As a nutrition professional, I take to heart the USDA’s recommendation to make at least half our grains whole. Hence the quinoa, oatmeal, and whole grain pastas you see here. Then again, having some refined grains on hand is A-ok with me. White rice, lasagna noodles, and pancake mix have their place in my pantry.
Baking is therapy and you can’t tell me otherwise! I won’t go into too much detail here except to say that I’m a huge fan of King Arthur flour and buy it whenever I can. It’s an employee-owned company that makes never-bleached, American-grown wheat with a higher protein content than other brands. Need I say more?
Oils and Vinegars
In my pantry, olive oil is non-negotiable. It’s the ultimate healthy fat that works for everything. I use it in baking, cooking, roasting, sautéing, the works. Other go-to oils include vegetable, canola, sesame for Asian foods, and avocado for a splurge. Behind these oily giants I keep a variety of vinegars, like red wine, balsamic, and champagne.
Like canned goods, herbs and spices jazz up meals for pennies (and not many calories). And, uh, yeah, I buy a lot of Kroger spices. I’ve almost never noticed a difference between them and more expensive name-brand herbs and spices.
- Olive oil mayo
- Lean meats and fish like chicken, salmon, and ground turkey
- Cheese (sliced and shredded)
- Deli meat (usually turkey or chicken but sometimes ham or roast beef)
- Milk and almond milk
- Natural coffee creamer like Chobani or Natural Bliss
- Nut butters (peanut and almond)
- Fruits and veggies
- Salad dressings and mustards
Frozen foods get a bad rap, but done right, they can be a fabulously convenient part of a healthy diet. Some of my top frozen choices include:
- Frozen berries
- Frozen veggies like peas, corn, broccoli, and green beans
- Frozen meats
- Whole wheat bread (doesn’t have to be frozen, but it can help with shelf life)
And yes, that’s a package of Klondike bars underneath the banana cacao smoothie on the left. 😊
Our house came with a deep freezer when we bought it 11 years ago, and we have made good on the investment. Especially during Covid, having a deep freezer was a major help. I love stocking up on meats and fish when I find them at good prices, then popping them in the deep freezer for later use.
And, in case you were wondering, yes, nutritionists eat frozen pizza. At least, I do! The Private Selection salami and marinated peppers version in this pic is one of my absolute favorites.
Okay, you might be wondering, what aren’t you showing? Not much! I occasionally buy ice cream or other sweets (if you’ve looked at this blog’s dessert page, you’ll know sweets are NOT off limits in my house). In general, though, my policy is to make most desserts from scratch. I prefer the freshness and quality of homemade treats, and since it takes effort to make them, it probably means we have them less often than if I stocked up on Oreos and candy each week.
So that’s it! A 360-degree look at my not-too-organized, mostly-but-not-entirely healthy food supply. Now tell me in the comments: What’s one thing YOU always stock in your kitchen?
These Spiced Orange Carrot Muffins are crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. A tasty winter breakfast treat!
Back in college, I hosted a Rainbow Foods Dinner Party. Each invitee was asked to provide a dish featuring a particular color for an ultimate Roy G. Biv spread. (Oh, and they were supposed to wear their color too!) There was a grape salad for purple, spinach soufflé for green, and maybe something with strawberries for red? It’s been awhile. All told, it was a goofy, fun, sorta random event–the stuff college memories are made of. Somewhere I have a picture of eight or so of my floormates dressed in chromatic order, each holding a tray of homemade food.
If I had to choose a single color of food to consume most often, though, I think I’d have to go with orange. I mean, you’ve got pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, citrus fruits, orange bell peppers, and more. Even mac and cheese is orange, and who could live without that?
Choosing orange foods was something of the inspiration behind these Spiced Orange and Carrot Muffins, since orange foods have a tendency to be nutrient-dense. In fact, many orange foods are rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants like lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. At least, naturally orange foods have these nutrients. Can’t say the same for orange Sour Patch Kids or orange Jell-O.
Anyway, since I’m currently slightly under the weather, I wanted to bake up something for breakfast that would combine the healthy, vitamin-rich goodness of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables–and, not surprisingly, ended up with an orange finished product.
When it comes to baking, you really only have a short list of options for veggies (carrots, zucchini, um…are there others?) My go-to is almost always carrots. From there, which fruits complement carrots? Why, oranges, of course! And when you wrap it all up with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cardamom, plus whole wheat flour and oats, you get a muffin that’s not only orange-hued, but sooooo delicious.
These Spiced Orange and Carrot Muffins are a little heavy on the prep side (zesting and juicing an orange, shredding carrots, etc.) but definitely worth the effort. Fresh out of the oven, their tops are perfectly crunchy, giving way to a moist, tender crumb beneath. They’re not too sweet and their warming blend of spices make for a magical winter breakfast. Plus (fingers crossed), their ample nutrients could help you–and hopefully me, too–bounce back from winter illness.
Spiced Orange Carrot Muffins
- 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
- 1 c. whole wheat flour
- 3/4 c. white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
- scant 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
- 2/3 c. brown sugar
- 3/4 c. fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1/2 c. almond or other milk
- 2 eggs
- zest of 1 large orange
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 c. vegetable oil
- 1 c. shredded carrots
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: oats, flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and brown sugar.
- In a small bowl or large measuring cup, combin the wet ingredients: orange juice, almond milk, eggs, orange zest, vanilla, and vegetable oil.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring until just incorporated, then stir in shredded carrots.
- Divid the batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake 20 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container.
A creamy, savory, oh-so-unique roasted butternut squash lasagna with no-boil noodles!
Hi hi! Happy belated Thanksgiving!
