In Defense of Kale

Apparently, there has been kale backlash lately. Here’s what I have to say about it.

Tough. Not the kale, the backlash.

Timeless Kale

This is precisely the kind of thing that ticks me off. I am all for vegetables taking the limelight (hallelujah!). But the minute a certain vegetable is deemed trendy, we’ve seriously lost our way.

And here’s why: On a NOURISH Evolution, everyone gets to discover at their own pace. That means I may be wild for leafy greens while you’re having an epiphany about broccoli. One is no better or “cooler” than the other. What’s cool is that we’re both scooting forward on our NOURISH Evolution by falling in love anew with a nourishing food.

So please, please, please don’t let an article or blog post about kale being “so last year” convince you to pass up this salad. Because that would be sad.

Christopher and I are in the midst of a new year’s cleanse right now, which was the impetus behind this salad. I always find cleanses–and fasts–so illuminating.

It’s amazing what emotions come up when you say no to things you’re so used to saying yes to. For me, there are straight up cravings to be sure. But fear, insecurity and entitlement also get kneaded into the mix.

At my worst, I’m wearing a very. grumpy. face. and a woe is me attitude as I stew on all the things I can’t eat right now. At my best, I’m able to delight in the flavors and textures and beauty of all I can eat right now. I can also objectively chew on just how attached I am to feeding myself what I want, whenever I want, as soon as I’m hungry, and how that attitude is affecting the rest of my life … even when the norm is nourishing meals.

I find saying no to be a healthy calibration from time to time.

So I hope you’ll see this salad not as an austere new year’s penance, but for all it has to offer: The beauty of the radicchio slivers and the light green avocado set against the dark green kale; the tangy dressing offsetting the meaty leaves; the crunch of the coconut as a counterpoint to the toothsome chew. And I hope you’ll see kale–and all vegetables–as timeless.




Life Seasons

Normally, my mom starts e-mailing 3-4 times a day just after Thanksgiving. I’ll see subject lines like “Here’s What I’m Freezing,” and “Food!” and roll my eyes, thinking I don’t have time to think about all that yet if I’m going to tidy up work and take off for the holidays.

Except this year, I got a call from my dad on December 7th that my mom had had a stroke.

The days that mom was in ICU (in Connecticut) and I was in California, the lack of e-mails felt empty and depressing; their ongoing absence a constant reminder that this Christmas—and perhaps the indefinite future–would be very different than my family had envisioned.

I craved comfort food that week. I made Buttermilk Oven Fried Chicken with mashed root vegetables unexpectedly one weeknight, and a taco salad (a Mack family staple) the next. There was something in those foods that connected me to my mother, who I longed so fiercely to be with.

Now that I’m at my mom’s bedside, food continues to play a central theme. She tells me what I should be defrosting and had me bring in the pile of recipes she’d picked out to make. While her roommate, Margaret, and my brother talk classic movies, my mom and I plan Christmas dinner. A recipe, in fact, was the first thing my mother wrote with her therapist.

Not that any of that has translated to my mom’s kitchen yet. To me, it still feels too quiet and too empty without her and, to be honest, I’ve done all I can to avoid it. But I can feel that changing too. Over the past few days I’ve had time to mourn. Now it’s time to hope.

There are the recipes of my own that I’m printing out to cook for my daughter and husband and brother and dad (Alison’s Brussels Sprouts Carbonara and No-Knead Rosemary Olive Loaf are among them). There are the nuggets of nutritional advice that my mom is finally open to hearing and truly adopting.

“But I love potato chips, I love fried food,” Mom said to me pleadingly one afternoon when we were having a chat.

“I know,” I said. “And you don’t have to stop eating them entirely.” I talked about putting a handful of chips on her plate, closing the bag, and focusing on squeezing as much pleasure out of each bite as she could.  A lightbulb went off and I could see her process the possibility that by giving herself less (potato chips) she was actually giving herself more (pleasure without guilt, a favorite food without endangering her health). She looked visibly relieved.

Mom was quiet for a moment. Then she turned to look at me (which is a feat these days). “That Kale and Feta Tartine looked really good though,” she said, referring to a demo I’d just showed her that I’d recently filmed. “I want that on the list for when I get home.”

I’m still not sure when I’ll be able to serve Mom that sandwich at home, but I do know that I’ve already gotten the two greatest Christmas gifts I could ask for (or maybe one’s a birthday gift … I turn 40 today!): that my mom is here with us and that she’s willing to make changes. I’m holding out hope that mom and I (and Noe) will be in the kitchen together for many more Christmases to come.

Cultivate Your Soil

I’ve been gardening “organically” for nearly a decade now. But up until recently, I carried a narrow definition of “organic” in my head as what I wasn’t putting on my plants—no pesticides, no herbicides, no synthetic fertilizer. And while that is part of the equation, I’ve learned that organic gardening is so much more than what you don’t do; it’s about how you nurture the soil to be healthy long-term and, consequently, produce fruitful crops.

cultivate-soil-postThis isn’t revolutionary. In fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote this advice—about pesky pests—to his daughter in 1793:

“When the earth is rich, it bids defiance to droughts, yields in abundance, and of the best quality. I suspect that the insects which have harassed you have been encouraged by the feebleness of your plants, and that has been produced by the lean state of your soil.”

There’s a strong parallel here to the NOURISH Evolution approach. One of our fundamental aims is to help people get beyond thinking of healthy eating as being what we don’t eat (fat, carbs, sugar, processed, whatever) and instead take a long-term view to mindfully nurture themselves through the foods they do. And, to come full circle, a healthy garden can be one of the best ways to achieve that.

This week, consider cultivating a garden (from the soil up) as you ponder the concept that a healthy body is as much about what you put into it as what you refrain from eating.

If you’re curious about what it takes to start a garden, here’s a helpful guide from the Sonoma County iGrow program