The trouble with kale. (food, week of 10.21.13)


Five and a half years ago, as I dealt with my company’s worst PR crisis in almost 50 years of business AND tried to understand why my first grade son’s friends were reading Harry Potter while he struggled with Henry & Mudge AND watched the housing renovation market head south knowing it would likely lead to my husband’s losing his job, one of my closest friends  asked if I’d like to split a CSA (community supported agriculture) membership.

I declined.  More truthfully, I failed to respond and she gave up on me.  My family ate lots of cereal and Chick-Fil-A and pizza in 2008.  It was not my best cooking year.

That same friend and I were talking about farms and fresh food and cooking recently, and I remembered the CSA.  “Are you still doing it?” I asked.  “No,” she replied, making a funny face.  “Too much kale.”

There it is, the cold hard truth:  Kale is the scourge of the mainstream farm-to-fork movement. It’s the line of demarcation between the diehard live on the landers and the rest of us, still too upset about losing Stacy and Clinton to give a hot hoot that organic bok choy is in peak season.

Before you kale aficionados get all up in arms, hear me out.  First of all, I like kale.  In small amounts.  Preferably used as an ingredient in a melange that includes onions, purple hull peas, ham (or bacon), and olive oil.  And salt.  I like kale chips.  I made a (small) batch last weekend and ate almost the entire lot by myself as I sipped on some red wine and made dinner for my brood.  Me and kale, as the people say, we do just fine.

But all that kale, the uber healthy superfood, is precisely what keeps regular grocery-shopping folks from CSAs and farmers markets the way garlic keeps out the vampires.  It isn’t so much the reality of kale as it is kale’s reputation.

You have to be serious to eat kale.  Kale eaters think Susan Sontag and John Updike are for lightweights.  Kale eaters sleep on itchy sheets made from sustainable bamboo.  Their children have never watched TV.  No 2 a.m. runs to the Krystal drive-through for kale eaters.  Never.  In fact, the minute you touch a piece of kale you’re likely to smell of patchouli and stop shaving under your arms.  And if you’re not serious and sturdy enough to eat kale, by golly, then you are not a real farm-to-fork kind of person.  Don’t even try, because (and you’re sure of this) you have no comfortable place in a farmers market or CSA.

Now, for kicks, let’s look at it from another angle.

You’re a farmer.  You like to grow stuff.  You like it enough that you want it to be your entire life, growing food for other people to enjoy.  To do that, you have to sell the stuff you grow.  The pretty things that regular-old people like (strawberries, peaches, red leaf lettuce) are tricky to grow, however, so they’re expensive.  But if you charge $9 for a pint of strawberries, you might scare those tentative, toe-dipping, uninitiated farmers market shoppers right back to Kroger.  So you grow lowly, hardy, inexpensive kale, which by pure damn luck happens to be incredibly nutrient dense and healthy.  You jump on the kale marketing bandwagon, hoping for magic and comfortable with the economics.  At the end of the week your members’ CSA bags, the things that pay your mortgage, are half full of kale, a quarter full of turnips, and a quarter full of sweet peppers and strawberries (that you can now sell outside of the CSA for $6, thanks to kale’s underwriting).

That’s the trouble with kale.  It works on paper and sometimes even in practice, but it’s still a bitter green to swallow for people who are used to things much sweeter.

Somewhere in between the extremes, that’s where I am.  Me and kale, we do just fine.  I’ll take a little  next to my local bell peppers and red leaf lettuce.  But every now and again, the Krystal drive-through knows I’m coming.

Happy week.

menu and grocery list 10.21.13


Week of October 21| 2013

butternut squash

Farm PlateButternut squash | Green beans | Wheat berry (or rice) pilaf | Arugula saladI love butternut squash.  My basic way of cooking is pretty much like Mark Bittman’s recipe, but I’m also fond of roasting it in the oven then seasoning with butter, salt and sage.  With it we’ll have fresh steamed green beans, either wheat berry or wild rice pilaf (for us that means tossed with dried cranberries after cooking in chicken stock) and an arugula salad with Brianna’s vinaigrette.

my future bacon

Breakfast for Dinner: Citrus-glazed bacon | PancakesI’ve saved for several years a Martha Stewart Living recipe for citrus-glazed bacon.  I decided this would be the week to try it but thought I’d look for some newer recipes online.  I found this great review and adaptation of the recipe I’ve been holding in my recipe book.  We’ll see if it works.  Will serve with our regular pancakes (Joy of Cooking) and some fresh apple slices.  Always a bonus when a search yields a fun new food blog, by the way:

side of cilantro

Pulled Pork TacosAn oldie but goodie in our house.  I’ll pick up pulled shoulder from the Bar-B-Que Shop and serve with warm corn tortillas, cilantro, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa.  Might be the one dinner my family can always agree on, any time of year.

tomatillas july 2013

White Turkey ChiliWouldn’t want all that good fresh cilantro and sour cream to go to waste, so we’ll have a second night of Southwest flavor with some white turkey chili, probably prepared in the slow cooker.  There are many recipes online for white turkey chili; we’ve used this one from Whole Foods Market with great success.  To adapt to slow cooker, I’ll brown the meat, bell pepper and onion then transfer everything (remaining ingredients) to the slow cooker and let it ride for the day while we’re at work and school.


African Peanut Soup | Green Salad | BrowniesI know, it sounds weird.  But it’s delicious and super easy.  Even Bernard likes this one.  My favorite recipe, and the easiest to follow, is from Real Simple.  I do make more rice, as it suggests for a heartier dinner.  And I’ll make some brownies with the Chocoholic Brownie Mix from Fresh Market.  Yep, I’m that mom.


  1. I’ve got a bag of kale in my fridge from my parents’ garden waiting for me to decide on its fate. (I too like a little, but not a lot, of kale.) Shall I put it in scrambled eggs? Saute it with ginger and fine-chopped peanuts and carrots? Put it in soup dominated by tomatoes? The question really is this: What preparation method will get it to taste the least like kale so I can manage to eat it all before it wastes?


  2. So true! FYI, I just discovered BABY kale this week, hiding among the spinach in a prewashed bag of greens. It is surprisingly un-bitter… almost good! Used it for my salad base at lunch and I’m now stuffed and happy 🙂


  3. I also discovered a neat trick with kale: it likes a good massage! I rub oil by hand into the kale leaves I’m using in a salad for a minute or two, squeezing hard. Then a dab of salt and and lots of pepper. Then the rest of the salad ingredients last. Somehow, that treatment coaxes the bitters right out of the kale! Not sure if this would appease the little guys, but it might be enough to make the big one eat it 🙂


  4. I really must tell you I’ve tried Kale in several forms…Kale chips are about the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. I confidently say this and I’ve had at least two children vomit right into my mouth in my lifetime and yes, I’d experience that again before inserting kale chips into my pie hole ever, ever again. Down with Kale!


Comments are closed.