More kale. Humph.
Back in June (when I was starved for anything green) I would have been delighted (more kale!). Those early season leaves were so sweet and delicate I couldn’t bear to cook them. (Yes, I must admit, I did make plenty of requisite kale salads. But to all you haters out there, they were kalelicious.)
Lately, though, the CSA's kale leaves have grown so tough, stringy, and bitter, sautéing and stir-frying don't even cut it. I don’t blame the farm, though; I blame the weather, specifically the midsummer heat's attack on this cool weather-loving crop.
But the stream of inedible kale—week after week—grew so relentless, I resorted to boiling the leaves before I sautéed them. When that didn’t work, I nearly trashed the sorry heap of shriveled leaves and renounced the whole CSA endeavor (like a toddler throwing a tantrum).
At the greenmarket the next day, the precious tomatoes tantalized me. They were displayed on wooden tables just like the precious jewels laid out on velvet trays a few blocks north in the diamond district.
Why am I doing this CSA thing again, I wondered? Why can’t I just pick up whatever looks good today? (And believe me, everything looked amazing on that peak summer day). But I’d already paid a lot of money for the CSA, and the prices of those greenmarket veggies are competitive only with the price of gold.
Something has to change, I thought. Then I it dawned on me: I’m the one who needs to change. (Or rather, I remembered, I’m the only thing I can change.)
We—those of us privileged to have enough to eat and a say in what we eat—tend to want what we want, and to want it now. We often follow a belly-to-store model when it comes to eating that goes a little something like: [Sound of stomach grumbling.] —> I’m hungry (or not). —> I want to (or should) eat X.—> I’m going to eat X.
Or a habit-to-store model: Huh, the fridge is empty. —> I’m going make a shopping list (of the foods I'm accustomed to purchasing). —> I’m going to buy them at the grocery store. —>I’m going to cook and/or eat those foods.
Or a recipe-to-store model: Ooooh, there’s a recipe for X. —> It looks beautiful and delicious! —> I’m going to buy the ingredients for X. —> I’m going to cook and eat X.
Or, sometimes, an eye-to-greenmarket model: Damn those tomatoes look good! —> I can’t live without them, even if they cost $5/pound and I’ll have to take on another job just to afford my addiction. —> They will be mine!
But what if we eaters followed a farm-to-belly model instead, where we asked not only what the farmers can do for us, but also what we can do for the farmers? That might look a little more like: Here's the week's harvest —> What are those odd, imperfect, or unfamiliar vegetables? —> How and what can I cook with them? —> Wow! I can't believe how much better or more interesting this is than anything I would have come up with (from a belly-, brain-, or habit-based model).
Many of us are accustomed to cooking in a way that bends ingredients into submission according to our desires. That power—and the momentary illusion of control—can feel a little intoxicating. If we have other things in our lives that feel out of control (and who doesn't?), solving the simple problem of what's for dinner can feel incredibly reassuring.
Cooking from a CSA, I'm discovering, means giving up a certain amount of control.
We're at the mercy of the farmer (and her skills, interests, and resources), who is in turn limited by the farm's location (and its climate, landscape, and weather). And we're at the whim of the weekly white box whose contents ultimately dictate what's for dinner. That can be frustrating (and even a little scary).
When we sign up for a CSA, we're signing up to support a farm, in good seasons and in bad, till first frost do us part.
In return, farmers are working tirelessly to keep those boxes packed with fresh, nutritious, and delicious produce.
This means we’ll get to savor some heirloom tomato treasures, for sure; it also means we’ll have to suffer through plenty of tough, bitter kale. Of course, we could just ditch the endeavor and run to the comforting arms of a supermarket where we’ll feel like we’re back in control, for a time.
Or we can try to let go some of that desire for control and figure out how to make the best of what we’ve got. If so, we may feel relieved not to be expending so much energy trying to control. And we may be surprised by creativity blooming in the space rigidity once occupied.
So when life gives you crappy kale, why not make a scrumptious smoothie?
This recipe is inspired by the Joyful Almond smoothie from Juice Generation, an employee-owned juice shop in NYC that's trying to make juices a little more fun, accessible, and (importantly when it comes to this kind of stuff) affordable.
(I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit my fondness for a juice bar. I just don't like to see myself as the kind of person who goes to juice bars, I don't feel like the people clad in expensive workout wear swiping their iPhones while waiting in line are my people. So I always feel like I should be wearing large sunglasses every time I enter for fear of being recognized by a friend. But I just can't deny it: those drinks taste damn good, and they're healthy to boot.)
The last time I intended to stop by for a smoothie, the hot dog cart on the corner caught my eye and I never quite made it into the store.
Back at home, I was inspired to create a smoothie--a version of the one I'd intended to order--for dessert. So you could catalogue this smoothie in your recipes somewhere between healthy dessert and delicious health snack. Your call. Who knew that something with kale could taste this much like a chocolate milkshake?
(Still) Joyful (Despite the Kale) Almond Smoothie
1. Round up your ingredients.
½ frozen banana (for texture and temperature)
½ cup almond milk,* plus more as needed (to get everything moving in the blender)
A few leaves of crappy kale, stems removed, roughly torn. (you know why)
1 heaping spoonful of almond butter (for a little protein)
1 heaping spoonful of coconut flakes (because it's delicious)
1 heaping spoonful of cacao nibs (ditto; so why not make it two?)
1 heaping spoonful of chia seeds (just to make it crunchy)
A teeny pinch of salt (to bring out the flavors)
A squirt of agave (to take the edge off)
A big hand full of ice (for that milkshake like temperature and texture)
*Fresh almond milk is so superior in taste and nutrition it's silly. But unless you happen to have an almond tree in your backyard or have gobs of money to burn--not to mention denial about the raging draught in California--I can’t in good conscience suggest you make it. Any non-dairy milk will do. But if you insist, just blend 1 cup almonds with 2 cups water and add a little of your favorite sweetener. If you’re going to drink it in coffee (oh so good) or straight up, strain it through cheesecloth set in a mesh strainer. But if you’re going to use it in a smoothie, no need to strain yourself by straining the milk (and loose the fiber).
2. Blend away.
Toss everything in a blender and blend the $#*! out of that kale until you are sure you’ve turned that stringy mess into something delicious.
3. Taste and adjust.
Is it bitter? Add more sweetener. Is it warm and liquidy? Add more ice. Is it sufficiently chocolately? Definitely add more cacao nibs. (You get the point.)
4. Sip and enjoy.
I find that using a straw makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable.
5. Make your own.
The basic equation for a scrumptious smoothie =
frozen banana + [fresh and/or frozen fruit] + [fresh and/or frozen veggies] + [liquid] + [texture] + [sweetener] + ice
6. What's your favorite summer smoothie? I'm always looking for new ones to try, so please let me know in the comments section!