♦ Life is Good!

Dear Shaina,

Yep…you upped the gross factor!  But I did love reading about the shechting process.  And it is very much about the process..just as life is.  Doesn’t so much matter where you go, but how you get there.  I do have to say the Chanukah cookies with the green avocado sesame glop didn’t look so appetizing either. Especially juxtaposed to the bloody goat slaughter description. I am in shock that you actually tasted goat! You, who has never even had a McDonalds hamburger in your life! What did it taste like? The thought of anything goat grosses me out.  I am the only person I know, except for your Dad, who even hates goat cheese.

As far as your child rearing advice…It is every mother’s greatest pleasure to say to their child “I cant wait until you have children of your own!” Because I’ll be watching…

Anyway, I am in the midst of getting ready for the annual Christmas trek to Dad’s family in South Carolina.   I just bought a turkey to prepare for dinner in S.C. Last night I made a squash casserole, Chocolate/almond Cheesecake (an annual request) and a no sugar added, gluten free apple crisp. We are stopping at the farm on the way to pick some kale for you so you can get your fix of fresh greens and turnips.

Have Cheesecake...Will Travel!

Have Cheesecake…Will Travel!

Trite as it sounds, its hard to believe another year has flown by. The years really do seem to pass exponentially faster as you get older.  The last time I made a cheesecake was a year ago…for the Shealy Christmas dinner.  You had just started your job…can you believe a year already? Next month, it will be two years since I retired.  It doesn’t seem possible…and I haven’t even started cleaning out the closets!

I am beginning to understand why people my age say that these are the best years of your life.  If you are fortunate enough to have lived to this age, you know how quickly your time on this earth passes.  You are finally free from the fantasies of what you thought life would or should be.  And your true wants become crystallized as you fill the new-found space in your life with family, friends and activities that nurture your mind (mah jong), fortify your body (yoga) and enrich your soul (cooking, writing, sharing, loving, thinking, praying and being grateful).  No more wasted worries, punishing judgments or chasing somebody else’s dreams.

Life is good! I know how little time is left and I aim to make the most of it…even if I leave you with a lot of overstuffed closets!

Have a safe flight and we’ll see you very soon, greens and veggies in hand!

Love,

Mom
Xooxoxoxoxoxoxoxo


SQUASH CASSEROLE

This very easy recipe is a variation on a Southern tradition. There is a lot of room for modification based on tastes and dietary needs. Any cheese will work.  Sauteed mushrooms and green onions can be added to the basic squash mixture before baking.  Garlic, basil, tarragon, dill or Indian spices can be added to give a unique flavor to this basic squash casserole recipe.   It freezes and travels well, feeds a crowd and makes a great brunch dish.

Ready to Pop in the Oven

Ready to Pop in the Oven

BASIC CASSEROLE

  • 5 pounds (about) of yellow crook necked squash cut up in large chunks
  • 3 carrots cut in large chunks
  • 1 – 2 onions quartered
  • 2 TBLSP butter (room temp) + 1 TBLSP for casserole dish
  • 1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ Cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (low fat is fine)
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Vegetable Bouillon (optional)
  • Salt, pepper

TOPPING

  • 1 cup bread crumbs, plain or seasoned (or ground up crackers, corn flakes or favorite savory crumb topping)*
  •  2 TBLSP melted butter
  • ¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (more or less as desired)
Gluten-Free Nut Topping

Gluten-Free Nut Topping

*For a gluten-free topping, substitute your favorite chopped nuts and ground up rice crackers or other gluten-free crackers

DIRECTIONS
Place cut up squash, carrots and onions in a large pot filled with salted (or use veggie or chicken flavored soup powder) water to barely cover veggies.

Boil water and cook veggies until tender.

Drain cooked squash and veggies thoroughly.  (I save the seasoned drained liquid and use it as a base for homemade soup. If you have no plans to make soup, put it in a container and freeze it for the next time you do.)

Preheat oven to 350°

Blend while hot

Blend while hot

Put hot drained vegetables in a large bowl and use a stick blender to chop and blend the onions carrots and squash until they are the consistency of coarse baby food (in fact, if you have a baby, take some out at this point and reserve for baby).

Add 2 TBLSP of butter to the hot veggies and stir in until melted.

Add Cheese

Add Cheese

Add shredded cheese and thoroughly mix in.

Add sour cream or yogurt and mix in.  Taste for seasonings and add salt, pepper or optional spices to taste.

Mix in lightly beaten eggs.

Place 1 TBLSP of butter in a 9” x 13” glass baking pan or other large casserole baking dish. Preheat in oven until butter is melted and slightly browned.

