Ever since Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House in March, 2009 she has been a big hero of mine. This action has sent a really strong message about the importance of fresh food and the joy of growing your own to families across America. It has raised the profile and awareness of local and sustainable food both at the White House and nationally to an unprecedented level.
In a country where 2/3 of the population are either over-weight or obese and 1 in 3 children (1 in 2 if your skin colour happens to be black) have diabetes, this message is particularly badly needed. In the US a country of 210 million people, 40 million have no health care so it’s a timely reminder that ‘our food can be our medicine’ but not if it’s mass produced and denatured.
On a recent trip to Washington DC, I had the opportunity to visit the vegetable garden. We had an early start on Monday morning to be at the gates of the White House by 9.30am. First, I forgot my passport so we had to whizz back for that, then when we arrived our names didn’t appear to be on the list, and there was NO chatting up the security guys! Frantic texting and phone calls, eventually we discovered the time had been changed to 10.15am.
After several other dramas, we managed to contact Hannah, private assistant to the First lady. Chef Bill Yosses came and rescued us and we were admitted, phew! It would have been such an anti-climax to get that far and then be turned away politely but VERY firmly.
The vegetable garden is great, much smaller than I had imagined, for some reason I thought it was several acres but in fact it’s just 980 square ft.
Beautiful soil, a very impressive selection of really healthy produce, they even had a sea kale plant and several heirloom varieties of seed from past President Thomas Jefferson’s Garden at Monticello including a beautiful purple flowering hyacinth bean that I’d love to grow. No beets though – President Obama doesn’t care for them.
Bill Yosses who is pastry chef and Cris Comerford executive chef of the White House showed us around, I was tagging along with a group of food writers who were having a conference in Washington DC that weekend. No sign of the first family, everyone was at the Democratic conference in Charlotte where Michelle gave a cracker of a speech.
It’s definitely not just a PR exercise. According to Bill, the main raison d’être for the veggie patch was that Michelle really wanted to have fresh nourishing food for the family and it is also used as an educational tool for local school kids, but Michelle herself also gets her hands in the soil from time to time and insists on hands-on assistance from the family – how great is that?
They have an impressive composting system and a bee hive but not a hen in sight, so I was trying to encourage Bill Yosses to get hens, lots of great food scraps from the White House kitchens to feed them, the manure could go on to the compost heap to make the soil more fertile, a brilliant holistic system, kids would love them…plus the President could ‘go to work on an egg’ every day!
He’s totally on for it but it not that simple at the White House apparently…
Here are a few recipes inspired by the produce in Michelle Obama’s garden.
Broad Bean, Mint and Ricotta Bruschetta
For 2 bruschetta
110 – 175g (4 – 6 oz) podded broad beans
extra-virgin olive oil, about 4 tablespoons
zest of 1 lemon and a little juice, freshly squeezed
10 fresh mint leaves roughly chopped
flaky Maldon sea salt and black pepper
2 thick slices sour dough bread
a small garlic clove
3 tablespoons fresh ricotta
Put the broad beans into boiling salted water for 3 – 4 minutes, remove and plunge into cold water, then drain and skin them. Put the beans in a small bowl and dress them with extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, a little freshly squeezed lemon juice and most of the chopped mint. Season with sea salt and pepper.
Toast or grill the slices of bread on a hot pan grill. Rub each slice with the cut side of a garlic clove. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil. Season the fresh ricotta with salt and pepper to taste, then spread on to the hot, garlicky bread. Top the broad beans with the remaining chopped mint and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
José Pizzaro’s Crisp Deep Fried Aubergine Fritters with Honey
This is another really good, easy tapas dish. The delicious subtle flavour of the soft aubergines comes through the crispy coating and the sticky honey make this a heavenly dish.
Serves 4 – 6
300g (10 ½ oz) aubergines, cut into 7 – 8mm thick slices
110g (4oz) plain flour
5 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for deep-frying
150ml (5fl oz cold water
2 free-range eggs whites
clear honey, for drizzling
fine sea salt
Sprinkle the aubergine slices lightly on both sides with salt and set aside for 30 minutes. Sift the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre and add the oil and the water. Gradually beat together to make a smooth batter. Set aside to rest, along with the aubergines.
Pat the aubergine slices dry with kitchen paper. Pour 1cm of olive oil into a large deep frying pan and heat it to 180°C/350°F/Mark 4.
