Natural Foods

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Quinoa 365

Quinoa 365

The Everyday Superfood
edition:Paperback
tagged : natural foods
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City Farmer

City Farmer

Adventures in Urban Food Growing
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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From Chapter 2: Embracing a Food-Growing Ethic

On the first day of spring, in 2009, a busy mom took time out of her highly scheduled work day to do something very unusual. She prepared the soil for a vegetable garden in the front lawn of her house. Spinach, chard, collard greens and black kale seedlings would go into the ground where only grass had flourished. A small space of edibility was thus carved out of an ornamental landscape. And not just any ornamental landscape: this was the front yard of a nation, the White House lawn in Washington, D.C., and the mom holding the hoe was Michelle Obama.

Was it something in the water” Or maybe in the air” In the spring and summer of 2009, politicians of all stripes and at every level, in the U.S. and Canada, were planting food gardens at the symbolic seats of power — in front of City Halls, governors’ mansions, legislatures and yes, even on the lawn of the White House.

Michelle Obama had plenty of help. The National Park Service had tested the soil (and found lead levels of 93 parts per million, within the safe range) and prepared the bed. Twenty-six Grade 5 schoolchildren from the nearby Bancroft Elementary School assisted with the planting. An army of media recorded every move and dissected every nuance, right down to the First Lady’s choice of footwear: Jimmy Choo boots. While the folksiness of the scene may have been diminished somewhat by the luxury attire adorning her feet, the popular verdict on the event was that this was a class act by a down-to-earth woman in touch with the people. In a few brief hours, Obama achieved what food activists and nutrition advocates could only dream of: she made the planting of a vegetable garden front-page news around the world. It was a good news day indeed for urban agriculture.

Appropriate for a place on which the spotlight of symbolism shines so brightly, the White House front yard has been the focus of many food-related campaigns over the years, some started by individuals or groups with a message to promote, others initiated by the inhabitants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue themselves. Surely the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt was hovering over the White House lawn to cheer Obama on. It was Roosevelt who had last channelled her energies in the direction of food production, planting a Victory Garden at the White House during World War II. Interestingly, Roosevelt’s efforts, while embraced by the people, were somewhat less than enthusiastically supported by officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who were concerned about the effects that a populace committed to growing their own food in backyards across the nation would have on the agricultural sector and the food industry. How times have changed. When Obama planted her garden, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had just recently announced that an organic food garden, “The People’s Garden,” would be planted at USDA headquarters, across from the Smithsonian Mall, in honour of President Lincoln. In the photo op accompanying the announcement, Vilsack chipped away at the pavement, a reversal of fortune for this parking lot, which was unpaved back to some semblance of paradise. As he put it to the assembled media: “Our goal is for USDA facilities worldwide to install community gardens in their local offices.”

Other presidential precedents can be found for Obama’s agricultural act. The first presidential inhabitant of the White House, John Adams, planted vegetables there. Thomas Jefferson planted fruit trees. President William Taft is said to have kept a cow at the White House from 1910 to 1913 — a Holstein-Frisian gifted by a senator from Wisconsin. During Woodrow Wilson’s tenure, sheep grazed the lawn. In the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter tended an herb garden.

The symbolic power that food production can carry at this most symbolic of households had been noted and promoted by many people and organizations before Obama picked up her trowel. In a slyly subversive gesture, Euell Gibbons, the father of modern food foraging whose classic 1962 book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, is still in print, stuck his hand through the White House fence and plucked four edible “weeds” from the lawn. Clearly the standards of care have become more stringent since then, and the small army of groundskeepers who maintain the place wouldn’t let any weeds — edible or not — get past them.

It was precisely this small army that writer Michael Pollan, the author of many bestselling books, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma, suggested in 1991 be enlisted for a different kind of effort. His New York Times opinion piece “Abolish the White House Lawn” proposed that President Bush issue an executive order to rip out the grass — “an act of environmental shock therapy” that, Pollan imagined, “could conceivably set off a revolution in consciousness.” Just where that revolution could lead included four different possible destinations usefully provided by Pollan. One option was to replace the lawn with a meadow, the mown path of which could form a spur of the Appalachian Trail. Another was to restore a portion of the White House landscape to its original condition — as wetland. (Pollan acknowledged that the swamp symbolism might be troubling to some.) A third proposal was to plant a vegetable garden — an 18-acre victory garden. “The White House has enough land to become self-sufficient in food — a model of Jeffersonian independence and thrift!” Pollan noted. The fourth suggestion, preferred by Pollan, was to plant an orchard with that most American of fruits — the apple. (Pollan remained silent on the subject of apple pie.)

