Friday, January 25, 2008


I was reflecting recently on the evolution of my food tastes and cooking skills. The occasion was a Saturday evening meal with a menu of Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, Sauteed Broccoli with Garlic and Garlic-Roasted Red Potatoes. I remembered, during that meal, the time when Robyn, newly married and hosting her single friends for burritos asked me to peel the garlic for the guacamole. I had no idea what to do with the cloves of garlic in front of me. I had always thought that garlic was a powder.

The first time Eric and I ever cooked together was in my apartment during my DC internship. He surveyed my meager ingredient offerings and said, "Okay. Where's your olive oil?" I trudged around to the other intern apartments asking skeptically for olive oil. I'd never really heard of that, either.

The first meal I cooked for Eric by myself was an unqualified disaster. I served black beans and rice. I think I prepared some rice-in-a-bag and heated up a can of beans. I made a salad of iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and cucumbers. I think I even had ranch dressing. I can't believe he married me.

I've come a long, long way since then. They year we were engaged I bought myself a cookbook and made almost everything in it for Eric and his roommates. That, to my mind, is the best way to learn how to cook. I learned one cook's methods really well and it left me with the freedom to improvise. I use cookbooks maybe a third of the time, now, and I only follow recipes exactly when making something for the first time. Eric is an excellent cook but he only exercises his abilities on holidays when he has usually had major menu input as well. We have had very few real fights but the first was over kitchen supremacy right at the point when my abilities started to surpass his. I've been in charge of the kitchen ever since.

We are not vegetarians, but most of my family think we are. They tend to latch on to ideas very securely so when I casually mentioned, during our first year of marriage, that we were eating mostly vegetarian (code for"we can't afford meat right now) we became committed meat-haters in their minds. Plus everything we serve is foreign: all the courses in one dish? Flavor? Soup? Garlic? Olive oil? In fact we are die-hard carnivores but we are very picky about the quality and source of our animal products and we don't often have the chance to seize on meat-buying opportunities.

I've been trying out new recipes the last couple weeks and making a real effort to make things interesting before we dive into our All Soup Lent (about which, more later). Last night I made the Spinach-Rice Casserole from Moosewood except that we had some kale on hand so I substituted kale for half the spinach. It was really, really good. My husband especially loved the kale.

Now, here is something I do not understand. What is the deal with kale? I feel like kale is the trendy food right now that everyone has to love even though it's gross. What is likable about a tough, chewy, curly green leaf? I know it's the healthiest food on the planet so I'm not opposed to including it in our diet, particularly when it's buried under a thick coating of rice, eggs, milk, feta cheese and red pepper but why do I have to like it? I see "Eat More Kale" bumper stickers whenever I shop at our food co-op. Friends react in horror when I offer them the kale out of our farm share. What am I missing? Am I buying the wrong vegetable? Am I cooking it incorrectly? I have never known anyone to passionately love any other green vegetable. Someone educate me before I make another casserole with all spinach.


Anonymous said...

Many years ago, on the show named "Cheers", there was an episode in which the young bartender Woody had been hypnotized so that he would be able to enthusiastically advertize a nasty tasting vegetable juice. His line was "You can really taste the kale!" I remember this everytime I even see kale. Thanks for the chuckle.

God bless your little family. I had a dissertating husband years ago. He finished -- and then, God bless him, went to Law School.

Catholic Mom in Texas

Hélène said...

I don't know what the deal with kale is either, but then, I haven't really heard much about it'*. My husband won't eat it, so I don't buy it. I had it in a soup (or maybe it was a stew?) once and it was really good. I think it was chopped somewhat finely so we didn't have to do a lot of chewing. My mom eats it raw, which sounds very unappealing. She is a wannnabe raw-foodist though.

As far as saying that one likes a green vegetable, I haven't heard people say that often but I have heard it. Mostly about asparagus, but sometimes about broccoli or spinach.

*The only time I heard about it was when I was reading the blog Vegan Lunch Box. (She had the most beautiful food pictures, which was the only reason I read it.) One day she had an interview and was asked what her favorite food was. She said kale and then started displaying a picture of herself eating a piece of raw kale wearing a shirt that said "Eat more kale."

Susan said...

I'm not surprised when people *like* a green vegetable. Personally, I love brussels sprouts. It's the deep, abiding passion for kale that confuses me. I have never seen an "Eat More Brussels Sprouts" shirt. Maybe I'll design one . . .