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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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Ask Not for Whom the Kale Tolls

The quest to stay healthy — ‘become healthy?’ ‘catch a faint fleeting whiff of healthy?’ — can lead a person to some very strange places.

Or rather, it can lead a person to some very familiar places, like the pantry, where that person may see some very strange things.

Like kale chips.

It happened to me at lunch today. I made myself a sandwich and moseyed over to the snack shelf for some potato chips. Only no potato chips were to be found there. We were entirely potato chipless.

Fine, I thought. I’ll have corn chips. We’re always stocked for Tostitos in this casa.

(As an aside, back when MegaTostitoCorp decided their most effective spokesperson would be some freakish Muppetized version of their own bag, they also introduced the slogan “Tostitos knows how to party“. Their senior director of marketing said ‘Big T’ was “returning to our roots”.

The horrors of a talking corn(chip)-hole and what sort of “partying” one would have to do in order to hallucinate such a monstrosity aside, there’s only one thing to say to that: If Tostitos had any real “roots” at all, they’d say they know how to fiesta.

“Occasionally, my wife will go out for milk and come back with some sort of cloudy white liquid squeezed out of a Himalayan yak tit.”

At the least. My Spanish isn’t good enough to fill in the whole sentence. And apparently, neither is the corn bag’s.)

I digress. The point? No Tostitos on the shelf. Carumba!

Still, I didn’t panic. We’ll sometimes wind up with some fairly “alternative” chips in the house. It’s the danger of living near a Trader Joe’s. Occasionally, my wife will go out for milk and come back with some sort of cloudy white liquid squeezed out of a Himalayan yak tit. It’s not her fault; that’s how they get you.

(It’s also how you swear off milkshakes for at least the next six months. But that’s another story.)

Usually, the bizarro chips aren’t all that bizarro, really. Blue potatoes, or maybe sweets. We’ve had some made from tomatoes and turnips and for all I know, rutabaga — because has anyone ever actually seen one of those things? I think it’s just a funny word some farmer made up a long time ago, and it stuck in the vernacular. Like “persimmon”, or “Nebraska”.

But we didn’t have any of those, either. Not that I recognized. Starting to worry, I reached a trembling hand into the dark recesses of the pantry and pulled out a bag of lightly salted confusion. Kale chips. Kale chips? Kale chips.

Now, I’ve had kale. I know kale exists, because it’s good for you, and so obviously it tastes like grass and sweaty feet. I remember my mother making kale when I was a kid — as a punishment for something bad I’d done, presumably. Though frankly, I don’t remember killing any hobos or committing treason against the state. So she was way out of line, clearly.

When we ate kale back then, we’d sprinkle (read: douse) it with vinegar. Think about that for a moment. Vinegar is pure acid, one of the strongest and most pungent things those of us who aren’t Anthony Bordain or the guy who knocked up Snooki are willing to put into our mouths. Even a whiff of the stuff will knock you out or wake you up, depending on which state you happen to not currently be in. And we — because I understand it’s a common practice — pour vinegar on kale to make it taste better?

I see. Well, why not just eat bits of newspaper dipped in turpentine, then? That seems approximately as pleasant as dunking these stringy green clumps of fail into a pool of acid, and calling it lunch. Jesus.

Of course, the dread kale leaves were not, exactly, what stared me down from the cheery front of the bag. Instead, they were chips. Kale chips. Kale chips, I told myself slowly, and it still couldn’t click. Ka-ale? Ch… ips?

Here’s the thing. I didn’t know you could ‘chip’ kale. What diabolical vinegar-soaked madman thought of this abomination, I don’t know — but I still don’t see how it even works. Potatoes, I get. You slice them, thin. And then you fry them or bake them or shove them into a kiln or volcano or whatever, because how the shit should I know how potato chips are actually made? Am I Frito freaking Lay over here? No. Am not.

But with potatoes, I get the gist. And turnips and yams and all the other roundish, solid bits of vegetation amenable to slicing. I can see a path to chipdom. I may not have the whole map, and I might wander off a cliff and I’ve probably already got poison ivy — but I see the path.

Then there’s corn. Corn’s kind of weird, now that I think about it. Because how would you slice those little niblets, exactly? You’d need a very steady hand and some tiny little tools, and all the culinary elves I know are busy giving us all coronary disease with their stupid one-side-chocolified cookies.

But corn has an out. You can mash corn up, and if you do it right you get a thick paste.

(If you do it wrong, you get creamed corn. At least, you must have done something wrong, if that’s what you’re getting. That’s my experience.

I swear I didn’t kill any hobos as a kid. None that I remember, anyway.)

Anyway, this corn paste — or masa; are you listening, gringo Tostito bag? — can be sheeted out and rolled and then made into all sorts of soft or crispy bits of deliciousness, including chips. So I see corn, too. The path is longer, yes. But there’s definitely a cornpath.

Which leaves kale. A big wrinkly mess of green. Slice it thin, and you’ve got what — kale slaw? That’s no good to anyone. Mash it into a paste with a little water, and… I don’t know. You could probably caulk with it. Or sell it to Olay as a rejuvenating facial scrub. Frighten children with it? Look, I don’t know. I just wouldn’t eat it, is all. Not even on a bet.

The chips — sorry, “chips” — on this bag looked friendly enough, if a little green around the edges. And the middle. And all over. But for the love of god, they’re made of kale. And I was all out of vinegar and turpentine and frankly, I don’t see the path. I’ve seen kale. And I’ve seen chips. And this innocent-looking little fancy bag can tell me that there’s a way from point A to point B — but I don’t see it. I’d sooner take flamenco lessons from that Tostitos sack of crap.

So I did the only thing I could: I put the kale chips back on the shelf, cursed our lack of reasonably-pathed chip vegetables, and ate something slightly less troubling with my sandwich — eighteen-month-old rice cakes.

Hey, they may not taste like much. And they were stale, probably — but really, how the hell could you tell? But at least they had a path. Rice to rice cake is simple — add water, shape together, bind with cardboard and pencil shavings. Boom. Rice cake. Sprinkle with bitter hungry tears to taste.

Oh, and also? Be glad they’re not kale. Yeeks.

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