Mix all topping ingredients together.

Pour squash mixture into heated buttered baking dish.  Top with topping mixture and bake for 45 minutes or until casserole is set and topping is browned.  If topping is browning too quickly, cover with foil.

If you plan on freezing and reheating, cook for 30 minutes without topping.  Cool and freeze.  When you are ready to serve, defrost thoroughly.   Add topping and bake at 350° for 30 – 45 minutes.

BASIC APPLE CRISP

No Sugar Added
Gluten-Free

  • About 5 pounds of your favorite apples, peeled, cored and sliced (¼” thick)
  • ½ – ¾ cup of raisins or currants
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1 – 2 TBLSP ground Cinnamon (or to taste)

    For dessert or Breakfast!

    For dessert or Breakfast!

TOPPING

  • 1 Cup rolled oats
  • 1 Cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 TBLSP melted butter
  • Cinnamon to taste

Preheat oven to 350°

Mix cut up apples, raisins, zest, juice, spices and flavorings in a very large bowl until all flavors and ingredients are blended.

Put 1 TBLSP of butter in a deep 9”x13” casserole dish and heat in oven until butter is melted and slightly browned.

Mix together all topping ingredients a small bowl.

Spoon fruit mixture into heated, buttered casserole dish as full as possible to the limit of the dish.  The apples will shrink as they cook.

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Top with topping mix.

Place in oven for about an hour until apples are thoroughly cooked and juices at bottom of pan are bubbly and topping is browned.  If topping browns too quickly, turn oven to 325° halfway through the baking time.

This dish freezes well.

It makes a great dessert warm and served with ice cream  or whipped cream  I love it for breakfast served with plain Greek Yogurt.

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◊ Chanukah Cookies and a Goat Story

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Dear mom,

I love that our past few posts have been wholly dedicated to turnips and kale. Yum. I wish I had more turnips here, but every time I buy them at the store I’m disappointed by their waxy, tough skin… so different from the ones we get at the farm. But let’s switch the subject. I want to talk about your naked turkey pictures so that I can retract my insults…  because I’m about to up the gross factor a few notches. And I’ll make a confession that I think you’ll be proud of.

IMG_1833I spent last weekend in the woods of Connecticut at Hazon’s Food Conference as an AJWS Food Justice Cohort participant. I learned about domestic food security, probiotics for maintaining gut health, the Farm Bill, international food aid and pickling. But the most memorable part of the conference was a four hour participatory session about shechting (kosher animal slaughter).

Yup. I saw a Rabbi slash through a goat’s neck. I was there as its blood flooded the grass and I watched its body twitch until all life was gone. I observed the meticulous process of making something Kosher – a perfect cut, perfect organs, perfect preparation. We passed around the goat’s lungs and some practiced blowing into them  like blowing up a balloon to make sure there were no perforations (which would nullify Kosherness). I plucked the feathers of bloody chickens still warm with life…  still letting out occasional squawks despite their deadness. I volunteered to rip a chicken’s head off, but it was too slimy with blood to get a good grip and I wasn’t strong enough to make the full tear. Yes, this is your daughter speaking.

The night before the slaughter, I attended a panel discussion about the shechting process and realized why there are so many Jewish vegetarians:  in our culture, animal slaughter is real. I don’t think that most people recognize food-meat as dead animal. But in elementary school, I learned that in order for us (Jews) to eat meat, an animal has to be cut with a knife sharp enough  sever all of its arteries in one deep blow. And it’s stayed with me.

During the panel discussion, some asked why Kosher meat is considered more elevated in God’s eyes than meat that is humanely raised/free range. I’m not sure that kosher slaughter is any more humane than other forms of animal meat processing – but I do know that it’s meticulous regulations connect me to the life of the animal and the process in which it’s killed. And maybe that’s the point? If we’re conscious about where meat comes from, maybe we won’t eat it so recklessly.

The night before the slaughter, I had the most vivid animal dreams. My best friend was a camel who sat next to me in math class every day. There were bears in my class too. We could talk to one another.

I woke up nervous. I’ve been a vegetarian since childhood. Could I handle watching a goat beheaading and decapitation? I felt my stomach drop as I walked to the site.

Surprisingly, I was totally fine. In fact, I was mesmerized. The goat’s insides were beautiful. The color of its liver was deep and its the texture of its lungs was like spongy foam; its flesh held patterns like computer generated art –  concise angles, lines and repetition; the way that the hide separated from its muscle without breaking the tissue was perfect. I almost enjoyed the transformation from goat to food.

Here’s my confession. I tasted goat that day. I could barely swallow, but I had to do it.