What was the best thing you ate over the weekend? I’d have to say my faves were these crispy honey mustard Brussels sprouts I took to the extended family feast or the classic can’t-go-wrong Libby’s pumpkin pie our immediate family devoured in a matter of hours.
When I asked my kids what their favorite Thanksgiving food had been, though, I bet you’ll never guess their answer.
Lasagna at Thanksgiving, you ask? Wait, what?
In my husband’s New York Italian family, there is no occasion that doesn’t involve lasagna–including Thanksgiving. Every year his mom or grandma brings a giant tray of homemade lasagna, which, to former Brooklynites, is just as critical a part of the meal as the turkey. It’s a gooey, meaty, cheesy concoction that sticks to your ribs.
As for me, though I’ve been a part of the Garone family for 17 years (and of course I love lasagna), I can’t quite get into it as a Thanksgiving food. Something about red sauce and ground beef just doesn’t go with mashed potatoes and stuffing in my book. That said, I could get on board with a lasagna that incorporates Thanksgiving-esque flavors–like this roasted butternut squash lasagna with no-boil noodles! (And no shade on my mother-in-law’s lasagna. It really is delicious; just not my personal fave at Thanksgiving.)
This unique, fall-flavored lasagna starts out with roasted butternut squash sprinkled with garlic, shallots, and fresh thyme. Mash up this mixture for your savory filling, which contrasts nicely with a cooler, milder second filling of spinach and cheese. And though there are several steps involved in putting together this pasta masterpiece, no-boil noodles eliminate some time and effort.
If you’re looking for something a little different (but just right for fall), this is it!
Butternut Squash Lasagna with No-Boil Noodles
- 8 c. butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1 medium shallot, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
- 2 c. milk, divided
- 2 c. ricotta or cottage cheese, divided
- 1 egg
- 3 c. fresh spinach, chopped
- 2 1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
- 9 wide no-boil lasagna noodles
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread cubed butternut squash on a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir. Roast 15 minutes, then add the shallot, garlic, and thyme and stir. Return to the oven and roast an additional 20 minute or until squash is soft.
- While squash roasts, prepare the spinach filling. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 c. milk, 1 1/2 c. ricotta, egg, chopped spinach, and 1 3/4 c. mozzarella.
- Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Place roasted squash mixture in a large bowl and mash until mostly smooth. Add 1/2 c. ricotta and 1/2 c. milk and stir well.
- Assemble the lasagna. In an 11 x 7 baking dish, spread about 1/2 c. spinach mixture. Cover with three lasagna noodles, followed by 1/3 of the squash mixture, then 1/2 the remaining spinach mixture. Repeat with another layer of noodles, 1/3 of the squash, and the last 1/2 of spinach. Finish off with three more noodles, the last of the squash mixture, and a final sprinkle of mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Cover the lasagna tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.
These cranberry oat scones are chewy and buttery, with a hint of cinnamon-orange flavor.
As a freelance writer, I generally keep a tight schedule, cranking out about one article per day on weekdays–but this week, for the first time in recent memory, I simply didn’t have much lined up to write. I like my work and pride myself on being my own diligent lady-boss, so this felt like kind of an ego blow. Even when I reached out to several of my editors to let them know I had room in my calendar, nobody had anything to offer. Did I do something wrong? Were my editors not pleased with my work? Was Mercury in retrograde? Who knows.
Despite my confusion about whatever was afoot on the Mount Olympus of the publishing world, I was pretty easily able to see a silver lining to my quiet work week. My husband has been out of town for eight (long) days, and with three teens/preteens at home, that’s not exactly easy on me. (Serious question: At what point of filth and squalor do teenagers actually clean of their own volition?) Perhaps it was divine providence that I’d have a little extra room in my schedule.
Taking that view, I felt a bit more freedom to take my extra time as a gift. When I asked myself how I actually wanted to spend the week, I found the answer to be quite simple: Hang out with friends and bake. I was able to meet up with one good friend each day, which definitely filled my soul–and bake several yummy treats in the meantime!
These cranberry oat scones are, of course, the fruit of that labor.
In my muffin myopia and bread blindness, I always seem to forget about scones. But scones are so inviting, so versatile, so buttery! One is all it takes to fill me up at breakfast, and I enjoy tinkering with their ingredients to find a balance of healthy and indulgent. These cranberry oat delights get their fluffiness not only from butter, but from a Greek yogurt-oat milk blend that adds moisture instead of buttermilk (because who keeps buttermilk on hand?) Cinnamon and orange peel round out the flavor profile in a subtle-but-meaningful way.
I can’t say this particular recipe is ultra-healthy, but the addition of whole grain oats does add fiber and a bit of Greek yogurt raises their protein content a *skosh.* And you know what? Sometimes (like when your husband has been gone for eight days and you’re trying to keep your home from turning into a total dumpster fire), a sweet, buttery, cranberry-y treat is exactly what you need.
Cranberry Oat Scones
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- generous 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 6 1/2 Tbsp. white sugar
- 10 Tbsp. cold butter
- zest of 1 orange
- 1/2 c. dried cranberries
- 1/3 c. Greek yogurt
- 2/3 c. oat milk (or other milk)
- Preheat oven to 375 and line a rimless baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar. Using a box grater, grate in the cold butter and mix until the dough is crumbly. Zest 1 orange directly into the bowl, add cranberries, and mix.
- In a measuring cup, combine Greek yogurt and oat milk. Pour into the dough little by little until moist enough that it comes together in a cohesive ball. (You may not use all of the oat milk mixture.)
- On the parchment-lined baking sheet, flatten the dough ball into a 2-inch-tall disc. Using a sharp knife, slice the disc into 8 equal pieces and separate them slightly.
- Bake in the preheated oven about 25 minutes or until the tops of the scones begin to brown. Store in an airtight container.