Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Tale of Kale

Last week Paige and I met with the florist to decide upon flowers for the wedding.  The florist suggested several flowers that would work nicely with the wedding colors. She also gave a few options for greenery around the bouquets and boutonnieres. She asked, "Have you thought about kale?"

Ironically, yes, I had thought about kale.  Up until an incident a few years ago, I can safely say that I had never given a thought to kale. Like if there was a list of any manner of random subjects that I would never have occasion to think about--Nascar, men's Brylcreem hair cream, three-toed sloths--kale wouldn't even make it to the bottom of the list.

I really didn't even know what kale was. I had a very vague recollection of being in a restaurant when I was young and being served something green and wilty beneath a square piece of lemon-lime jello with shredded carrots. I remember tearing off a small piece of the green stuff and then spitting it out into a napkin. I think I spit out the jello as well. (Only in Minnesota would a restaurant serve grated-carrot jello.)

But I do think of kale now--admittedly more than I care to. Here is the story of how I came to ponder kale.

Awhile back I worked in a position where I served customers on a one-to-one basis.  My work was similar to a hair stylist's. It required me to make conversation with a total stranger for a good half hour.

It's amazing where a topic of conversation can go when talking with customers. Especially when the customer is another woman. There are so many things to discuss--the whole gamut of fertility: pregnancy, childbirth, nursing babies, perimenopause. Husbands. And, aging: what's with the stretchy thing under my neck? (All subjects, I realize, that I've covered in my ongoing blog which I keep saying I am going to quit writing.)

But there was one conversation I had with a particular customer that took a very different turn.

I don't remember her name, and if I did, I wouldn't share it. But I'm certain her name wasn't Lenore. So that is what I will call her: Lenore. Lenore told me she was recently retired. An attractive woman, she was well groomed, very put together.  In other words, reasonable and sane looking. No signs of craziness at all.

It was the week after Thanksgiving. She sat down at my station. To get the conversation rolling, I asked if she had gone anywhere for the holiday. Lenore said it had been a very different Thanksgiving, just her and her husband.  She said they didn't have turkey. They had ham. I responded, "Oh, ham would be good."

"Yes," Lenore said. "And, we had kale." I politely said, "I see."

She began to tell me a bit about kale. She was getting her husband to eat it. Lenore said he was getting healthy. She didn't say he was exercising more or that he had cut down on his fat intake. Just that he ate kale.

She leaned over and whispered somewhat conspiratorially, "Not too many people know what kale is." I asked if it wasn't the thing that garnishes grated-carrot jello squares.

Oh, yes, Lenore, told me. Kale is indeed a garnish. But it was so much more. After Thanksgiving, she informed me, she made a split-pea, ham and kale soup. Oh. There you go, I thought. That's a way to make kale. Not that I was ever going to do it. But now I knew you could. In case I was ever asked.

She told me other ways to prepare it: in salads, steamed, sauteed, chopped, baked. She told me where you could get it. You could find it at Walmart, but it really is better at HyVee.  Her favorite place, though, was at the farmer's market in the summer.

I thought that I had heard all that I was going to hear about kale and decided to change the subject. I asked her if she and her husband had kids. She said they did. Two. Both grown and married. And, they ate kale. Their spouses did too. She had grandchildren. I had a pretty good hunch what was coming. Sure enough, her grandchildren all liked kale. In fact, they loved it. Sometimes they even packed it in their school lunches.

By now, I was feeling challenged to see if I could divert the conversation from kale all together. I asked where her children lived. One, lived in Colorado. "Did you know, kale is really popular in Colorado? Not so much in Minnesota. But people eat it all the time in Colorado."

I sighed and cut my eyes to the clock on the wall. I wondered how much longer I had with this woman and her kale stories. But, to be polite, I asked about her other son. He lived in Germany with his wife. They were both professors there.

Okay, here was an in-road. I was going to get her off the kale. I asked if she had ever visited them.

She had, in fact, last spring.

Now, if you had visited Germany, wouldn't you think there would be a ton of things to discuss?  I don't know, I've never been there, but like, cultural differences, hostels, wienerschnitzel?

No, Lenore had a one-track kale mind. She began to tell me about the wonderful farmer markets in Germany. I held my breath. She continued. They went every day they were there and bought huge, beautiful bundles of kale, not at all like the small bundles that you got in America.

I asked if they did anything else while they were in Germany. She told me they took a trip too to France. Now, I don't even have to tell you. You know where this is going. The French eat kale by rolling it up and drizzling it in olive oil with a squirt of lemon juice. They had a special name for it too, which she shared with me, and which I tried to quickly forget.

Finally, we were done. We had talked about kale for 45 minutes.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I never thought about kale. In fact I didn't flippin' care about kale. But after my encounter with Lenore, I find that I cannot escape it. I see kale in the lettuce section at Walmart, at the farmer's market, featured in magazine articles. In fact, last week I saw it in Section D in the newspaper.

And, now, kale will even be making an appearance on the altar, front and center, at our daughter's wedding.

What the kale?

Kale picture:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I had to laugh at your entry on Kale. Last week I attended a book signing by organic farmer and now author Atina Diffley. She was singing the praises of kale, saying it is the perfect food. She got her 6 year old grandson to eat it by taking him on a very long bikeride with no food. When they returned he was starving. She cooked up a plate of kale and he devoured it, saying it was th best thing he had ever eated. That could be a good trick for any veggie on a kid I'd say! Atina included the recipe in her book. So I picked up kale at the farmers market las week and this and have been adding kale to many of my meals, alone and in other dishes. As an aside, Atina's book is also delicious. It is titled "Turn Here Sweet Corn". In it she shares her passion for farming, especially organic farming. She shares how she and her husband lost the 150+ farmstead suburban sprawl. I live only 1 mile from that farmstead and it gave me great pause in understanding the farmers point of view when family farms were lost to development. The Diffleys bought another farm and Koch refinery wanted to put a pipeline through their property, making it forever ineligible for organic status. Atina and her lawyer successfully caused the pipeline to be rerouted. Sort of David and Goliath. She is a masterful writer, painting word pictures so vivid, I think I am there. The most awesome thing for me is that I lived the historical events with her only 2 miles away. As she described the Eagan flood and the Halloween snowstorm, I remember them. So if you are looking for a good read, get "Turn Here, Sweet Corn."

    PS Glad you can't give up writing Jacci!

  3. I should have previewed the previous comment. My keyboard has a hard time printing the t's. Sorry about the typos.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sandy! I'll have to check out the book.

      Apparently, kale is the newly claimed hyper-healthy food. Lenore just happened to be ahead of the pack, albeit kale-obsessed. From that one incident, I know more than I ever wished to know about kale. I am forever scarred and won't eat it.(I do love all other manner of veggies, so think I'll live comfortably without it for the rest of my days.)