I don’t have the desire to eat meat again, but realized that putting a McDonalds hamburger to my mouth (who knows where that meat comes from?) is way grosser than sticking my hands inside a freshly slaughtered goat. I think my vegetarianism is on the right path.

Phewww.

And I appreciate your confidence in the things you’ve enabled me to do that you expressed in your last letter (even if it is shechting a goat)… but I’m not totally sold.  Who let’s their kid sit down in the middle of the field during a game? And then tells her she did a good job? Opting out from boredom without repercussions may be the root of my problems. I’m gonna whoop my kid’s butt if he/she pulls something like that.

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Anyway. This will be my first full weekend in DC since mid October and I can’t wait to have a few days to breath. Despite the chill  outside, I can’t believe we’re into the thick of Chanukah and Christmas is on its way.

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When we were trying to think of some Chanukah classics while I was home, you reminded me of the blue jello Chanukah “jigglers” in the shapes of Jewish stars you used to make for me and my friends when we were kids (and the following urgent calls to my pediatrician, why is my daughter’s poop BRIGHT GREEN?!). Those jigglers were the best, and I was inspired to make something just as fun (but a bit classier) for Chanukah this year. So I made the cookies featured below for my office cookie swap. If your jigglers married Bubbe’s kasha and bows, they would birth this newest cookie invention. Just trust me on this one. These Chanukah honey buckwheat shortbread were a HUGE hit.

IMG_1803Chanukah Honey Buckwheat Shortbread

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 tbs sea salt
  • 6 dates chopped
  • 1/2 c hazelnuts chopped
  • dash of clove powder
  • 1/2 tbs vanilla

Mix flours together. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar, salt and butter until smooth. Add chopped dates, hazelnuts, vanilla and clove powder. Add flour and mix until dough forms. Form dough into ball and refrigerate for at least two hours.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough into a sheet that’s 1/4 inch thick. Use cookie cutters to shape cookies. Place cookies at least an inch apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush glaze onto cookies before putting them into oven.

Bake for 10 – 13 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Let cool completely and enjoy!

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Zesty sesame glaze:

  • 1/3 of a small avocado
  • 1/3 c honey
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2 tbs lemon zest
  • 4 tbs sesame seeds
  • dash of clove powder
  • blue food coloring

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Mash avocado until creamy with the back of a fork (or blend in food processor) until fibers can no longer be seen. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Chocolate Buckwheat Dreidles

I need to keep experimenting with these to get them right… I tried using spelt flour, but the “dreidle” shape melted in the oven. They were tasty despite their ugliness and I have hope for them in the future. If anyone has any suggestions, send ’em my way!

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  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 tbs celtic sea salt
  • 4 oz shaved dark chocolate
  • 1/2 tbs vanilla

Same directions as above. The chocolate “topping” was avocado, cocoa powder and honey.

♦ Enabling…I’m All For It!

Dear Shaina,

Thanks for the compliment (?) on my photography.  I got photography lessons for my birthday, so watch out! I still don’t get what you have against naked birds.

Speaking of photography, thank you for enabling this new pursuit of mine.  Per the ongoing family discussion, I think the concept of “enabling” has been given a bad rap. Enabling isn’t all bad.  Sure it can be crippling and disabling and undermining, but it can also facilitate growth and independence and self-pride.

My first blog pictures sucked and you let me know it…and you told me how I could make them better.

Kale Salad with Feta

Kale Salad with Feta

You enabled me to not only acquire a new skill, but also to think in a new way about the possibilities of what I might yet learn. You told me I could figure out how to do my own posting on the blog.  I didn’t think so, but you signed me up anyway, gave me a few tips and some encouragement and told me you didn’t have time to post my letter and I would have to do it myself. You empowered me! It took me six hours and I had to get some help from the trainers at the Apple store, but I did it…and I was proud…and now I own it!

Too much enabling?

Too much enabling?

It could have gone differently.  You could have said to me, “Mom, I’ll take care of it…I’ll do all the pictures and the posting…you just write.”  I might have felt supported, but I never would have found my own abilities.

You believed in me and you facilitated my growth. Enabling, the good or the bad kind, requires a willing partner…and I did my part, too.

I would like to think that we were enabling parents…that we enabled you to think for yourself, to see yourself honestly and to fully engage in the pursuit of meaning and happiness in your life, despite the angst.  In truth, you were a willing partner to our enabling.  You used what we gave you to fuel possibilities that we didn’t even know existed. You took advantage of opportunities without ever taking advantage of us or taking for granted what you had. And you always let us know when we were stepping over the line. Even at 4 years old, you let us know, sitting down in the middle of the soccer field during a game to let me know, unequivocally, no matter how much I pushed, that you were NOT playing soccer…and I never tried to make you do anything again (you may feel differently about that, but I did try to stay out of your way…really!).

