We are in that strange land of limbo where we have "no food in the house," and are leaving for vacation soon so we don’t want to stock up. This would normally mean I use up the odds and ends in the freezer or combine and cook up the multitude of partially-empty boxes of pasta -- anything in the name of "cleaning up." But last night I found myself too hot and sticky to even think about pots of boiling water or preheated ovens. Nothing sounded easy enough to cook or good enough to eat and I was determined that we would not get take-out. My challenge was on.

I have been feeling a bit guilty about not using enough of is the kale in our garden -- it is growing like mad! As you have probably seen, "eat more kale" is a popular mantra around these parts and for many reasons. Kale chips? Not really dinner food and requires an oven. Kale risotto? Takes too long and requires hanging around a hot stove. Then I thought about the kale salad at The Guilford Country Store that I love, full of hazelnuts and feta -- a recipe that I would love to try and figure out. And why not now? Out to the garden to harvest some of our Curly Winterbor kale -- I got a little carried away and cut enough to send a bag off to friends tomorrow. I love having a garden!

Inside I washed and stemmed the kale, all the while thinking about that salad I was trying to copy. The elements I love are the tartness of the dressing and the crunch of hazelnuts along with the creaminess of the feta. I knew I didn’t have hazelnuts but perhaps pecans might work.


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I set to work and hang on, because here is a first-hand account of how recipes come about in my kitchen:

First I finely chopped six or seven large leaves of kale and put them into a big bowl. This was after washing them and shaking off the excess water, guaranteeing that everything within 36 inches of the sink would have to be wiped down. Next, I folded each leaf lengthwise, "wrong side out" so I could trim away the stem. After taking care of that it was easy to chop the kale.

Knowing that I like my raw kale a bit "massaged" I decided to make up a dressing next, this way I could combine it with the kale and not have to worry about crushing the other ingredients. Into a small bowl I squeezed the juice of half a lemon (I had to pick out the seeds) and then added a good teaspoon of molasses, a hefty pinch of sea salt, about half a teaspoon of roasted garlic Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and around a quarter cup of cup of olive oil. I whisked this together which took some doing as the molasses really wasn’t interested in combining with the other ingredients, but I eventually managed an emulsion which I poured over the kale. As I looked in the bowl I suddenly decided that I did not want to use my hands to massage that kale so I grabbed a wooden spoon, which worked beautifully. Because the kale was cut so small, I really didn’t need to do much more than give it a good stir.

And now for the add-ins: Confirming that I didn’t have hazelnuts I rummaged around in the fridge where I thought I would find some pecans but instead found pistachios. Why not? I toasted them up a bit in a dry pie tin on a burner (have to watch carefully!) while I finely diced a quarter-inch thick slice of red onion. I added that to the bowl along with about a half cup crumbled feta cheese, a quarter cup dried cranberries and a whole diced ripe tomato (with the exception of a too-squishy part that I cut out). I let the pistachios cool a bit then chopped them and added to the bowl. After a gentle stir, I tasted it, added a good grind of black pepper and called it done.

This made a great side dish to go with the chicken that I found in the freezer and the random box of Israeli couscous I pulled out of the cupboard. It was even better the next day as lunch. And it means that I still haven’t discovered the secret of the Guilford Country Store’s kale salad so will have to keep on going in there in order to get it giving me lots of chances to check in with the friendly folks there.

I did break down and do a little bit of shopping to get us through until vacation. I took a quick inventory of some things that we could use up (although I don’t see us making split pea soup using that ham bone in the freezer) and tried to buy complimentary groceries accordingly. Eventually we will get down to the seemingly never-ending staples of eggs and kale, but in my head I am already concocting a dish that will use both, possibly eggs poached in the liquid of braised kale? We’ll see how it goes over, especially with the younger crowd around here. One thing is for sure, we will have plenty to eat, will be glad to go on vacation and will probably have to make a batch of this kale salad there.

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at jpottercooks@gmail.com.