Kale fellow well met, or a tale of too many tubers
By John Kelly,
I am King Solomon of the vegetables, entrusted with the great responsibility of dividing this week’s community-supported agriculture delivery.
You know what community-supported agriculture — or CSA — is, right? It’s a way for yuppies to feel okay about using a lawn service. “I may pay immigrants to scour my yard with gas-powered leaf blowers,” they say, “but at least I get a box of organic kale every Thursday.”
Joining the CSA was My Lovely Wife’s idea. Just as I insist on having a yard sale every few years, conveniently forgetting how much work that entails for such little return, so she once again signed us up for a weekly box of vegetables, which, because of her work schedule, I must pick up.
Before I even get to the issue of what to do with a massive pile of organic kale, there is the issue of dividing the delivery. With our girls away at college, there are just two of us at home and so we put ourselves down for a half-share. We split the contents of each week’s bounty with another family. When I do the pickup, I have to decide who gets what.
With some vegetables it’s easy. If there are six potatoes, we each get three. Same thing if there’s a bunch of radishes. But what if there’s a single pumpkin or a single squash? What if there are two smallish leeks? Can you make anything with a single smallish leek?
Apparently not. I let ours wither in the crisper tray of our refrigerator.
And this is the main problem with the CSA: I find the weekly delivery of vegetables to be a crushing responsibility. You have to do something with them. It’s like giving someone a puppy.
This would all be easier if I actually recognized the vegetables, but each week about half the stuff is mysterious. To me, every tuberous ovoid that is not a potato is a turnip. But they can’t all be turnips, can they? Maybe some are parsnips. What is a parsnip, anyway?
Sometimes we get an e-mail that lists what vegetables our delivery might contain, along with a few recipes. They’re not much help. They usually say something like: “Jicama: Can be diced for salads and soups or grated into a pot of boiling mule urine to make a poultice for the treatment of eczema and Bell’s palsy.”
I know I’m supposed to be excited about these vegetables. They’re locally sourced! They’re good for me! By buying them I’m helping a family farm! But instead they have the perverse effect of making me want to guiltily slide a frozen pizza into the oven.
In the abstract, our weekly box of vegetables sounds great. They hark back to a simpler time, a time before pesticides, a time before Clarence Birdseye, a time when our forefathers and foremothers bowed their heads in thanks for nature’s bounty and all that the fertile earth provides.
But you know what our forefathers and foremothers probably said a lot? “Ugh. Parfnipf again? I fwear, if I tafte one more parfnip I’m going to be fick.”
And yet, I can’t deny that occasionally there’s something attractive about the produce. The other day, the shipment included what I thought was some sort of exotic lettuce. It was a lovely pale green color, almost celadon, striated with orderly white ribs that rose through the leaves like the delta of a river. It had an impressive and surprising heft.
I had a strange reaction to this beautiful vegetable, which turned out to be Chinese cabbage: I wanted to eat it.
Of course, only half of it was mine. I took out a long, serrated knife and sliced down its length: schlaaap. I bagged one half and put it back in the box for our neighbors. I divided the turnips (or parsnips) and parsnips (or turnips). I kept two leeks but gave them the head of broccoli.
And I gave them all the kale. I’m nice that way.
Finished your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus shopping? Me neither. Some people are just too hard to shop for. Why not show how much you care for them by giving a gift that will help take care of someone else?
I’m talking about a donation in their name to Children’s National Medical Center. I will happily send them a letter informing them of your generosity.
This is also a great way for people who work together in an office to make a difference in a child’s life. When your office, classroom, church group or neighborhood donates, I will list you in my column.
Make your donation by going to www.childrensnational.org/washingtonpost or sending a check (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.