Down in Los Angeles, we took walks to visit the community garden that Dan and Kate and the girls belong to. The newly planted carrot seeds in their bed needed watering, and anyway the kids were eager to explore this secret place, tucked above the city like some magical farmer-fairy kingdom. They tripped and climbed over each other, along terraced pathways that meandered around garden beds, past the rich blackness of the compost pile, under giant avocado trees. Bees buzzed amidst blooming lavender and rosemary, and orange-and-black wings danced through the air. As each butterfly dipped and swooped and bobbed past them, Sonia and Alma – and soon Jacob and Lucas, too – would cry out, “Monarch!”
Fresh air, sunshine, avocados straight from the tree! What more could our darlings need? Ah … extravagant dust baths and the chance to nearly impale each other with muddy trowels and antique weed-hooking thingies. Apparently.
Gardening and kids: two places where the rubber hits the road in my own daily races of fantasy-versus-reality. As we walked past lush plots of exuberantly green chard, bursts of frilly purple-stemmed kale, architecturally trellised English peas, and strawberries spilling over from their beautiful wooden boxes I felt exhilarated – so much beautiful food! so many beautiful people! such a beautiful day!
I also felt entirely defeated – we haven’t even started a garden at the new house yet, though I know from experience that it will be a lot of work when we do. I had planned to put in a few winter greens, just to get things going, and we had hoped to have an apple tree into the ground at the end of last summer. Instead we have a few pots of herbs languishing on the patio, while the lime tree we brought over from the other house moodily refuses to bear fruit.
Our last magical-garden visit in LA ended with one cousin wearing peed-in-pants, two cousins arguing over which kids would ride home in the stroller, and the fourth with a scraped hand so painful it could not be held. We pressed on toward home, and the promise of lunch. One block, another, until the first was sleeping, the next two chatting, the fourth cheerfully holding hands with his dad.
There is time enough still, for planting. For scraped hands and struggles, too. For gorgeous bountiful beds of kale, and for digging ourselves clean in the dirt, and for lunch around the table, with laughter, and dry pants, and love.
(The Best) Kale Salad
Adapted with enthusiasm from Pitfire Pizza in Culver City.
In Los Angeles one night we had dinner at a neighborhood pizza place: super kid friendly, delicious pizza, and for dessert the kids shared ice cream from our own Straus Family Creamery! There was also a kale salad that I could not get enough of: kale, dates, almonds, red onion and mint, all tossed with a lemon-champaigne vinaigrette and dusted with parmesan. Since coming home, I’ve riffed on it almost every day. This is noteworthy because, much like gardening and parenting, kale-salad-eating is one of those things that I generally wish I was better at, wish I had more time for, wish I did the way I imagined myself doing it: while I often order it out, I almost never make it at home.
But something about this particular kale salad has made kale-salad-eating easy, even obvious to me when it comes to what-to-have-for-lunch. Actually, as I think about it, it’s not something. It’s all the things. The chiffonade of kale leaves means that you get the best of both kale-salad worlds – crunch and texture (you don’t need to massage them to limpness) along with ease of chewing and swallowing. Then there are the vinegar-drunk shallots, and a certain addictive brightness from the lemon. Salty crunch from roasted almonds, sweet-sour pucker from kumquats (I added those) and an occasional burst of true-blue-sweet from the dates (or currants … ahem … my current favorite …). A few mint leaves from those sad patio containers, minced fine and scattered over top, pop everything right off the plate. I skip the parmesan, but you could certainly add a dusting – a bright, salty feta would also be nice here, perhaps even in place of the almonds. Anyway, that’s practically the recipe, but just in case, here you go:
1 shallot, cut into thin rings
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (plus more to taste)
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus more to taste)
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
Handful of currants, OR 3 fresh dates, pitted and chopped
1 bunch kale, stemmed and then chopped into a thin chiffonade
Juice from one juicy lemon
5 kumquats, seeded and chopped
~20 roasted, salted almonds, cut into small pieces
3-4 mint leaves, finely chopped
Put the shallot rings into a large salad bowl. Add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Let sit a few minutes (you can add another little glug of vinegar if needed to mostly cover the shallots). (While that is sitting, you can chop the kale.) Add the olive oil and currants, along with the kale chiffonade, to the bowl. Gently mix everything with your hands, until the kale is coated with oil and vinegar and the shallots and currants are fairly evenly distributed. Squeeze the lemon over everything, then top with kumquats, almonds, and the mint leaves.
(You can add oil, vinegar, salt, pepper to taste – Kyle likes more of everything, and I say to each their own.)