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Castroville Artichoke Festival

Castroville Artichoke Festival

Don’t let the spiky tips fool you – this edible flower bud from the thistle family can be transformed into all kinds of goodies. The Italians turn it into a bitter digestivo liquor called Cynar; the French like them stuffed with parsley, garlic and bacon; and in Morocco, you’ll find them in stews called tagines to give them a taste of spring.

At the Castroville Artichoke Festival in Monterey, California where the weather is perfect for this plant – foggy mornings, sunny afternoons and a slight sea breeze – you’ll find artichokes prepared in all kinds of unusual…and traditional ways.

Most adults start by ordering the classic — deep fried artichoke hearts – to fortify themselves before moving on to other dishes, like artichoke tamales and burritos, artichoke soup or artichoke and sausage sandwiches, while their kids beg for artichoke cupcakes or artichoke ice cream, a creamy vanilla flecked with green bits of heart for a flavor punch.

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My favorites were the roasted and steamed artichokes, where the ‘chokes savory goodness comes through in a simple, elegant way. A couple of other star dishes, like the bacon wrapped artichoke hearts and sautéed artichokes made me vow to move beyond my usual stuffed ‘chokes and dips to something more exotic next time I cook.

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Satiated and with ice cream in hand, I headed into the artichoke art contest tent to watch teams of adults and children creating 3-D fruit and veggie artwork on a time clock. Artichoke leaves were being pinned, stapled and glued onto forms to make fish scales, hummingbirds feathers, pianos, rocket ships and all kinds of other sculptures.

A group of teenage boys argued about which side of the artichoke-leaf-decorated turn table the carved celery stick tone arm should go on. Googling the info on their phones, they quickly solved the argument before putting their headsets on and getting back to work.

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