You OWN your life…and that is the best that any parent can wish for their child… even with the burdens and obligations that live with that ownership.

Garlic Roasted Smashed Turnips

Garlic Roasted Smashed Turnips

So, maybe our definitions of support/enabling differ slightly.

I can live with that. I do, however, take issue with your representation of the paralyzing turnip noose.

I cop to the overbearing love, but that’s old news…deal with it.

But the turnips?…that was self defense.

More Greens!

More Greens!

Your father brought home another huge black garbage bag full of kale and assorted unnamed greens and yet another bag filled with dozens of very dirt laden turnips.

There are only so many ways to fix turnips and to eat kale and turnip greens, despite the number of recipes you come up with.

I have had turnips …and greens…raw, cooked, fried, mashed, roasted, boiled and mixed with any number of edible any-things-I-can-think-of…every night this week!

Now that's a TURNIP!

Now that’s a TURNIP!

Dad is obsessed with turnips and greens!

He loves them, especially when I make the recipe below.

And he’s talking about picking more this weekend!!!  HELP!! If I thought I could mail you a crateful, I would…and it would have NOTHING to do with overbearing love or my womb!

Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!

Love,

Mom

Xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

This is my all-time favorite turnip recipe (and Dad’s).

BUTTERY TURNIPS AND ONIONS

(With or without the greens)

  • 1 large onion cut up in small chunks
  • 3-4 turnips cut into ½ inch chunks (peeled or unpeeled)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped or garlic powder
  • A large bowl of Greens, washed, stems removed and torn in large pieces (kale, turnip, beet, any greens will do)
  • 1 T Olive oil
  • 1 T Butter (more if you like)
  • Salt and Pepper

    We ate them all!

    We ate them all!

Saute the chopped onion in a large frying pan with olive oil until translucent.  Add the garlic and saute until onions and garlic are lightly browned.  Add the cut-up turnips to the frying pan and continue cooking for a minute or two. Add the butter and continue cooking the onion and turnip mixture until tender. Add salt, pepper and additional garlic to taste.

If you don’t like greens, the turnips and onions cooked until tender are delicious and can be served without adding the greens.

This dish is also delicious with the added greens.  While the onions and turnips are cooking, massage the washed greens with a little sea salt and let sit until the turnips are just tender.  Add the greens to the frying pan, stirring the greens into the turnip-onion mixture and continue cooking over medium heat until the greens are wilted and desired tenderness.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

◊ The Way You Make Your Bed is How You’ll Lie in It

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Dear mom,

First I’ll congratulate you on your much improved photo skills. Mazel!

… But not without hesitation.

Should I regret encouraging you to learn how to take in-focus pictures? To hold your camera still so the image doesn’t blur? Each and every stretched, salt-plumped pore of your turkeys make me think that I might should have left you and your fuzzy photos alone.

Yes, it was a lovely Thanksgiving. But bald turkey butts…

Not so lovely.

You know it takes a lot to gross me out. The image of bearded orthodox men slathering Nair on Kosher turkeys to melt their stubble doesn’t phase me. But I do worry about the stomachs of those who stumble across this in search of wholesome eats.

IMG_0573Unintended consequences…

I made my bed and now I’ll lay in it.

Though I did have a nice time at home over Thanksgiving. I’m thankful:

  1. For not having to put my bags of Alabama dirt dusted kale and turnips through customs to get back to DC
  2. That my answer to why I was sipping on muscle recovery tea in the office on Tuesday was, “too much massage.”
  3. For Thanksgiving stamina til 1am… Yup, I knew dinner would stretch past reasonable hours when Abe roused us with the following question:

Moving forward as parents, how can we find balance between enabling our children and supporting our children?

It’s a loaded topic. I know that if a parent does his/her child’s math homework, then the child will not learn math – the parent is setting the child up for failure and dependence, and is depriving the child of critical problem-solving skills. But if the child really doesn’t understand math, how is the best way the parent support him/her to learn? There is no clear answer.

For me, the damage has been done. You never did my homework for me. But you did pay for me to see a math tutor. Who knows if I would have made it through high school without Ms. Cousins’ extra help sessions? Thank you! Thank you?

