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The ‘sweet potato’

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The dramatic story of the well-traveled sweet potato
Sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America, but they managed to travel across the Pacific by 1000 AD.

This is a curious fact that scientists have uncovered through plant DNA studies. It seems that Europeans, from Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage onward, were responsible for many of the food transfers between continents. After Columbus, it took just over 50 years for the tomato, a native of Peru, to reach Italy where the sauce-loving Italians were recommending it be fried in oil with salt and pepper, according to Laphams Quarterly. (The British thought tomatoes smelled and were poisonous.)

But, 400 years before Columbus, the sweet potato managed to travel 5,000 miles across the Pacific from South America to Polynesia, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How did that happen?

The sea-faring Polynesians may have accomplished the daunting voyage, which would have been like traveling to the moon without knowing the moon was there. The voyage would have taken months.

DNA research suggests the Polynesians landed on the west coast of South America and took some sweet potatoes home. They also may have left chickens in South America, possibly explaining why there were chickens in western Peru shortly before the arrival of Columbus.

Critics of this explanation abound, but there is also some linguistic evidence. One Polynesian word for sweet potato — Kuumala — sounds a lot like Kumara, the word for vegetable in the Andean language Quechua.

Sweet potato vines for summer! Grow one with the kids
Lovely sweet potato vines could once be found on sunny kitchen window sills everywhere.

And why not? Sweet potatoes are perfect for a kitchen garden plus they are beautiful and easy to grow. Best of all, everyone has the odd sweet potato now and then. That’s all you need to start your garden or just a lovely plant.

Growing a sweet potato vine is also a great way to introduce kids to plants.

It’s easy to do. Get a small jar you would normally throw out — maybe a pickle jar. Fill the jar halfway with water. Now put your sweet potato in it, making sure the top one-third is exposed. Typically, people insert toothpicks into the side of the potato to hold it out of the water.
In a few weeks, the sprouts begin to grow. If you want, you can plant it outside in a sunny spot.

The sweet potato vine that climbs
Sweet potato vines are often used to spill out of pots of flowers, but now one company has created a sweet potato vine that doesn’t just spill, it climbs.

Ball FloraPlant has created the first self-climbing sweet potato plant, one of the top 2018 plant entries that will be at your local garden store soon.

The SolarTower Black Ipomoea comes in both black- and lime-colored leaves. It quickly grows up to 7-feet tall and doesn’t require any trimming or training to climb. It does well in full sun to light shade, according to PennLive.com.

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Food

Farmers markets: the best place for locally sourced goods

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For many people, the mention of a farmers market brings to mind stalls packed with fresh fruits and vegetables. However, these bustling spaces offer an abundance of other regional goods. Here’s a sampling of what you might find.

Ornamental plants
Bring your backyard to life or add a pop of color to your garden with a wide selection of flowers, plants, and shrubs. Ask growers on-site about the best choices for your shaded, sunny, or damp yard.

Organic goods

While it can sometimes be a challenge to find fresh organic produce in grocery stores, there’s no shortage of it at farmer’s markets. Many small-scale cultivators and breeders specialize in organic farming practices. Take your pick from organic fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, eggs, and more.

Craft beer, wine, and spirits
Little pairs are better with a locally-sourced meal than a glass of wine, cider, or craft beer that was made just down the road. Discover the flavors of your region at the stalls of local producers. If you fancy an aperitif or digestif, sample the offerings of a nearby micro-distillery.

Artisanal goods
Farmers markets aren’t just about eating and drinking. Among the tables laden with the food you’ll find an array of unique creations. These often handcrafted products range from soaps, creams, and essential oils to candles, clothes, and linens.

For these local products and more, take a stroll through a farmers market near you.

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Food

Revitalizing green smoothie

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Do you need an energy boost? This delicious and refreshing smoothie is the perfect solution.

Start to finish: 10 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients

• 1 banana, sliced and frozen
• 2 kiwis peeled, sliced and frozen
• 1/2 cup pineapple peeled, diced and frozen
• 2 cups baby spinach
• 2 cups vegan milk
• 1/2 cup coconut water
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
• 1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions
1. Use a blender to purée all the ingredients.
2. In 2 glasses, evenly pour the smoothie.
3. Garnish with berries.

