Monday, April 29, 2013

Like father, like daughter

I couldn't help but notice dad was wearing one glove when he came to pick me up from Kenton's for family dinner tonight in good old Northern VA. What's with the single glove, padre? "That damned devil knife again. It's too sharp! I was just cutting a watermelon and...."

Turns out dad doesn't have a great track record with sharp knives, either. At least his are labeled. He peeled back the glove to show me the injury. Kept the band-aid on, though: not long til dinnertime, after all.

Are these things genetic? (Same thumb and everything!) I wonder what I've inherited from my mother's half of the chromosomes....

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Backyard greens

No matter how tired I am -- and I am T-I-R-E-D after what seems like two weeks packed into four days so far this week -- I can't help but get excited when I get to harvest things from my garden and it them within minutes. Tonight marked the inaugural harvest of baby kale, chard, and arugula this spring. Oh, sure, I've chomped on a leaf here and there while doing garden work, but this is the first time there was enough for a full salad. Yum! Why should it matter that the arugula and dino kale unintentionally grew out of my compost pile? So what if the Swiss chard is in its second year? It's delicious, especially with a simple and fresh dressing.

Simple salad with lemony dressing

  • juice from 2-3 lemons (about 1/3 cup of juice)
  • handful of fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, chives, thyme, sage, oregano, etc), finely chopped
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of sugar (optional)
  • 1 large bunch of greens (spinach, baby kale, baby beet greens, tatsoi, chard, lettuce, etc.), washed and torn into bite-sized pieces


Whisk together lemon juice and herbs in a medium bowl. While whisking, slowly pour olive oil in a slow stream. Add salt and pepper (and sugar) to taste. Blot the washed greens dry using a towel or salad spinner. Toss greens in a large bowl with dressing. Devour.

That's all. Enough salivating over my keyboard. Now it's time to juice some lemons, pick a few herbs, make some of that dressing and get eating....

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Focus on folic acid

I do not purport to be a nutritionist. I work with them sometimes, but my realm of expertise is food enjoyment: making and eating and teaching and getting others excited about good food. As such, I was invited to work with a group of staff and patients over at Howard University Hospital last weekend. It was part of a workshop series geared toward improving the quality of life of folks dealing with sickle cell anemia. As participants trickled in around noon, we got cooking. More precisely, we got grinding cumin seeds and tearing kale and shaking vinaigrette as participants helped me prepare some sweet and savory salads from the beautiful seasonal produce I'd pre-washed and brought along.

I'd learned that patients going through treatment for sickle cell disease often have low folic acid levels, so I was specifically looking for easy, tasty, inexpensive recipes using folic-acid-laden ingredients. (And since the workshop was to take place *in* a hospital, I couldn't have an open flame, so I found myself making salads.) In spite of themselves, a number of folks admitted to really enjoying the trio of salads. The massaged kale salad was a crowd pleaser once again, with the apple beet salad a close second. (Carrot salad always comes in third -- why is that?) All were loaded with folic acid, also known as vitamin B9. It was a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to the next workshop with this group (which will focus on container gardening).

So, what does folic acid do, anyway?

I was wondering the same thing myself when the hospital staff approached me about teaching a cooking class with an emphasis on folic acid. So I did a little research. Being a food educator doesn't mean I know everything about everything related to food, you know. (I do know a heck of a lot about cooking, though. And eating.) Vitamin B9 is super important in red blood cell formation, and is a major factor in preventing and treating anemia. Even if you aren't anemic you'll want to make sure you're getting plenty in your diet. Folic acid deficiencies are also apparently linked to other health issues, from macular degeneration to depression to a whole spectrum of birth defects. Planning on having kids? Ladies, make sure you're getting enough folic acid before and during pregnancy. (Calm down, mom and dad, I'm not planning on having kids in the near future. You can be sure I'll be eating plenty of kale salad when that happens, though.)

What kinds of foods are high in folic acid? Many of my favorites!
  • Avocado (hooray!)
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Berries (strawberries, raspberries)
  • Brussels sprouts (send me an email, I'll give you 14 different recipes)
  • Carrots and celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Citrus (oranges, lemons, grapefruits)
  • Corn
  • Dark, leafy greens (kale, collards, spinach, beet greens)*
  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)*
  • Okra
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Squashes 
*Note: foods marked with an asterisk (*) are also quite high in iron, so check with your doctor before consuming large quantities while on iron-level-spiking medication for sickle cell anemia.

[Photos courtesy of Don Cash]

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring has sprung

This weekend may be one of the most gloriously beautiful spring weekends on record. I did my darndest to spend as much of it as possible outside. (I have the bug bites to prove it.)

Saturday afternoon I made my way out to Northern Virginia for a garden consultation with mom. After a delicious lunch -- we're related, so of course there would be a proper lunch #2 -- we took a walk about the front yard and then a field trip to a local nursery for supplies.

Oh, boy, do I lose it around pretty flowers and vegetable seedlings -- it's a good thing mom and I got out of there within an hour or I'd have spent my entire tax return. (Oh, wait: I owe money this year. Damn it. Well, all the more reason to get myself out of the heirloom tomato section asap.) Then she put me to work back home, transplanting some beautiful purple sweet potato vines into the front beds, pruning shrubs, and taming the overactive rose bushes along the side of the house. I made it out of there before she got me digging holes for the geraniums -- there were a LOT of geraniums -- and I absconded with dad's car to whisk Kenton into the city for the remainder of the weekend. Dinner out on the back patio was just lovely. I do believe that's when the nefarious ankle biting happened. (Silly me, I thought it was too early for mosquitoes, and was focused on the wine and the pleasant company of our friends Patricia and Peter and the experimental winter squash lasagne. Oooh, but they sure itch now.)

Sunday was spent largely outdoors as well. That morning as I perused the stands at the Dupont farmers' market I was unable to resist the lure of herb transplants. Thankfully limited by the cash I had on hand after doing the bulk of my shopping for the week, I biked home with two little plants in my pannier, along with quite the haul of produce, cider, eggs, bread, and yoghurt. Kenton joined me out in the garden for some brunch and then some garden time. Doesn't he look serious, meticulously recording in my garden journal the varieties of and arrangement of seeds planted in the hand-rolled newspaper pots?
Yes, awfully serious fun. Heirloom burgundy okra. Wisconsin pickling cucumbers. Four different kinds of basil. And lots more than I might have space for, should they all germinate and become legit plantlings. But we'll figure that part out later.

Meanwhile, I was crawling around some of the planters and in-ground beds, cleaning up and reseeding some of the flowers and salad greens. And some seeds I'd saved from last year. Celosia. Marigolds. Bell peppers. Jarradale squash. And putting in my new sage and thyme additions, of course. It felt good to have my hands in the dirt after so many months. I can't wait to see what does well this year. I'm a little behind on my March Madness seedling bracket, but my money's on the hot peppers.