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Funny, fuzzy kiwifruit are now in abundance. With their green flesh and distinctive brown skin, this oddball winter fruit hits its peak when most others are tasteless and/or long gone. It's unusual, sweet taste is like a summer smoothie; part banana, part blackberry and part melon with a tropical twist. That makes fresh kiwi an interesting alternative for cooler-weather meals and munching.

California produces more than 98 percent of the American kiwi crop, almost totally in the Central Valley. They're harvested in October and November, so the kiwis you've been seeing are most likely from New Zealand and Italy, the countries from which America imports much of its kiwifruit during the off season. Fresh, American-grown kiwifruit will be available through early May. Unfortunately, though, not in the numbers the state once experienced. Due to the increased number of kiwis imported from other countries, such as China and Chile, many California kiwi farms have gone out of business. Flooding and other natural disasters have taken their toll on kiwi farms, too. Only 171 California farms — most of them small — grow kiwifruit, down from 300 a decade ago, according to the California Kiwifruit Commission.

But there's good news for all kiwi farmers in the U.S. and abroad: The American appetite for kiwifruit continues to steadily grow. On average, we eat about a pound of kiwis annually. That's not a lot considering they're an affordable fruit packed with vitamins. Kiwis are a nutritional powerhouse with more vitamin C per ounce than oranges and more potassium than a banana. As a winter fruit, it's available when little else is fresh.

Including all varieties, the state of California produced almost 11 million boxes of kiwifruit last season, which, says Nick Matteis with the Kiwifruit Commission, is a decent-size crop when compared with the long-term average. This year's crop is expected to be on par with last year's, so, in spite of a declining number of American kiwi farms, there will still be plenty of American-grown kiwifruit to go around.

Matteis compares kiwis to artichokes. "They look funny. You wonder, how do you eat them? Then you cut into them — and it's pretty awesome," he says.

By themselves, kiwis make an excellent snack that satisfy the sweet tooth. But take them a step further, and they're excellent in chicken salad, a nice color for fruit salads and oh so good as an adult beverage. With their distinct color and tropical flavor, kiwifruit are a favorite of inventive mixologists. This cocktail recipe, courtesy of the California Kiwifruit Commission, tastes as good as it looks.

 

Kiwi Klimax

1 kiwifruit, pared and sliced

2-3 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 or 2 ounces white rum

8 ice cubes, crushed

2 kiwifruit slices, for garnish

Blend all ingredients, except kiwifruit slices, in a blender until smooth. Serve in stemmed glasses; garnish edge of each glass with kiwifruit slice.

 

A SEAFOOD CELEBRATION

Through the end of the month, Bonefish Grill will celebrate National Seafood Month on Thursdays with a special three-course lobster meal for $19.99. Choose how you'd like your lobster — steamed lobster tail served with warm, drawn butter; lobster thermidor gnocchi (lobster and shrimp sauteed with potato gnocchi, mushrooms, peas and tomatoes tossed in lobster-sherry cream sauce); or a lobster roll mixed in Bonefish's popular Bang-Bang Sauce and served in a toasty baguette. Round out the meal with a House or Caesar salad, along with a dessert of Jen's Jamaican Coconut Pie or a macadamia nut brownie.

I'm a huge fan of lobster and loved the steamed lobster tail. For $19.99, the meal was huge, more than filling. Somehow, even after the bread and dipping oil that comes before every meal, I managed to eat the big salad and the two side dishes that came with the lobster tail. Then, amazingly, there was still room in my stomach for that incredible warm brownie with a big scoop of ice cream. All I can say is I was so glad I wore leggings that stretched as my stomach expanded.

My husband and I don't agree on everything, but Bonefish is one thing we do. The consistency of quality food and service is what makes the restaurant crowded on days when many restaurants struggle.

If you're not a lobster lover, charbroiled oysters, grilled swordfish with pumpkin ravioli and Creole-style redfish are on the menu every day through the end of the month.

Bonefish Grill is at 2115 Gunbarrel Road. For reservations, call 423-892-3175.

 

EVENTS FOR FOODIES

Bring your appetites and wear loose pants for two events this weekend that allow foodies to engage in their favorite activity — great food and good times.

* Flavored Nation, featuring a signature dish and a celebrated chef from each state, is Saturday and Sunday at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Tennessee is represented by Chattanooga chef Michelle Wells, of catering company Events With Taste, and by Chattanooga Bakery's MoonPies, which will be "served in a unique and delicious way." Get ticket information at https://flavorednation.com/chattanooga.

* The third annual Scenic City EggFest will be Saturday at Collegedale Commons. Owners of Big Green Egg ceramic cookers will be preparing foods, including smoked barbecue, grilled pizza and even baked desserts, for visitors to sample. Get ticket information at https://eldershardware.com/eggfest.

some text Anne Braly

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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