Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Beauty of Kale Chips and Busyness

I was going to start today's post with a rant about how busy I've been lately, how ridiculous my schedule has been, how general ugh-inducing my planner is. I then took a moment and realized we're all in that boat and I don't need to start bailing my bilge water into your stern.

Things are busy. I'm very thankful that I'm no longer in school and juggling a job, classes and a marriage. My classes and internship are officially over, and I've even gotten to enjoy a few blessed days off with my husband. For those of you who don't know, I'm a newly wed and a (very) recent college grad. My husband is finishing up his final year of school and we both have (multiple) part time jobs.

That being said, I've got to be honest. Not eating clean has been like shooting myself in the foot repeatedly and then demanding to know why I can't run my marathon. I work as a waitress, and if my energy's not there and up every night, I'm not going to be able to make any money. Nobody likes a slow waitress. The worse I eat, the worse my energy levels are in the evening. In the interest of self-preservation, I can't do that to myself or my husband. 

Eating clean is a difficult commitment in American culture. I don't have a lot of free time. Why would I spend it in the kitchen when I could be doing something that I want to be doing? Something for me. Why would I spend my money and time on something that has to be invested in and prepared instead of the brightly colored box that has already prepared food in it for me? I am the consumer. I am jealous of my time. I am jealous of my effort. 

I have been sorely lied to.

I have had to get it into my head these past few months that spending time in the kitchen, spending money on better quality food, IS spending time and money on myself, in ways much more productive than a pedicure or a few hours playing a video game. Investing in mine and my husband's health is much more important than other things I'd prefer to do. As products of a very consumerist culture, I've found that we have to redirect our preferences. We have to change our thinking. 

Now, to address the busyness. I know what it's like to be on the run. I know what it's like to be tempted. I know that going into battle without a plan is a guarantee of failure for me. I will end up eating whatever is available if I don't have snacks that are healthy for me. This isn't a matter of cravings, it's a matter of convenience.

So I'd like to help you with that today. In keeping with our "I'm so busy and so broke" theme, I present to you an amazing snack that costs around $1.20 and half an hour total to make. It's convenient, craving conquering, and cost effective. It's-

Kale Chips

Brains... Kale brains...
I'm starting this recipe off with a warning and a disclaimer. Kale is a cousin-buddy of cabbage. If you eat too much cabbage, terrible gaseous things will happen to you. Gassy waitresses don't make money, either. Kale chips need to be enjoyed in moderation. The first time I made them, my husband and myself (and the cat) enjoyed them a little too much. Kitten gas is an awful thing, and she had no shame.  You don't need to eat more than a handful or two at a time. Any more than that and you're asking for an extended period of self-inflicted alone time.

But now, the good news! Kale is also related to broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts among other things. It shares a chemical with broccoli called sulforaphane which is more potent when chopped up (guess what we're going to do?) and has an amazing effect on blocking cancer cells. Kale also contains indol-3 carbinol which helps DNA repair and blocks cancer cell growth. In case you're not convinced, it's also helpful for reducing inflammation and lowering cholesterol. It's high in fiber and super high in Vitamin K. In one cup of kale you're going to end up with 5 grams of fiber and less than 50 calories. 

It's no wonder that kale has been around a long time and is popular on almost every continent. It was popular in ancient Rome and Greece and was the most popular vegetable in Europe up until the Middle Ages when cabbage became the staple. During World War I rationing in the US, families were encouraged to grow kale in home gardens to make up for nutrients that were lacking. It's been around for a long time and is a friendly, approachable plant. Whatever you use it for (salads, soups, chips) make sure you remove the leaves from the more bitter stem. Discard the stems.

All of that background? To make up for how simple this recipe really is. Unless you're making them for a family, I recommend doing half of the kale head at a time. After a couple of days, the chips lose their satisfying crunchiness. 

Kale Chips

1 head of kale
3-4 tablespoons total of olive oil or coconut oil
sprinkling of salt
spices of choice (garlic powder, paprika, etc)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Trim the leaves from the bitter stems and wash well. I usually try to cut the leaves into a manageable munching size, similar to a potato chip. This is preference. If you don't have the time, just leave them in bigger sections.

To toss the leaves, I usually put my trimmed sections into a tall plastic container, drizzle the olive oil over them, put the lid on and shake it like a polaroid picture. 

I didn't take a picture of that process for obvious reasons.

Some people stir the leaves to coat them, some people use a plastic bag, I've found that the plastic container method tends to coat the leaves most evenly. After shaking for a minute, spread the leaves out on a baking sheet. Once the chips are spread out, I sprinkle them with salt and whatever other spices my heart desires, and then pop them into the oven.

After about five to six minutes, I like to take them out and flip them over just to insure crispiness all around. Salt a little more. Pop back into the oven for another eight minutes. I tell myself every time that I'll leave them in for about 10 minutes total, but it usually ends up being more like 15. Check their consistency. If they're still too chewy for you, put them in for another 2-3 minutes. Don't burn them, keep an eye out. Burned kale has nothing of goodness in it.

Hello, snack buddies.

That's it. I love kale chips because of their vitamins and their cost. A head of organic kale at my local Kroger usually costs around $1.69 and the non organic version is $1.08. For a snack that satisfies and transports so well (I often pack these along with me to work so I'm not tempted to indulge in the leftovers the kitchen produces) I just can't resist them. After a few successful heads of kale, I found myself beginning to crave these little guys.

I will mention that if you are interested in obtaining the *most* nutrition out of these guys, the best method of preparation will be to chop them, then cook them by light steaming. It's no wonder that we've been cultivating kale for over 2,000 years and I'm awfully glad that it's making a come-back.

So, remember- you expending effort on your diet is being good to yourself. I can no longer afford to ignore what I'm putting in my body- can you?

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