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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ridin’ the Kale Trail…

field of kale“Pick me a couple nice kale leaves while you’re over there,” my mom called as I went out the door. My brother Keith was out of town and he assigned me the task of securing his greenhouse for the evening, closing the windows, checking the temperature, making sure the peppers, tomatoes and greens were preparing for bed. The kale leaves? My mom wanted them for next morning’s green smoothie. Keith has made “green smoothie” converts of the rest of the family…except for one, that is: at this posting I remain a staunch holdout.

“My husband and I are planting kale next year,” Melissa at Albertson’s meat counter informs me as she wraps up a pound of bacon. While Melissa was fussing around in the cold case, I was talking up this year’s bumper tomato crop. “Kale,” I asked,”why kale?” “Oh, it’s very healthy for you, you know,” she smiled.

Recently I had the good fortune to spend a few hours in the hospital for some minor surgery. Among the topics my two attendant nurses bantered back and forth was the subject of lunch at the hospital cafeteria. Both, it so happened, had chosen kale side dishes. Kale? In a hospital cafeteria?

A goliath among health foods is kale these days. In the past, kale’s public appearances were mainly occasioned as garnishment for restaurant fare, a crinkly sliver of green tucked conveniently to the side of the plate as if guarding the meal; the leaf was usually all that remained on the plate after the meal was finished. But currently kale has made the big time, its popularity spotlighted even in literature. In a recent issue The New Yorker magazine published a poem about kale. “Kale,” was its title…pretty straightforward, but then what subtleties are possible for a leafy vegetable? Poetry, of course, embraces a multitude of  topics, but “kale” as a subject poetic? The poet and friend James visit a kale patch in winter, shake the snow off the stumps of kale (“the flat variety” and the “low, curly variety”), heap a popcorn bowl full of leaves and quit the field en route, most likely, to the nearest blender. I’m not much of a poetry critic, but a little rhyme might have made the topic more palatable. And munching leaves of kale while watching a sporting event? Seems downright Un-American.

These late fall days when Gladys and I are out and about in the Valley, we see kale up and personal, fields of it, long rows of stumps topped by an umbrella of leaves like so many bonzaied palm trees. road kaleThe fields can’t contain the kale; we find kale leaves in the middle of the road, on the shoulder, dangling from a strand of fence wire. The leaves are deserters from the big plastic tubs brimful of the stuff. As the tubs are carted from the fields, the leaves swirl out in the slipstream like so much green exhaust. Even kale will do anything to avoid being smoothied. Gladys and I steer clear of these slippery road hazards. Wouldn’t want to have a kalamity, now would we?

He raises three varieties of kale, my brother Keith tells me: dinosaur (dino), curly (each leaf a badlands for bands of outlaw aphids), and red Russian. His garden and greenhouse feature all three varieties. My brother has been known to browse his lawn and garden for green breakfast fare: weeds (dandelion smoothies), grass clippings, milfoil from the river. But his go-to smoothie leaf is kale (with chard a close second). He gathers a fistful of variety from his plantings and heads for the kitchen sink to give the leaves a vigorous washing.dino kale  After most of the aphids, earwigs, and other crawlies have been spritzed away, he stuffs the leaves in the blender, pulverizes the kale into a green ooze, pours the mess into a tall glass, and downs his breakfast. My mom, on the other hand, pours her smoothie into an opaque container. “So I don’t have to look at it while I drink it,” she laughs. rebor kale

On one of my daughter’s visits, she introduced us to kale chips, kale leaves brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with garlic salt, and then baked on a cookie sheet. There was not much substance to the chips; a handful, perhaps, equaled a fair sized kettle-cooked potato chip in volume, more like garlic-flavored dust. The kale crinkles tasted nothing like potato chips, however, but garlic flavored olive oil with a hint of alfalfa hay. Further investigation of kale chips led me to purchase a bag of them at Freddie’s. Like most of the products one finds at a health food store, I found these chips unpalatable…there’s just something not right about a food that tastes like it came from a haystack.

Let’s just say, by some remote chance, you’d like to go green, hitch a ride on the kale express, sport a green moostache, are looking for some variety at breakfast time. If this kale craze (“cult” seems a bit over the top) has drawn you in, I’ve provided a link to my brother’s blog where he’s shared some of his favorite smoothie recipes. At this posting, as I mentioned earlier, I remain the sole smoothie holdout in our family.

The first time Keith showed me his tall glass of green breakfast,  my immediate response was: “The only way I’d drink that was if I had four stomachs.”

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