Mara’s Kitchen #12, or The Stinging Smoothie

by Mara

I make really good chocolate chip cookies. After years of trying different recipes, I have finally found one that yields delicious, chewy cookies just like my mom used to make. My cupcakes aren’t bad, either, and I’ve been teaching myself how to make gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan baked treats for my friends with dietary restrictions and my friends who like to follow fads and complain. Baking calms me down when I’m nervous and makes my friends happy, so I love it.

I’m a good baker, but I am a terrible cook. When I was a nanny, the mom had to tell me to stick to pre-packaged afterschool snacks because I couldn’t make popcorn without setting off the smoke alarm.  I’ve heard it’s a left-brain/right-brain 1 kind of thing: people who like cooking like playing it by ear and improvising, while people who like baking tend to be goal-oriented and want to know exactly what their outcome will be. Cooking is an art, but baking is a science, and I’m probably the most scientifically-minded person to graduate with a degree in Drama from NYU.

Living in New York means lots of take-out, but I have been consciously trying to start making food at home. My crock pot has been a blessing (as has this this cookbook), but I can’t remember life before my food processor. Even when I don’t feel like cooking (which is most of the time), I end up using it at least once a week for smoothies. This past Saturday, after a long day at Publicolor, a smoothie was all wanted. There are several tiny “organic” stores selling juices and blended drinks, but since I’ve been trying to stick to my “at least one new crock pot recipe a week” routine, I decided to buy food for the week and make one at home. 

Now, I was really tired. All day I’d climbed up and down three flights of stairs, and I’d even nodded off on the train ride home. When I got to the produce section, I stood there for several minutes before realizing they did not have spinach. It’s a very small store, but this was unusual and disappointing. Smoothies are one of the only ways I get my vegetables. They did seem to have other greens, though, so I grabbed the first bunch I saw in the section labelled “kale” and put it in my basket. Easy enough. I got some more food for me (and my cats), paid, and left.

Once I got home I got out the food processor and started making one of my favorite smoothies: it has kale, apple, apple juice, a little cinnamon, and tastes like chunky applesauce. Something seemed wrong right away, though, because instead of the usual bright green, the mixture was more of a nasty puce color. The greens had seemed to be yellowing, but I’d made smoothies with yellowing kale before and been fine. The consistency seemed off, too. But it was a smoothie, and I figured there wasn’t any way I could have screwed up a smoothie.

Then I took a sip.

My mouth immediately started to burn. The smoothie tasted the way apple cider vinegar smells, like it’s just singed your nose hairs. Usually the apple masked the taste of kale, but this time there was another strong flavor, something painfully overpowering. It stung my throat as it went down, and tears came to my eyes. How could it hurt to drink a smoothie? What had I done wrong? Too much cinnamon? It had to be. I’d made this hundreds of times, and it was the same every time. “Maybe it’s not that bad,” I thought, and took a larger gulp. No, it was that bad. For some reason, I was reminded of Futurama’s Robot Hell song. Maybe because drinking it felt like a punishment. 2

Whatever it was, it was done now. I dumped what was left in my glass and the food processor (i.e., most of it) down the sink and started up a new batch. This time, I’d pay careful attention to the ratio of cinnamon and apples. I reached into the fridge to get more greens, and that’s when I saw the problem.

 

Not kale.

 

I had not made a kale smoothie, I had made a mustard smoothie. It’s not that I don’t like mustard (though I’m a complete wimp when it comes to anything remotely spicy, the honey mustard at Cosi has made me cry) but it’s not something I want in large doses, and not anything  anyone would want to drink. There’s a time and a place for mustard. Even the Mad Hatter knew that! 3

On the bright side, I unintentionally consumed some mustard greens, which are even healthier than kale. And I finally have a cooking experience that tops the time I was sixteen and put French Vanilla non-dairy creamer in macaroni and cheese because we were out of milk. At some point, though, I’d like to have positive cooking experiences.

Now I just need to find a foolproof crock pot recipe that uses mustard greens.

Notes:

  1. I’ve also heard the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy is a load of crap, but it’s still a fitting metaphor.
  2. Maybe just because it’s a great song.
  3. Am I the only person who always felt sorry for the White Rabbit? They made him cry! He loved that watch, and they broke it! And it was an Unbirthday present!