So I'm not much of a vegetable eater. Just like Tommy, I'd much rather have a cookie than fruit for a snack. My favorite snack after school when I was thirteen was a fried egg with bacon. But when I do eat vegetables, I like them to be tasty vegetables - if smothered with enough butter or olive oil they maybe could be reasonably acceptable.
One of my favorite aspects of overseas life is the tasty, cheap produce. In Cairo we could buy fresh tomatoes all year round for less than twenty cents a pound. After living in Cairo for two years, I had a lot more sympathy for the children of Israel as they lamented the cucumbers and leeks and melons they traded in for manna. In Baku the tomatoes weren't delicious all year round, but in the summer they were almost as good as the ones pulled from my mothers' garden. During green bean season we would eat over a pound of beans a night, sauteéd with garlic and onions on olive oil and butter. The children cheered every time I pulled the beans out for dinner.
So when we came back to the US for training, I cajoled Brandon into joining a CSA. Even if the vegetables weren't cheap, at least I knew that they wouldn't be shipped from California. When I signed up, the form wanted to know why I had decided to pay a ridiculous amount of money for their vegetables, and I couldn't find the box that was next to 'because I like tasty food,' so I had to pretend it was because I cared about supporting local farmers.
When I signed up, I had a vague idea of what sort of vegetables I would pull from my full share box every week, but I didn't look to far into it. I knew I would get vegetables, and I knew that at some point those vegetables would include tomatoes. Because, after all, really I just wanted real tomatoes.
Our first week was May 12. After finding the drop-off sight, I eagerly opened my box to see what the vegetable fairies had left for my first week of tasty vegetables. Green, green, and more green. After having grown various more and less successful gardens, I knew that (sadly) tomatoes don't come in May. And what does come in May? Lettuce, lettuce, more lettuce, and some asparagus. Also kale, chard, green onions, collard greens, spinach, and oh, more lettuce.
I know what to do with lettuce, asparagus, and spinach, but kale? Chard? Collard greens? And so this month has begun my education in What to Do With Greens. It also has begun the children's education in Salad is Good. Really. Eat It. Salad isn't a big thing overseas (and honestly I've never liked it much either) so they haven't gotten used to eating leaves. And since the vegetable fairies charge a lot of money for salad, everyone's getting a crash course in acting like cows every single night. Good thing someone invented salad dressing.
I'm actually enjoying my exploration into cooking greens because it makes me cook something other than the fifteen meals that are on endless rotation because they 1. are acceptable to most everyone, 2. have ingredients that are available around the world, 3. are reasonably nutritionally balanced, and 4. are cheap. Some things have been more successful and some have been less. Joseph has started protesting any time a cooked green shows up on his plate, 'No spinach!! NO SPINACH!!!"
Our last box included collard greens, something I've never eaten, despite my Southern upbringing. I think my mother felt the same way about cooked greens I do. But when you have a big bunch of collards delivered by the veg fairies that you paid to give you weekly surprises, you better find something to do with them.
And when you have collard greens, cheese grits naturally come to mind. Oh, and salad. Don't forget the salad. I confess when I started cooking them this morning (yes, this morning. Did you know that it takes four hours to cook collard greens?) I was highly dubious. But I couldn't just let them go moldy in the back of the refrigerator because Brandon would shame me when he found them in August. So I had to cook them, but I could probably make Brandon eat almost all of them. Because, really, leaves? Cooked in ham water? I think I'll take the cornmeal cooked with a lot of butter and cheese. Because, butter, and cheese. Neither of those are green.
After everything was cooked and the children had started in on whining, I let Brandon try the first bite. Even though I like to pretend that I'm an Adventurous Adult, really deep down I'm still the same nine year-old that avoided shrimp for years because it was pink. Brandon, on the other hand, joined the Foreign Service so that he could be paid to travel around the world and try new types of food. So I stuck with salad and let him try the slimy-looking green things.
But even Brandon looked dubious as he stared at the dark green leaves clumped on his plate. Sure, he was happy to try head cheese and ancient cheese and chocolate covered pig fat, but boiled leaves? Maybe not. Finally, however, he shrugged and took a forkful. He popped it into his mouth. I waited. I knew secretly that finally he had found something not to like. After all, collard greens? Nobody eats those if they don't absolutely have to.
"Good?" I asked him through a mouthful of cheese and butter. Now, cheese grits, those are a good Southern cooking idea.
He chewed for a minute and then broke into a smile as he scooped up another bite. "Yes! Really good!"
"Really?" I asked him. I wasn't about to try some of those nasty looking green things if they were only a little good. The grits were treating me just fine. "Now tell me the truth. Just because we paid for them and cooked them for hours doesn't mean we have to eat them if they're nasty."
He stuffed another forkful in his mouth as he nodded enthusiastically. "Yesh! Try shome!"
I looked at my plate. I took another bite of cheese grits. Yumm, cheese. I swallowed and looked back at Brandon reaching for a second helping of the collards. Finally, I timidly took a bite. Then I took another. I looked up at Brandon. "These really are good!"
"Of course, what did you think, that I was lying to you?"
"Well," I admitted, "maybe you were just being... optimistic. But you're right. They're amazing!" And then I got back to eating the rest of my greens. I suppose I should have known, after all. Because something that is boiled with a ham hock and garlic and then fried with onions in bacon grease couldn't be delicious. I think maybe my old running shoes wouldn't be too bad with that treatment.
So next time you have the opportunity to get your hands on some collard greens, do try them. Something from the people who brought you Krispy Kreme couldn't be that bad, after all.