This time last year, I was afflicted with the sudden fit of self-improvement mania that arrives like clockwork annually. I made all sorts of lofty, thigh gap-centric goals and ordered a new yoga mat and a workout DVD from Tracy Anderson, Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal trainer.When it showed up in my mailbox a few days later, I was pleased that it had arrived in such a timely fashion. I then stowed it away in some shadowy recess for safe keeping and never touched it again.
Until a few days ago, when I thought to myself, “I should really get into shape. Crop tops are going to be huge this year.” So I dug out the DVD and briefly contemplated the idea of removing it from its protective cellophane wrapper, but then I took in Tracy’s crazy eyes, yellow hair, and orange skin and had myself a good laugh, tucking the disc back to the dark corner from whence it came, to be abandoned again until next summer, when I would surely be doomed to relive this vicious cycle anew.
My boyfriend Romeo has been a pretty conscientious eater and vegetarian for most of his life. He’s the kind of person who will wake up (voluntarily!) at 5:30 a.m. every Saturday morning to put on spandex and go on 70 mile bike rides with other like-minded dudes (they exist!), for three and a half hours, no big deal. After the ride he’ll come home and prepare himself a healthy breakfast of steel-cut oats and some kind of unsweetened green smoothie. About an hour or so later I will stumble out of bed, bleary-eyed and incapable of behaving like a human being until I have consumed my decaf coffee and exhausted all of my lives in Candy Crush. How he ended up with such a sloth like me as a partner, I don’t know. But every Bey has her Jay, and in this relationship metaphor I am the paunchy, Timbs-clad basketball-fan to his Yoncé.
Lately, even though he’s not vegan, Romeo’s been playing this vegan lifestyle podcast around the house, except they have cleverly rebranded themselves as “plant-based,” which sounds so pleasant and reasonable, without all the negative baggage associated with the V-Word. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes, until one particular interview with John Joseph, the lead singer of the Cro-Mags who was promoting his cookbook, the hilariously titled Meat is For Pussies (A how-to guide for dudes who want to get fit, kick ass and take names). Joseph recounted the story of a homeless fan that went plant-based and turned his life around, got himself a job, a lady, an apartment, and cleared up his myriad health problems. But more importantly, he grew a six-pack. Six-pack? I still had crop tops on the brain. So I thought to myself, ok, I’ll try anything once.
We’ve been plant-based during the week and it’s been a surprisingly easy transition. I have to confess, though, on the weekends I’ll abandon Romeo to his grains and bitter herbs and cook a pork shoulder in the oven with caramel, coconut juice, and shallots, low and slow for a few hours until it is fork tender, for the best carnitas you’ll ever have. I’ll eat that pulled pork in a taco with a crunchy bean sprout and chives slaw and a dash of Sriracha. If that dish sounds off the chain, that’s because it is.*
But I digress. Let me direct your attention back to the weekdays when I am a smug plant-based eater. Because of this new lifestyle we’ve been consuming vast quantities of kale, mostly lightly steamed, because I can’t be bothered to sit there and massage my greens for twenty minutes. Hey, that Candy Crush ain’t gonna play itself. Steamed kale is fine but it gets boring after a while, so I’ve been experimenting with different ways to make it more palatable. My favorite method of late is to braise it in fragrant garlic and lemongrass-infused coconut milk. The slight bitterness of the kale is a nice counterpoint to the rich, round, fatty-ness of the coconut milk, and as it cooks the leaves become tender, almost sweet. I like to serve it with brown jasmine rice, and if you throw a few chickpeas on the plate, you’ll have yourself a healthy, satisfying, complete meal. All that virtue will be enough to get you through to the weekend when you can go HAM on some carnitas tacos.
*Recipe to come!
KALE BRAISED IN COCONUT MILK
Makes 2 servings
1 shallot, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
2 Tbsp. lemongrass, minced (remove the tough outer stalks and base)
1 Tbsp. sambal oelek
12 oz. lacinato kale, center stems removed and chopped into ribbons
1 Tbsp. fish sauce + 1 Tbsp. soy sauce (Okay, I cheated here! I am terrible at being vegan! To make this dish vegan, swap out the fish sauce with 1 Tbsp. soy sauce instead.)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. sugar