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Food

Pomegranate and feta salad

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This simple summer salad is packed with nutrients and perfectly marries sweet and salty flavors. The pomegranate seeds add a nice pop of color.

Start to finish: 15 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients

• 1 head curly endive or frisée lettuce, chopped
• 1 radicchio, chopped
• 1 red onion, thinly sliced
• 1/2 cucumber, cut in semi-circles
• Seeds of 1/2 pomegranate
• 7 ounces feta cheese, diced
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• Juice of 1 lemon
• 1 tablespoon Dijon or old-style mustard
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup
• Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
1. In 4 bowls, equally divide the lettuce, radicchio, onion, cucumber, pomegranate seeds, and feta.
2. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Mix well and drizzle over each salad.

If you find the taste of raw red onion to be overwhelming, soak the slices in cold water for up to 1 hour before assembling the salad. This will mellow their flavor.

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Prosciutto, fig and goat cheese crostini

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If you want a simple yet sophisticated starter to serve at your next dinner party, look no further than this classic Italian appetizer. Your guests are sure to love the pairing of salty prosciutto with the sweetness of figs.

Start to finish: 15 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients

• 4 slices Ezekiel or multigrain bread
• 3-1/2 ounces soft goat cheese
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 4 fresh figs, sliced
• 8 thin slices of prosciutto
• 1 cup arugula
• Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
1. Use a toaster or barbecue to grill the bread.
2. Spread a quarter of the goat cheese on each slice of bread, and top each with half a tablespoon of honey. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Atop each crostino, lay a quarter of the fig slices and 2 slices of prosciutto.
4. Garnish each crostino with a few arugula leaves. Salt and pepper to taste.

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How to eat locally all year long

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If you favor food produced in your region, you’ll help protect the environment and support the local economy. Plus, you’ll gain access to fresh and affordable ingredients. Though it’s often more associated with summer, eating locally can be done year-round. Here’s how.

Learn about the region
Start by familiarizing yourself with what foods grow in your area and when they’re harvested. A seasonal food list will make it easier to plan your meals. Keep in mind that some growers use greenhouses to ensure that their fruits and vegetables are available year-round. Consult online resources or speak with growers at your local farmers market to learn more.

Prepare for winter

Good food storage practices allow you to enjoy a wide range of products throughout the year. Apples, onions, and various root vegetables, for example, will keep for months if stored in a cool, dark place. Other summer produce can be purchased in bulk and then canned, frozen or pickled. This will allow you to diversify your meals in winter without buying out of season.

Embrace seasonal substitutes
Eating locally year-round requires creativity and a willingness to adapt your diet to the season. Start with simple changes. Swap spinach and lettuce for nutrient-rich alternatives like leeks and cabbage during the winter. Pick up a seasonal cookbook at your local bookstore if you need a bit of inspiration.

With a little planning and effort, you can enjoy locally sourced meals year-round.

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Greek chicken brochettes

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Serve up these tasty brochettes at a Greek-inspired feast or as an alternative to burgers at your next family barbecue.

Start to finish: 1 hour 20 minutes (25 minutes active)
Servings: 4

Ingredients

• 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
• Juice of 1 lemon
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons oregano, fresh or dried
• 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, fresh or dried
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cubed
• 1 large zucchini

Directions
1. In the sink or a large bowl, soak four wooden skewers in water for at least 1 hour. (Skip this step if you’re using metal skewers).
2. In a large bowl, mix the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and spices. Add the chicken and mix well. Make sure the chicken is evenly coated in the marinade. Chill in the fridge for 1 to 3 hours.
3. Chop off the ends of the zucchini and use a peeler to cut fine strips. Salt generously and lay the strips flat (without overlapping) on a clean cloth or paper towel. Place another cloth or piece of paper towel and a heavy object, such as a wood cutting board, overtop. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.
4. Uncover the zucchini and use a clean cloth or paper towel to dab away excess salt and water. Roll up each strip.
5. Assemble the brochettes by alternating cubes of chicken and rolls of zucchini. Cook on a barbecue or in a grill pan until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with tzatziki sauce.

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