Digging the White House garden

Bright colors, lots of illustrations and recipes not just from the Obamas but also from community gardens around the country make “A White House Garden Cookbook” by Clara Silverstein (Red Rock Press, $24.95) an appealing book. It includes history about gardens at the White House and updated favorite recipes from past presidents. (You find out President Obama is a pie fan.)

This is the first of what will no doubt be a deluge of cookbooks about the garden and Michelle Obama’s efforts to promote healthy eating among the nation’s children.  The simple writing and mostly easy recipes in this book make it one that might appeal to older children, and that you could turn them loose in the kitchen with.

One recipe grabbed my attention: a radish and green bean salad with apple cider vinegar and garlic. I’m a fan of radishes, and will definitely try that one.

Root for radishes

french breakfast radishes

french breakfast radishes

The rising tide of popularity of other root vegetables – beets, carrots, daikon, even turnips – does not seem to have lifted the humble radish. And that’s too bad, because I love radishes. The crunchy texture, the nip of peppery flavor and, most of all, the cheerful color. How can you not have a good day when you look at that magenta-red?

Yes, if radishes get too large and dried out, they may taste like you bit into a pepper grinder. But now, spring, is the radish’s prime time. Get them fresh-picked from a farmers market or through a CSA, as I did this week, and they are moist, wonderful vegetables – not things to scrape off your salad. Even the leafy tops – again, if they’re fresh-picked and bright green – are good. Raw or sauteed; just try it. Actually, I think the tops of most vegetables are good to eat (carrots the exception) if they are fresh enough.

I received a bunch of French breakfast radishes, recognizable by their elongated shape and two-tone color. I’d read that they are eaten for breakfast, spread with butter. It works! The richness of the butter, the sweet-spicy flavor of the radishes…

Do you heart local food?

Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday (this Sunday, just in case you haven’t made arrangements for that special food blogger in your life). If you want to leave your evening free for other activities, and do something different, consider the “I Love U Lunch.” Slow Food Triangle, The Abundance Foundation and the economic advocacy group Loom are bringing together a list of local food producers including Celebrity Dairy, Scratch Baking, Carolina Brewery and the General Store Cafe in Pittsboro, N.C. The lunch, which will be held from 1 p.m. to -4 p.m. in the historic Chatham Mills in Pittsboro, N.C., will raise awareness of renovations at the mill and benefit the food co-op there, Chatham Marketplace. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door (children under 12 are $8), and can be purchased here.

You can warm up for Valentine’s Day and feel good about it on Wednesday, Feb. 10.  Fleming’s Steakhouse at
Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C. holds  “Wine Wednesday” each month to benefit a different charity. This month’s charity is the Lucy Daniels Center, a nonprofit which provides mental health services for children. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., five different wines will be available by the glass at the bar at $10 per glass. All of that money goes to the charity.   There’ll also be complementary appetizers.

And while we’re all in a loving mood, don’t forget that it’s CSA sign-up time – show the love to your favorite farmer. Find a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)  in your part of North Carolina in this list at the Growing Small Farms section of the Chatham County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. Thanks to Debbie Roos of the extension service for compiling this excellent resource.

A natural for juice

If you see a big, aqua bus pumping out African or reggae music and the grind of blenders, then you know you’ve found Liberacion Juice Station. Since July, the biodiesel-fueled mobile juice and smoothie bar has appeared at the Durham Farmers Market, Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro and other spots, most recently the Pittsboro Pepper Festival on Sunday.

The venture’s “Creatrix & Juice Artist Extraordinaire,” as her business cards say, is Zulayka Santiago, former director of El Pueblo Inc., who sees this business as another form of serving the community. ” I wanted to provide fresh food for the community, and be creative,” she said. Santiago, who was born in Puerto Rico, named the bus Dona Victoria, after her grandmother.

Santiago uses organic ingredients and purchases as many of them locally as possible. The menu changes with the seasons and her creative whims. A blend of carrot, Granny Smith apple, ginger and a little agave nectar (sweetener made from the agave plant) results in a beverage with such a striking orange color that you feel healthier just looking at it. The Luscious Monkey includes banana, peanut butter, hemp and almond milk (the stand is vegan friendly with no animal products used, except bee pollen on request). Santiago says a perennial favorite is the Green Liberacion: kale, banana, prune, ginger, flax and apple juice. The vividly green drink is sweet and smooth, and you can see why kids like it, besides the UFO-like color (it might be the only way many of them would ever consume kale). Agave and honey are used as sweeteners, and herbal additions are available.

To keep up with the Station’s travels and see photos of the polka-dotted bus, visit here.

CSA in May

It’s community-supported agriculture time again! I’m glad to see more farms and more folks participating. I know that money is tight for many people right now, but investing in local growers pays off in the long run. Please consider it. You’ll also get sustainably produced vegetables with flavor that will lure even those who run from green things.

It’s too late to sign up for most CSA farms – they typically offer shares in January or February for the vegetables you’ll receive through the growing season. But the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association has a good list of local farms, farmers markets and CSA opportunities.

And the lettuce I received this week tastes like nothing I can find at a megamarket. It’s the sweetness and delicacy of spring, and it lasts so short a time. The ruffled leaves taste like rain, to me – the refreshing kind of spring rain on new grass. With a lively crunch that makes eating a salad for lunch feel not at all like the deprivation of dieting.

To come: Greens and spinach. Olive oil and garlic. Couldn’t be easier.