It’s one of the best times of the year in the Santa Maria Valley: strawberry season! California is well-known for producing strawberries. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly every strawberry eaten in the United States comes from California. The Central Coast is especially ideal for producing strawberries because of the cool temperatures and ocean breezes. The Santa Maria Valley alone produces more than 20 million trays of strawberries each year, all of which are hand-picked. Santa Maria Valley strawberries are special because most strawberry fields in the region are replanted every year. This is more work for strawberry farmers, but it’s what produces the high-quality, extra sweet and juicy berries we know and love. You can pick up your own Santa Maria Valley strawberries at the Santa Maria Certified Farmers Markets or the Orcutt Certified Farmers Market. Read below for four ways to enjoy them in your meals. Breakfast – Strawberry Smoothie Bowl Try a strawberry smoothie bowl! Smoothies and smoothie bowls are a great way to make sure you get a healthy breakfast on the go. You can top your smoothie bowl with whatever you’d like to change up the flavor and textures. Ingredients 1 cup of fat-free milk. 1 cup of strawberries. 1 cup of ice cubes. Shredded coconut, sliced strawberries, almonds or other toppings Put milk, berries and ice into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a cup for a smoothie. Or, pour into a bowl and top with sliced strawberries, chia seeds, almonds, shredded coconut, or any topping you prefer for a smoothie bowl. See the recipe here. Lunch – Strawberry and Shrimp Ceviche Use delicious Santa Maria Valley strawberries to make a strawberry and shrimp ceviche. Ceviche is a delicious, fresh meal that tastes great year-round. This recipe uses strawberries in the dressing, and in the ceviche mixture, so you’re sure to get your berry fix. Ingredients For the ceviche dressing: ¼ cup chopped stemmed Santa Maria Valley strawberries. ¼ cup chopped plum tomato. 2 Tbsp olive oil. 4 tsp fresh lime juice. 4 tsp red wine vinegar. 2 tsp chopped seeded jalapeño peppers. 1 tsp sugar. ½ tsp salt. ¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce. For the ceviche: ¾ lb cooked peeled shrimp. 1½ cups peeled seeded diced cucumber. ¾ cup diced red onion. 1½ Tbsp chopped seeded jalapeño peppers. 1½ cups quartered, stemmed Santa Maria Valley strawberries. 3 Tbsp chopped cilantro. Combine dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Toss together shrimp, cucumber, onion and peppers in bowl. Add dressing, mixing until shrimp mixture is coated. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to help flavors blend. Before serving, add strawberries and cilantro and gently mix. See the recipe here. Dinner – Strawberry Chicken with Avocado Use Santa Maria strawberries and California avocados to make an easy, fresh and healthy dinner. This meal takes less than an hour to prepare and makes four delicious servings. Ingredients For the chicken: 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts. 1 tablespoon lime zest. 1/4 cup fresh lime juice. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. 2 minced garlic cloves. 1 1/2 teaspoons honey. 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro. For the topping: 1/2 small diced red onion. 1 cup diced Santa Maria Valley strawberries. 1 medium seeded and finely chopped jalapeno. 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro. 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice. 1/2 teaspoon honey. 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. 1 medium diced avocado. Place the chicken on a cutting board and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Lightly pound the chicken with a mallet, making all pieces evenly thick to ensure proper cooking. Place the chicken in a zip top bag. Whisk together the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, honey, salt, pepper and cilantro. Pour over the chicken, seal the bag, and ensure the chicken is evenly coated. Refrigerate for at least an hour, and up to a day before cooking. Before grilling, remove the chicken from the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes. Preheat an outdoor grill or an indoor grill pan to medium high. While the grill heats, prepare the salsa topping. Place the red onion in a small bowl and cover with very hot tap water (this takes off some of the red onion’s bite while preserving its flavor. You can skip if you like raw red onion just as it is). Set aside. In a mixing bowl, gently stir together the strawberries, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, honey, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir in the avocado. Taste and add a bit more salt if you feel it tastes a little too flat or additional honey if it is too spicy. Drain the red onion and it to the salsa. The longer it sits, the more mild its taste, so you can wait to drain and add it just before serving if you like. Lightly oil the grill. Grill the chicken until completely cooked through and the temperature on an instant read thermometer reads 160 to 165 degrees, about 8 to 12 minutes total, flipping the chicken once or twice throughout. The amount of time you need will vary based on the size and thickness of each breast. Remove to a plate, cover, and let rest 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to serving plates and top each with a few generous spoonfuls of the strawberry salsa. See the recipe here. Dessert – Freezer Strawberry Shortbread What’s a full day of strawberry meals without a delicious strawberry dessert to top it off? This frozen strawberry shortbread recipe is perfect for spring and summer. The best part is that you can keep it in the freezer for up to two weeks after preparing. Ingredients 1-1/4 cups crushed pretzels. 1/4 cup sugar. 1/2 cup butter, melted. For filling: 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk. 1/2 cup thawed non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiri mix. 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened. 16 ounces fresh Santa Maria Valley strawberries, sliced. 1 carton (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed. For sauce: 16 ounces fresh Santa Maria Valley strawberries. In a small bowl, combine the pretzels, sugar and butter. Press onto the bottom of a greased 11×7-in. dish. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. For filling, in a large bowl, combine milk and daiquiri mix. Beat in cream cheese until smooth. Stir in strawberries; fold in whipped topping. Pour over crust (dish will be full). Freeze for 4 hours before serving. For sauce, puree Santa Maria strawberries in a food processor or blender. Strain through a fine sieve. Drizzle over top. See the recipe here. The Santa Maria Valley is the perfect place to stock up on sweet strawberries. The Santa Maria Strawberry Festival happens April 26 – April 28, 2019. The Strawberry Festival is the perfect time to pick up a flat of berries, sample different recipes, and get inspired for your next strawberry-infused meal. *** In the Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. Hit the road and explore all you can do. The Santa Maria Valley boasts 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, 6 unique AVAs, 13 beaches, and a growing selection of local breweries, all within a beautiful 30-minute drive. There is no need to venture far if you are looking for sand dunes, cycling and authentic Santa Maria Style dining. You’ll find it’s the perfect home base, where you can eat, drink and do more for less.