President Bush didn’t accept Pollan’s challenge, and it took almost two decades for the White House turfgrass to be turfed — 102 square metres of it anyway. We can only speculate about what role Roger Doiron played in the Obamas’ decision to install a White House food garden, but there’s no doubt that his persuasive efforts captured the public’s imagination. Doiron is the person behind the Maine-based network Kitchen Gardeners International’s Eat the View campaign. Promoting “high-impact food gardens in high-profile places,” his campaign was launched in February 2008 to encourage the planting of a White House Victory Garden (for the “Eaters in Chief”). More than 110,000 people signed the petition. Without a doubt, the garden has been an inspiration to hundreds of thousands more — an example of a leader pointing people in the direction of positive, personal solutions in tough times — but it’s also a rousing example of the people leading the chief.

Cynics might suggest that the White House garden is all optics without much traction, despite the flurry of interest that accompanied its planting. But the follow-through has been impressive. Michelle Obama, who said at the September 2009 opening of a Washington, D.C., farmers’ market that the White House food garden was “one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life so far,” has put food issues in the spotlight.

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Spilling the Beans

Spilling the Beans

Cooking and Baking With Beans and Grains Every Day
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Beans. We know them well, but as familiar as they are, a huge number of us don’t have a clue what to do with them once we get them home to our kitchens. It’s amazing that legumes, which have been around for centuries and are present in nearly every cuisine around the world, are still such a mystery even to skilled cooks. The process of soaking and simmering seems daunting, even though it requires even less culinary skill than cooking rice or pasta. All legumes—beans, chickpeas, peas, and lentils—are high in fibre, protein, and other essential nutrients. They’re low in fat, cholesterol-free, versatile, environmentally friendly, and cheap. They could very well be the world’s most perfect food.

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Prairie Feast

Prairie Feast

a writer's journey home for dinner
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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A Year in Lucy's Kitchen

A Year in Lucy's Kitchen

Seasonal Recipes and Memorable Meals
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

Carrot, Parsnip and Celeriac Stir-fry

SERVES 8

Substitute other vegetables to suit your taste-turnips, rutabaga and sweet potatoes or squash are all good choices.

2 cups celeriac, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups parsnips, peeled and cut in  ½- inch pieces
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 tbsp butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped chives

COMBINE celeriac, parsnips and carrots in a pot. Cover with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Drain.

HEAT butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetables and stir-fry for 5 minutes, or until browned and heated through. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chives.

Halibut with Spiced Moroccan Sauce

SERVES 4

The combination of spices and colours makes this a real taste treat and feast for the eyes. I make it with fresh tomatoes in summer and good-quality canned tomatoes in other seasons.

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tsp chopped garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
Pinch cayenne
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup white wine
2/3 cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
4 halibut fillets (about 6 oz/175 g each)
1/2 cup cracked green olives

PREHEAT oven to 425°F.

CHOP coriander, parsley and garlic in a food processor. Add oil, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper and puree. Add lemon juice and combine. Reserve 2 tbsp spice mixture.

COMBINE wine, tomatoes and remaining spice mixture in a baking dish. Place halibut in baking dish in a single layer, skin-side down. Spread reserved spice mixture over fish.

BAKE for 15 minutes. Add olives and continue to bake for 5 minutes, or until white juices appear on fish. Serve fish with sauce.

Spicy Green Beans

SERVES 4

The deep-frying changes the texture of the beans and makes them as addictive as French fries, and a perfect foil for the fish. This dish can be prepared ahead and then quickly stir-fried to reheat before serving. You can also spread the deep-fried beans on a baking sheet and reheat them at 400°F for 5 minutes.

Sauce 2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp hot Asian chili sauce, or to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 tsp finely chopped gingerroot
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
2 cups vegetable oil
2 lb (1 kg) green beans, trimmed
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt

MIX together soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil and chili sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.

COMBINE shallots, ginger and garlic in a separate small bowl and set aside.

HEAT a wok or deep skillet over high heat. Add vegetable oil. Heat to about 350°F, or until a cube of bread browns in 15 seconds.

ADD beans in batches and fry for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until crisp and wrinkled. Place a strainer over a bowl and carefully transfer beans to strainer with a slotted spoon as they are ready. Let sit to drip until cool.

REMOVE all but 2 tbsp oil from wok. Add shallot mixture and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add beans and sauce and stir-fry for 1 minute, or until beans are coated with sauce and heated through. Drizzle with vinegar and season with salt.

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