“Habits”

For as long as I can remember, I have had “habits”. Let’s call them “habits” in the lack of a more official name for them. We could also call them compulsions or obsessions! Tomayto, tomato. 

These habits have distinguished the key years of my juvenilia and young adulthood! If someone were ever to write the story of my childhood, they’d have an easy categorisation method, a bit like Yeats’ ‘catching butterflies’ years versus his ‘deciding to stop riding my red pony and instead daydream by a river’ years. You know…those years!

The habits probably kicked off with the “saying things in three” years. This involved any instruction to have “sweet dreams” at bedtime to be delivered in groups of threes. “Sweet dreams, sweet dreams and sweet dreams” my parents would dutifully say. If they accidentally stumbled into the linguistic minefield of wishing me one more dose of sweet dreams when exiting my bedroom? They had to repeat it another 6 times. Because it was in groups of 3. So, if you went over 9? It went to 27. I think I had just learnt about squared and cubed, and I liked to apply my schooling to all areas of life. A generalist. 

Then there came the “saying things backwards” habit. You could tell me any word, and a little countdown clock would light up on the stage inside my forehead. I knew the whole family’s quick backwards monikers off by heart. The Ymalleb family, consisting of Allen, Dnomsed, Dnilasor and Acissej sounded like characters from a fantasy novel; the sort I would never read, because I had enough strange superstitions easily accessible in the recesses of my imagination. 

Saying things backwards was then replaced by the counting-letter years. I would demand a complex word from anyone lucky enough to be stuck in my company, and quickly pasted up the word on the forehead stage mentioned above. Little birds or bugs, similar to Disney helpers, would hover above the one long word, and draw webs between easy groupings; of 2, 3, or 4. The groupings would spread out and define themselves, and I would quickly add them together. 

Dinosaur? 4 and 4 is 8! Appease! 3 and 4 is 7! Ostentatious? The rare (exciting) 5 coupled with a 3 and 4. We have a 12, ladies and gentlemen! Where’s my applause? 

 

Habits have always been there, but part of growing older is that you get a little less exclamatory about them. You want to be proficient at more tangible skills, like catching things, throwing things, public speaking or understanding how barcodes work. It’s not really that impressive to declare the extent to which you order your life in groupings of 3, or the way you roll clumps of sounds around your mouth.

Of course, habits take just as much as they offer. I hate many of my adult habits. I hate the habit of checking that all four burners and the oven are turned off. I hate the little ditty I use to check my front door is locked: “click, push push, tap tap”. I hate the times I get into the car, only to run back to the front door and check that I’ve really locked it. 

But I also know where all these “habits” come from. They come from a beautiful place; a desire to keep my home and my cats safe while I’m at work. An interest in language and numbers, and how these building blocks make up systems and languages we use to connect with each other. Growing up in an unknowable world, why wouldn’t we create systems of coping and comfort, in lieu of any belief in an interventionist God and their protection?

I was walking home today, and observed a man across the street with a habit of his own. Every time he passed a fence post, a bollard, a wall, he would touch it with the corner of his jacket. He barely paused for this moment of fabric grazing. It was such a natural and practised movement, he didn’t need to. 

I had a moment of relief: at least my habits have never extended to that. But then also: who cares if mine have? What if, in a world full of syllables and building blocks and thrumming molecules, those objects are saying, “thank you for noticing I’m here. Thank you for making my existence a small part of your life. Thank you for turning the everyday into a system of belief, a personal god, a respite and a coping strategy. Carry on down the road, now, carefully, ever-counting. Carry on, and try not to step on the cracks.” 

Kale

This week, I celebrated my 20 year vegetarian-versary and 2 year vegan-versary by doing everyone’s favourite thing: sitting down with my Doctor for my blood test results. I received exciting news: my iron levels were great. I whooped happily, and explained the timing of these results and my veg-iversary to my doctor. She said, “I bet you eat a lot of leafy greens.”

You’d win that bet, Dottore. I eat more than a lot of leafy greens. I don’t consider a day to have been lived if it isn’t filled with leafy greens, especially a leafy green that contains high amounts of Vitamin C, meaning the iron is made incredibly easy for the body to absorb. So I thought, today I might celebrate the leafy green that I am most passionate about. 

 

 

 

Kale. What can’t you do? 

Did you know, when kale first became popular in the early 20th Century, it was as a decorative flower? There you were, kale, pretending you were just a weird looking growth, suited to nothing more than being plonked in a vase and making one’s house instagram-fabulous, long before instagram was even a flicker in somebody’s kale-deprived brain.

Imagine if, for years, we had been putting roses in vases without once asking ourselves “hey, do you think these pretty things might also be full of vitamins and nutrients? Do you think they might be the perfect iron absorption method, and also might be super tasty baked as chips, sprinkled with red wine vinegar, tamari and oregano?”

This would never have happened with roses, because everyone has been or seen a child who tasted a rose petal to see if it tastes as nice as it looks (for those tempted to play at home: it does not). As a society, we keep our roses purely ornamental, or occasionally as fun play things, because it’s very cute watching your cat pull individual petals off a rose and play a game of fetch with them***.

In USA during World War II, people began eating more kale because it was easy and cheap to grow, and provided a lot of nutrients to supplement rations. I’m not sure if war rations extended to a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, chopped cherry tomatoes and chives alongside the kale, tossed in a fry pan. I assume not. But, what we can deduce from this is that kale kept people iron-rich and basically stopped the tide of fascism.  You’re welcome, says 1940s kale. 

Here’s the thing I’m happy to admit, and the reason why I keep peppering (mmhmm) kale seasonings in every paragraph. Kale on its own isn’t particularly delicious. It suffers from the same misunderstanding that a lot of vegan food suffers from. How many times do people rag on tofu because it tastes boring without sauce and marination? Kale is similar. It’s like a piece of bread on its own or a slice of potato on its own. Nothing to write home about. 

This is because kale is a nutritional surfboard for flavours, rather than the flavour on its own. It allows you to access flavours in the way that a surfboard allows you to access the sea.

Let me break down the surfboard thing even further. In this analogy, the surfboard is kale, the ocean is a blend of garlic powder, onion powder, chilli flakes, apple cider vinegar and mushroom salt, and I guess the surfer is a preheated oven set on 180 Celcius cooked for 8 minutes. Bam, another recipe. You’re welcome.

Kale is a creative challenge. It’s a blank tapestry ready to weave into art. Maybe you want to chop it into a stew? Massage it with lemon and oil into a salad addition? Mix it up in a tomatoey pasta sauce? The world is your kale wonderland. You’ll find a swathe of kale recipes here.

Kale is also a signifier for so much more than a taste surfboard. Pop it into your cafe name, and you know you’ll be packed with influencers before you can get through three tongue twisters of “turmeric coconut latte light on the latte and inhibiting inflammation.”

Kale can be chewy (with the stem kept in) or soft (stem cut out). If you’re craving some solid hypnotic chewing to bring on the sort of creative trance that allows you to write close to 1,000 words on just one leafy green vegetable, you need some kale stems in your toolkit.

I suppose all of this is to say: kale is something to celebrate. It’s not something to begrudgingly throw in a smoothie because you’ve been told it is healthy. It’s a show-stopping addition to dinner in its own right. So, why not get some leafy greens in your spleens?

***must be a cat person to find it cute and not super bratty.