September 21, 2014

North Carolina

Statehood: November 21st, 1789 (12/50)

I actually do know something about North Carolina... it is the setting for almost all of Nicholas Spark's ever heart-wrenching novels. The coastal area doesn't just make a romantic backdrop for love, death, and more death (usually the plot of Spark's emotionally manipulating tales... oh, I admit, I weep at the film adaptations unabashedly), it's also the home to the Venus flytrap - which is The Old North State's (a nickname that was derived after Carolina was split into the two separate states we know it as now) official carnivorous plant. Apparently it's native to the coastal plain area and is legally protected because it's a "Species of Special Concern" (meaning it's not quite threatened or endangered yet, but it could be if they aren't careful).

North Carolinians don't just care about nature; they've got a keen eye on the arts as well - the North Carolina Museum of Art was the first in the country to be established using state funds; the North Carolina Symphony was also the first in the country to be state-supported.

Knowledge is nifty... so is gnawing on North Carolina's nourishment!

State Red Berry: Strawberry

The General Assembly named the strawberry the official state red berry in 2001; farming has been an integral way of life in North Carolina since its inception, and their are many PYO farms for folks to pick berries of all kinds.

Sweet and Spicy Fruchetta
Makes: plenty

1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped strawberries (about 12 berries)
1 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes (about 1 1/2 tomatoes)
2 Tablespoons basil, thinly sliced into strips
2 Tablespoons lemon thyme, crushed and minced
5-oz log of Trader Joe's Sweet Chili Chèvre
18 Nairn Oat Cakes (about 3 packages) or other thick cracker
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Mix together the strawberries, tomatoes, basil, and lemon thyme to make bruschetta. Set aside. Spread 2 teaspoons of chèvre on each cracker. Top with overflowing 1 Tablespoon of bruschetta mixture. Drizzle 1/4 teaspoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar on each. Repeat until you run out of ingredients.

State Blue Berry: Blueberry

Also in 2001, The General Assembly named the blueberry as the official state blue berry. As a fun side note, did you know North Carolina's official colors are also red and blue? Blueberries are antioxidant rich and can both lower the risk of heart disease and reduce cholesterol (important distinctions noted in the General Assembly's official Act).

BlueGingerBlue 'Jito
Makes: 1 drinks

1 teaspoon sugar
14 fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup blueberries
1 teaspoons lime juice
1/4 cup rum
1/2 cup ginger kombucha
1/2 cup blueberry kombucha

Muddle or smash together the sugar, fresh mint leaves, blueberries, and lime juice together in a glass. (mason jars work great!). Top with rum, ginger kombucha, blueberry kombucha. Stir. Top with ice. Optional: have you've stirred everything together, strain into a new glass and then top with ice (if you don't like drinking bits, that is).

State Beverage: Milk

North Carolina adopted milk as it's official state beverage on June 12th, 1987 following the lead of 17 other states in the country. The request came by the state Milk Commission, because at the time the dairy industry in NC was a relatively strong one.

Too Good Pimento Spread 
Makes: generous spread for two bagels

2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or this or this)
1/2 cup mayo or Vegenaise
1 cup chopped pimentos
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Regarding the pimentos: I tend to use one 12-oz jar of fire roasted red peppers from Trader Joe's that I drain REALLY well and pat dry as much as possible; if you don't, your spread will be super liquidy). Mix together the shredded cheddar cheese, mayo, pimentos, garlic powder, sugar, celery salt, and black pepper until combined. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving with crackers or spreading on bagels.

State Vegetable: Sweet Potato

North Carolina is the number one sweet potato producer in the U.S. (and it's a native crop to our country as well). It became the official state vegetable - rightfully so! - in 1995 after students from Wilson County school petitioned the NC General Assembly for it.

Steff's Super Bowls
Makes: 2 bowls of food

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1 cup onion, diced (about 1/2 a large Vidalia)
2 garlic cloves, minced
6-oz spinach
1 16-oz can of refried beans, heated
2 avocados, pitted and chopped into cubes
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lime, quartered

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a cookie sheet, toss sweet potato wedges with 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Bake for 25 minutes (flipping halfway through). In a saucepan, combine quinoa and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. In the meantime, in a pan on medium to high heat, saute the onions with 1 teaspoon of olive oil for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add spinach. Cook for another five minutes, stirring gently so all the spinach has a chance to heat through and wilt. To assemble: distribute the quinoa evenly into two bowls, line spinach mixture next to the quinoa, and the refried beans next to the spinach. On top, going across, layer a row of avocado, next to that a row of cherry tomatoes, and next to that the sweet potatoes. Serve with salsa for dressing and wedges of lime.

State Fruit: Scuppernong grape
In 2001 the General Assembly named the Scuppernong grape the official state fruit of NC. The grape is a variety of muscadine - the first native grape to be cultivated in North America. It was named after the Scuppernong River, and it was possibly first discovered as far as the mid-1500's. Unfortunately, these very specific grapes are hard to come by in my neck of the woods. So right now we're just giving a nod to the food while my local Whole Foods locates a bottle of wine made with the regional fruit.

Sources: Symbols
North Carolina Symphony: About Us
North Carolina Museum of Art: History of the Museum "Your Inquiry." Message to the author. 18 Nov. 2013. E-mail.