It’s January, the most virtuous month of the year. The rampant excess of the holiday season has given way to a universal desire for a fresh start. Everywhere you look, people are flocking to gyms, overhauling diets and cleaning out closets. Sales of alcohol? Down. Sales of organizing bins and self-help books? Up. Way up. We’re all on a mission to establish healthy habits that we hope will stick with us throughout the year ahead.
But sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.
Last January, in the conscientious spirit of the season, I decided to make a kale salad to lighten up a Super Bowl menu that was feeling weighed down by nachos and hot wings. This was not just any kale salad, mind you. The recipe came from one of my favorite websites, www.onceuponachef.com, and included kale, thinly-sliced Brussels sprouts, toasted walnuts and Parmesan cheese in a garlicky lemon-Dijon vinaigrette.
It did not disappoint. The bold concoction was bright, crunchy and bursting with vitality, like a Caesar salad set free from its glutinous dressing and bulky croutons. I went back for seconds, and then thirds. I tried to count how many superfoods it contained, but lost track after seven. This exhilarating creation was like a new year’s resolution in a bowl, and I was diving right in.
My family’s reaction was slightly less enthusiastic – they wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole – so I stored the leftovers in the refrigerator. This is normally a death sentence for a dressed salad, but I couldn’t bear to part with it. You can imagine my surprise the next day when the full might of these power greens was revealed. The strong, sturdy leaves of the kale and Brussels sprouts weren’t soggy at all! The salad was just as fresh and crisp the next day. And even the day after that. And then suddenly, it was gone.
And I missed it.
During the week that followed, I began to experience feelings for the kale salad that I had previously only associated with candy corn. The tingling of taste buds. The inability to focus on other foods. The aimless wandering around the places where we used to meet – the fridge, the counter, the kitchen table. Wait a minute. Why was I denying this craving? This was no guilty pleasure – this salad was actually good for me. I should be eating as much of it as possible!
And that’s pretty much what I’ve done over the past year. With very few exceptions, I’ve made half a recipe of kale salad every week. Kept chilled in a salad spinner, it retains its invigorating snap and gets me through most of my weekday lunches. Well, until recently. You see, there’s a dark side to these leafy greens. As with any addictive substance, users gradually require more and more to achieve the same high. So at this point, it’s not unusual to find me tackling a heaping mound of kale salad on a dinner-size plate.
First-timers should also note that digesting this much fiber can be…how can I put this delicately?…challenging. This is not, I repeat NOT, a gateway salad. This is the hard stuff. If your diet does not already include a lot of raw greens, you’ll need to increase your tolerance slowly. Start with iceberg or possibly romaine and work your way up to spinach or Swiss chard before even attempting the kale and Brussels sprouts.
I’m well aware that if we were talking about anything other than kale salad, I would clearly need an intervention by now. Yes, I eat it alone. Yes, I find myself checking the clock to see if it’s lunchtime yet. But at least it hasn’t affected my relationships (as long as I don’t force my family to eat it.) And I’m sure I could quit anytime I want…
Oops, it’s lunchtime. I have to go.
Before I do, I want to wish you a happy, healthy 2017!