You and dad supported my drive for adventure, learning and success by allowing me to live abroad for much of my early adulthood, covering tuition for all of my fancy schooling, and providing emotional guidance and unconditional love. But in doing so you’ve enabled my current inability to settle, my constant questioning and torturous decision-making patterns – requisites of boundless opportunity, and my unclear, unstable and confusing career path. I am SO grateful for all of the privileges you’ve provided me (and slapping myself on behalf of those with less material fortune than I –  I know a slap doesn’t cut it). But as the cousins, you and dad and Abe and Gail sat around the living room discussing examples and consequences of enabling parenting behavior, I wondered if I too have been set-up for failure. Am I ever going to be content with a job that’s not perfect? How can I even define perfect? Will I get worn out shooting for the stars without a clear star to shoot for?

I know my angst/anxiety is not your fault. But I’m nervous about my future… and your love has enabled me to blame you. So thanks (thanks?).

I realize that my future is my responsibility. At home you wash my bed sheets and tuck me in at night… and I know that the way you make my bed is how I’ll lay in it. But I wash my own sheets in DC (just don’t ask me how often). I hold myself accountable for the way I lay in my bed.

IMG_1729I urged you to learn how to use a camera. I supported and enabled bald turkey butt pics on our blog. You’re welcome ☺.

There’s so much to be thankful for. Usually, you send me back to DC with chocolate chips and bags of nuts from Costco. But this time you crossed the line,  flattening  kale we picked at the farm into a big plastic bag, and stuffing dirt fresh turnips into my suitcase. Abe may argue that you’re “putting me back into the womb,” and I may wince at the week’s worth of veggies as a representation of the overbearing love that’s created a paralyzing noose of responsibility around my neck. But I can’t tell you how grateful I was for farm fresh kale and turnips when I got home from work on Tuesday. And for the memories of our kale and turnip-picking outing to the farm as I munched away.

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You gave me the veggies and I went wild… so today my recipes will be all about our turnips and kale. Thank you, I am grateful. – And in appreciation, I’ll keep on with wild.

Love ya,

Shaina

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Zatar and Garlic Roasted Turnip Wedges

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Turnip "chips"

Turnip “chips”

  • 6 medium turnips
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 tbs zatar
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 2 tbs sesame seeds
  • sea salt

(Note: You can alter this recipe by incorporating whatever spices you have on hand. I’ve made them with curry powder and cinnamon, cumin and garam masala, and plain ‘ol salt and garlic. Turnips have a bit of a kick to them, so I’d avoid  spicy flavors like cayenne and black pepper.)

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Cut turnips into small vertical wedges (like fries). Coat with olive oil and spices and lay flat on cookie sheet. Make sure that the wedges do not overlap and that they are not too squished together. Roast for a total of 20 minutes (flip them over at ten minutes) at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. They should be brown and crispy on the outside and watery on the inside.

Arielle’s Best Turnips

  • 3 tbs  butter
  • 6 turnips cut into 1 inch wedges
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Juice of 2 fresh lemons
  • Sea Salt to taste

For Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (or flax seed/almond meal/crushed nuts for gluten free option)
  • 1 tbs poppy seeds
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley

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I learned this one from Arielle. She is totally the turnip master.
First, melt butter in pan and add turnips, water, lemon juice, salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes covered. Then, uncover and increase heat while stirring turnips until liquid has evaporated and turnips and tender.

Meanwhile, cook garlic in oil for about a minute. Add bread crumbs (or crushed nuts for gluten free option) and poppy seeds and stir until brown. Add parsley and salt. Top turnips with breadcrumbs right before serving. The turnips melt in your mouth in contrast to the crunchy breadcrumbs.

Ginger Baked Sweet Potatoes with Garlicky Kale

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  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 2 cups sautéed garlicky kale (see recipe below)
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 tbs grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • 2 crushed cardamom pods (or 1 tsp cardamom powder)
  • 1 tsp clove powder
  • Honey or agave to taste (optional)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Crushed almonds, walnuts, shredded coconut and/or pumpkin seeds for topping

Cut sweet potatoes in fourths and roast in oven at 350 until soft. Meanwhile, chop garlickly kale into one inch pieces. Once cool, mash sweet potatoes (with skins if desired). Stir in chopped kale, agave/honey, coconut milk, spices, salt and pepper. Top with crushed nuts, coconut shreds and extra sprinkle of sea salt. Bake until nut-topping browns (for about 30 minutes) at 375 degrees.

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Garlic Kale

  • 1 large bunch of kale, chard, collards, turnip greens – whatever
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • sea salt to taste
  • 5 chopped garlic cloves
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • fresh juice of 1 lemon

Clean and de-stem greens. Then chop or tear into small pieces.

Heat olive oil in pan. Add salt and greens – stir until greens turn really green and remove from heat before they shrivel and wilt. Stir for about two or three minutes, and stir in garlic for just thirty seconds before you remove from heat.

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