kale and cherry salad with walnuts

Let’s pretend that I didn’t go on a three month hiatus to finish my dissertation/get a job/plan a wedding and get back to business, shall we? Good. Because I’m going to talk about a very important topic today: BALANCE. Some of you may remember this term from elementary school, when you learned that it is very difficult to balance on a soccer ball while wearing cotton socks. You may have only recently been re-exposed to the concept when someone – say, Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her recent article for the Atlantic – made mention of that old chestnut, “work-life balance,” which, as I think about it, is kind of a grown-up version of the soccer ball thing. All this is to say that balance has a habit of popping up in extremely annoying ways from time to time, and here it is again, in the form of what I would like to call “Food-Life balance.”

I probably don’t need to explain Food-Life balance to you. You know all about what happens when Life starts driving, pushing Food into the passenger seat and refusing to let it navigate. “Ooh! Mini soy ice cream sandwiches!” squeals Life, veering into the Fresh & Easy parking lot at 9:56 at night, and while Food would like to explain to Life that mini soy ice cream sandwiches are not an acceptable substitute for dinner, or even an acceptable way to keep one’s jaws busy for a minute and a half, Food tends to keep to itself when faced with Life’s bizarre demands and improbable logic. Under such circumstances, I’ve noticed, Food prefers to pull its fedora over its face and catch a snooze, thinking to itself, well, Life will probably come a-calling when it finally realizes why it can’t sleep, wake up, or get rid of that headache.

In April, when I let Life take over, I made a few notable sacrifices. The first was yoga, the second was Food, and the third was household cleanliness. All of these in tandem, as it turns out, add up to severely impaired health, not to mention a near total loss of sanity. And as I attempt to regain balance, I have found myself drawn to the extremes of the food pyramid: one day all I want is peanut butter and chocolate, while the next I’m jonesing for fresh vegetables and herbal tea. It’s a little like trying to balance on a soccer ball in stocking feet, overcompensating in one direction with the hips while the elbows jut back in the opposite direction – and all of this, as you might imagine, can only end in shoulder dislocation and wounded pride.

So, laying supine and feeling very much like a felled beast, I venture cautiously into balance:

Food, I don’t mean to bother you during your nap. I know I have neglected you for months and you probably don’t care to hear from me right now. But I feel awful. I have almost completely forgotten the best oven temperature for baked salmon, or how to preserve a yolk while cracking an egg. My friends don’t want to come over for dinner anymore. Help me, Food. Please help me be myself again.

And Food, peeking out from under its fedora, has one word for me: salad.

Kale and Cherry Salad with Walnuts
(Serves 2-3)

Ingredients:
-2-3 cups of kale, chopped and washed thoroughly
-1/2 cup of cherries, pitted and quartered
-1/2 cup walnuts
-1/4 cup olive oil
-1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (agave syrup with a squeeze of lime juice also works)
-salt and pepper to taste

Put the kale in a large mixing bowl and pour in the olive oil. Make sure your hands are clean, because you are about to massage the leaves. Imagine the kale had a long day at work, and really get in there with your fingers. Press down hard, squeezing the kale firmly until it starts to soften – this takes about 3-5 minutes. When they’re ready, the leaves should only be slightly firmer than they are when they’re cooked.

Now add your pomegranate molasses, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Toss in the cherries and the walnuts and mix again. Behold a beautiful exercise in balance: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, rendered in a rainbow of colors. By the time you actually wolf this down – and you will – Food may even be climbing back into the driver’s seat, fully awake and ready to take you back to all your favorite spots, not to mention the ones you’ve been aching to visit for, well, about three months.

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