Whisk the egg whites into soft peaks and fold them into the batter. Dip the aubergine slices, a few at a time, into the batter, add them to the hot oil and deep-fry for one minute on each side until crisp and golden. Leave to drain briefly on kitchen paper and serve immediately while they are still hot and crisp, drizzled generously with honey.
José Pizzaro’s Roasted Squash with Dried Chilli, Honey, Cinnamon and Pine Nuts
This can be a side dish for any grilled fish or meat. I serve it with Iberico pork cheeks or any game stew. It’s also delicious on its own.
Serves 4 – 6
1.5 kg (3lb 5oz) unprepared squash (butternut, onion or kabocha)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
½ teaspoon crushed dried chillies
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
25g (1oz) pine nuts
50ml (2fl oz) clear honey
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Mark 6. Halve the squash through the stem end, scoop out the seeds, peel and then cut into 2.5 – 3cm (1in to 1¼in) thick wedges.
Put the oil into a roasting tin with the garlic, crushed dried chillies, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Mix well together. Add the wedges of squash to the tin and turn them over a few times in the oil mixture until well coated. Sit them on their curved edges and roast them in the oven for 20 minutes.
Spread the pine nuts onto a baking tray and roast them in the oven alongside the squash for 5 – 6 minutes, giving them a stir now and then until they are all golden. Remove and set aside.
Remove the squash from the oven and brush the wedges with some of the honey. Return to the oven and toast for a further 15 minutes, brushing with more of the honey and then the caramelised juices every five minutes until the squash is tender and slightly caramelised. Brush one last time with the juices from the pan, pile onto a serving plate and scatter over the pine nuts.
Honey Mousse with Lemon Verbena Peaches
Serves 6 – 8
3 teaspoons of gelatin
3 tablespoons of water
1 pint of whipping cream
175g (6oz) of best quality honey
1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier
For the Lemon Verbena Peaches
4 large ripe and juicy peaches
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon verbena or lemon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Beat the eggs in a small bowl until it froths slightly. Sponge the gelatin in the cold water and then dissolve gently over a low heat.
Whip the cream to the soft peak stage. Add the honey to the dissolved gelatin and stir until smooth, if necessary keeping the gelatin over a low heat. Cool this mixture until it starts to thicken slightly. Add the beaten egg to the cream and then mix with the honey mixture. Finally add the Grand Marnier to taste. Chill for a couple of hours to set.
Shortly before serving, peel the peaches.
Put the peaches into a Pyrex bowl. Cover the peaches with boiling water and leave for 30 seconds, then remove and drop into iced water. The skins should now peel away easily, halve them, remove the stones and cut the flesh into thin slices. Put them into a bowl with sugar, lemon verbena or lemon thyme leaves and lemon juice and mix together gently. Allow to macerate for at least 15 – 20 minutes.
Serve with honey mousse.
Broken Crow Theatre Company bring Madame Chavelle back to Ballyvolane House Friday 26th and Saturday 27th October 2012 at 7.30pm. Susan who works in the office, went to this performance in 2010 and pronounced it one of the most entertaining and enjoyable evenings she’d experienced. Guests enjoy a delicious three-course meal and watch the play that takes place right in front of you in the dining room. The play is set in 1919 when three lost souls arrive at Ballyvolane House. They seek an audience with the mysterious Madame Chavelle – played by Paula McGlinchey. Each one has a tale to tell and an answer to find, but can she really do all she claims? Can she really speak with the dead? Stay the night after the play if you dare… to book phone 025 36349 email email@example.com.
Glamorous Secret Pop Up Suppers with Gillian Hegarty and Sarah Gornall at Kilcolman Rectory. Gillian will cook a delicious four course meal for a maximum of 24 people so it will be very special, she uses fresh vegetables and fruit from the garden and can cater for coeliac and vegetarians. Kilcolman Rectory is situated between Bandon and Clonakilty, just off the main road. Booking is essential, phone 0238822913 – www.kilcolmanrectory.com
Learn to make soda bread in Caroline Rigney’s kitchen. Don’t miss the Curraghchase Slow Food Celebration tomorrow Sunday 14th October 2012, 12.00 noon till 5pm. Events include – pig and poultry keeping walk and talk, bee keeping demo and talk, reaping, binding, threshing and bailing – saving the harvest – the old way. Corn and wheat grinding, organic vegetable growing advice from Manna Organics, cookery demonstration by Andrew Carey and a butter making demonstration, (with Jo Flynn of Free Range Kids) Two Tamworth pigs will be roasted over aged beech wood on the front lawn. 087 2834754 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org