My Back Goes Out, but Guess What? I'm Still Hungry: A Time for Pumpkin Seeds

Upsdie Down Turtle

I have been extremely busy lately, preparing for the publication of my book, “Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families,” finding a new place to live, concentrating on renovating the apartment, and contending with old-school Brooklyn landlords whose idea of conflict resolution starts with a baseball bat and ends before a judge. Monday night it all caught up with me: I threw out my back.

I was relaxing with Santa Maria after dinner, and I suddenly felt as if a vise had been tightened around my lower spine. Soon, standing upright was out of the question, and shortly after that, moving at all was nearly impossible.

This was the third time in my life on the lumbar-pain merry-go-round, and fortunately, Santa Maria was there to hand me a hot-water bottle. The last time my back went out, I was alone in the house—just imagine how long it took me to fill a hot-water bottle; it felt like decades.

The first time was the worst. One Sunday evening about four years ago, I was stretched out on the floor, taking it easy after a casual dinner at a friend’s house. Suddenly, I couldn’t move. Seized with pain, I rolled over on my back and I was as stuck as upside-down tortoise on the hot asphalt of a mountain highway in August.

This time, it hasn’t been as bad. I’m fairly mobile and I hope that like the other times, the pain will go away within a few days. It did mean, however, that I wasn’t able to go out last night with Santa Maria as I had planned. I went home instead, and I needed to figure out what to eat for dinner.

Over the weekend, before I hurt my back, I made one of old favorites, a green-olive Moroccan beef tagine (I promise to share the recipe for it shortly), and there was some of it leftover. There was a problem, though. Most of the meat had been picked out of the dish, and all that remained was the sauce of tomatoes, potatoes, shallots, cinnamon, and other spices. It was very tasty, but it lacked protein.

Not being in a position to cook anything, I looked through the cupboards for something easy to eat with the tagine. I found a bag of pumpkin seeds, the perfect supplement for last night’s dinner, and a good snack for anytime. The seeds are high in protein, full of zinc and other minerals, and reportedly contain compounds that take care of the prostate. Keeping that healthy is even more important that protecting my back.

The Truth About Kale Chips

Given that I have recently written about wild boar stew and sage-and-apple pork roast, I think I can produce one more post about kale chips without this site turning into a kale ghetto. Shortly, I will share my weekend adventures in making flan, but first I have a confession to make.

I never liked the New York Naturals Kale Chips that were Santa Maria's gateway drug to the vegetable, and I wasn't really all that fond of her home-cooked version that she wrote about yesterday. I didn't see this as consequential. An old friend once said that for a couple to be happy, its members should have "sympathetic neuroses," and I think embracing the foibles of one's spouse is the foundation of a good marriage.

It's hard to blame Santa Maria for her kale addiction. I enabled it with the Fly Sky High Kale Salad, which her father said was great because he didn't taste the kale. I wouldn't go that far, but something about toasted pine nuts is incredibly mouth watering. And I'm proud of her for figuring out a way to make her own kale chips.

Kale is an amazing vegetable. It has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years. It grows in almost any kind of weather, and becomes sweeter after a frost. In some regions, folks leave the vegetable in the garden through the winter and pick the frozen leaves to eat as needed. It is rich in vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium, and iron.

Last night, Santa Maria roasted up yet another batch of her kale chips. Because we were out of Parmesan cheese, she made them with nothing more than salt and lime juice, which leads me to another confession: These I liked, a lot. I would even call them addictive.

Super Simple, Super Addictive Kale Chips

  • 1 head kale, leaves washed and dried; center stalk removed
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil, or from a spritzer
  • 1/2 lime, juiced, or to taste
  • salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 225 degrees.

Lay the kale out on parchment paper on baking sheets, and spritz with olive oil, sprinkle with lime juice, and dust with salt (if you don't have a spritzer, mix oil and kale in a bowl).

Bake in the oven about 20 minutes, or until the leaves are crisp. This may take longer. Be patient.

Doubling Down: Santa Maria Strikes it Rich with a Kale Chip Recipe

On Sunday afternoon, while I was resting after making a pot of Bolognese and a batch of  black beans, Santa Maria slipped into the kitchen to experiment with kale chips. Here is her report:

I love, love LOVE the Fly Sky High Kale Salad, but alas, the kids don't. Sometimes, Nina will have a bit, but not much more. Pinta, won't even try it.

Because our big girl, Nina, can't eat nuts, I was dismayed when she looked with such interest at my New York Naturals Kale Chips—they're yummy, but quite expensive at $6-9 for a small box -- and covered in pulverized cashews (and other stuff).

I looked around and made up my own recipe for kale chips, which she loves. Everyone gobbled them up!  And I am happy to have made a delicious healthy snack. It really takes just ten minutes.

The Deep Fragility of All Existence As Represented in a Vegetable Snack (a.k.a. Santa Maria's Kale Chips)

  • 1 head kale (washed, spun dry, with the stiff spines ripped out)
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup micro-grated parmesan cheese
  • olive oil (about a teaspoon) or from a spritzer

Preheat oven to 225 degrees

Place the leaves on a piece of parchment paper, spritz with olive oil, then sprinkle with lime juice, salt (not too much!), and cheese (or, if you don't have a spritzer for the olive oil, toss everything in a bowl, and then lay the leaves out on the parchment paper).

Bake about 15 minutes.

Note: Watch them carefully while they are baking. They don't taste great if the edges blacken, and all ovens are different. Other recipes I found on-line said to bake them at 350 degrees. I did, and I burned my first version. Other recipes often simply suggest just the olive oil and salt -- but I like them a bit more piquant.