A few weeks ago I find myself at the Whitehouse – on the OTHER side of the fence! I was strolling through Obama’s fantastic new Whitehouse Garden on a sunny Saturday afternoon, walking amongst the rhubarb,the honeybees, nibbling on sorrel! How did I end up in this modern day Garden of Eden? It’s a story that starts many years ago in Chicago, where I grew up. I went to high school with Sam Kass, (at the same school the Obamas attended). He was a nice guy that I’d say hello to in the halls between classes. Fast forward more than 10 years, and I’m eating dinner at Avec in Chicago (one of my favorite restaurants!). Little do I know, but Sam is working in the kitchen, and he sends out a surprise bucatini dish to our table – and we’ve been in touch ever since. Sam would go on to be a personal chef for the Obamas in Chicago, and later move with them to Washington and take a position on the Whitehouse cooking staff. He’d also play a major role in planning and implementing the Whitehouse Garden.
Following a cousin’s wedding in Washington, D.C., Sam stopped by to have a drink with me in the lobby bar of the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, an old industrial site that was amazingly converted into a modern hotel. He had only minutes to spare from his intense schedule, but next thing I know he offers a personal tour of the garden the next day (all i had to do was give him my social securtiy number and date of birth so the Secret Service could do a background check on me that night…)
As everyone in the culinary world knows, this garden’s had a lot of hype…my expectations were quite high. All I can say is that to see it in action – the layout, the plantings, the care and attention put into it, the prominent location near the Oval Office – truly got me excited that the growing awareness about good quality food might not be just a short-term fad after all. The garden is a reminder to America that knowing where our food comes from is of the utmost importance.
Every Thursday when I pick up my delivery of vegetables from my CSA, I can pretend for a moment that I have a garden as beautiful and fruitful as the White House Garden, even though I live in the city. Eating healthy is about having real food, grown in good soil – nothing to do with fad diets or processed items. Having a garden nearby, or at least a connection to a garden or other source of local farming, makes getting real food into your life a whole lot easier.
At my apartment, I am limited to the real estate I can find on my windowsill. With the help of my resident gardener, (who happens to be my dad when he visits me), we’ve designed 4 beautiful edible aromatic boxes. I harvest Sage, Basil, Lavender, Chives, Oregano and Nasturtium on a regular basis. I’ve also got some fragrant jasmine plants interspersed thoroughout the boxes, designed so that when the window is open the smell of jasmine can easily waft inside the apartment. If I need a little garnish for a dish I can conveniently snip a little from the herb plants. Often with fresh herbs, a little goes a long way. Often you don’t need to use much in any given recipe, so usually you buy more herbs than you need and some may go to waste. If you have a windowbox, this will never happen. Planting fresh herbs in a windowbox is the best route to take under urban living circumstances with little to no outdoor space. So until I have a garden of my own, I’ll keep visiting beautiful ones, enjoy my CSA and keep watering the boxes on the windowsills. The Whitehouse Garden should be an inspiration to all of us!
Here is a quick and easy, refreshing recipe for a salad I made with mostly veggies from the CSA, thrown together with the Whitehouse Garden very much on my mind.
1 head Romaine Lettuce, torn into small pieces
4 french Radishes, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, scooped out with a spoon
1-(3 inch )stalk heart of palm, thinly sliced rounds
1/2 cup shredded chicken
squeeze of lemon
several drizzles of olive oil to taste
sprinkling of chili flakes
1 Tablespoon cilantro leaves, rough chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
fresh cracked pepper
1. In a large bowl combine the contents of the salad, except for the olive oil and lemon juice.
2. Squeeze lemon juice over the salad and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to combine. Then adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.