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Culinary adventures abound during spring break

Spring break has sprung! Whether you will spend the week with your toes in the sand, in the snow or propped up on the ol' ottoman at home, I hope you will make everyday an adventure - a culinary adventure, of course.

Almost every day in the year has been designated a national day of something or other. These lesser-known national holidays add a bit of silliness to everyday life; they might even become traditions that bring years of enjoyment to your family. I've listed below the designated national days occurring during the week of spring break.

Friday, March 23 - National Chip and Dip Day. Who wouldn't want to be part of this event? Grab a bag of something with ridges, make a zippy dip and dig in!

Saturday, March 24 - National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day. Can we add chocolate covered cherries and blueberries to the day's event?

Sunday, March 25 - National Waffle Day. Nice coincidence this celebration lands on Sunday!

Monday, March 26 - National Spinach Day. The folks at Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes restaurants brought this holiday to my attention. They are excited about getting the tender new crop back on their 55-foot salad bar. I share their enthusiasm.

Remember watching Pop-eye the Sailor morph into a powerhouse of a guy after downing a can of iron-rich spinach? I am sure he inspired many youngsters to eat spinach after witnessing the effect the food had on his strength. Alas, spinach is not the 'miracle vegetable' it was thought to be.

A simple math error is responsible for elevating spinach to the status of 'miracle vegetable' with a high iron content. Dr. E. von Wolf misplaced a decimal point in his report in 1870, giving spinach an iron content 10 times higher than actual. The mistake wouldn't be discovered until 1937, when German chemists reinvestigated the 'miracle vegetable' and corrected the mistake.

Spinach does have more iron than many vegetables, but it is not the mega-iron miracle food von Wolf thought it to be. But Popeye was right - eating spinach (and other vegetables) will make you strong. Let's be sure to celebrate National Spinach Day.

Wednesday, March 28 - Something on a Stick Day. Where did this idea come from? Think tortellini on skewers, fruit kabobs, skewered apples and bread cubes dipped into cheese fondue, shish kabobs.

Thursday, March 29 - National Clams on the Half Shell Day. A little twist from oysters on the half shell - give it a go, especially if you are at the beach.

Saturday, March 31 - March is also noted as National Peanut Month - buy them in the shell for some old-fashioned fun.

Sunday, April 1 - April Fool's Day - I'm sure you and your family can figure out how to celebration this traditional festival.

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This week's recipe for Mandarin Spinach with Caramelized Walnuts is from Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes restaurant. The recipe makes 8 one-cup servings, but the dressing recipe makes 4¾ cups! I'd suggest cutting the recipe at least in half, as you only need 3/8 cup for the salad. I guess that was their April Fool trick on us!

Mandarin Spinach with Caramelized Walnuts

Serves 8

Caramelized Walnuts:

2 cups water

1 cup diced walnut pieces

3 tablespoons white sugar

Boil water. Add walnuts and cook for 40 seconds. Strain the walnuts. Combine walnuts and sugar in a bowl. Stir to coat. Place sugarcoated walnuts on a sheet pan and bake at 325°F for approximately eight to ten minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Dressing:

2 cups canola oil

1 ¼ cup fresh orange juice

1 cup white sugar

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Spanish paprika

1 tablespoon table salt

Combine ingredients and whisk to thoroughly dissolve the sugar.

Salad:

8 cups chopped spinach

1 ½ cups Mandarin oranges

1 cup caramelized walnuts

¼ cup 1/4' diced red onion

3/8 cup dressing

Combine ingredients and toss until evenly coated with dressing.

Souplanation/Sweet Tomatoes Restaurants, Feb. 2007

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.