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.