If 20 years ago, when I was a student at Pacific Union College in Angwin, Calif., you had told me that the town would become my permanent home, and that my bosses, professors and classmates would become my colleagues, laughter would have erupted.
But God had a plan for me, and it has been the biggest blessing to live and work in this college and church town called Angwin. Many of my colleagues have children and live within a one-mile radius of me, making play dates with the kids frequent and convenient.
On Sabbath afternoons, it isn’t uncommon for one of my friends to call an impromptu potluck with several families. This usually involves foraging in our respective gardens and bringing back a feast of healthful, delicious goodness. A sample garden menu would include zucchini fritters, roasted beets, steamed haricot verts (French green beans), yellow squash casserole, salad and more.
Someone’s backyard becomes a playground for a half-dozen preschool and elementary-aged children. The adults, thankful to have an outlet for their kids to release their energy, relax on the back deck with a glass of ice water or lemonade.
Lunch starts and, for the most part, the kids eat their food. Plain pasta is close by as a stand-in. Dessert involves a freshly baked pie with whatever came off the tree or bush that day: peaches, plums or blackberries.
The majority of our extended families live miles away, so we’ve become an “Angwin family” — a blend of kids, parents and grandparents who love this community and help each other with parenting support, babysitting and even home improvement projects.
One particular Sabbath afternoon, I tried a friend’s recipe that changed the way I saw kale: the rough and tough plant that is all the rage in health magazines. Previously, kale had been something I just put in my soups. This time, it was paired with fresh mango and dressed simply, with lemon, salt, pepper, honey and olive oil.
I was overwhelmed with excitement. “You have got to try this!” I told the other guests. Slowly the bowl made its way around the group, with everyone taking “just one bite.” Their reactions were similar to mine. “Amazing!” said one. “Ridiculously good!” said another. “This should be in a restaurant,” chimed in a third. It wasn’t just me — this was really, really special. By the time the potluck actually started, hardly a tangle of kale or a glint of mango remained.
I tried to figure out what made it so special. Was it the massage of lemon juice and olive oil? Using baby kale (available at Costco)?
The following week I made the salad with regular kale and it was just as delicious, though I have to admit that I am partial to using baby kale for its delicate texture. But it is perfect on a warm summer afternoon, enjoyed with good friends who have become like family.
I quickly took a picture of my feast and sent it to my relatives along with the recipe. I’m sure they wondered why I was so insistent on them making this salad. The fresh mango, a treat formerly confined to tropical locations but available in most grocery stores today, also helps make this recipe especially good.
Michelle Konn Rai is an assistant professor and chair of the communication department at Pacific Union College in Angwin, Calif. She enjoys discovering new food items at potlucks and spending time with her husband David (an avid gardener) and their two children, Sophie and Joshua.
Photo credit: Michelle Rai
This week’s recipe for Massaged Kale Salad was adapted slightly by Angwin resident Sue Turner from Food Network’s recipe here, by Aarti Sequeira, featured on “Aarti Party.”
Massaged Kale Salad
Total prep time: 20 min.
1 bunch kale (baby kale or black kale is especially good), stalks removed and discarded, leaves thinly sliced
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 teaspoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
1 mango, diced small (about 1 cup)
Small handful toasted pine nuts, about 2 rounded tablespoons
1. In large serving bowl, add the kale, half of the lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and a little kosher salt. Massage until the kale starts to soften and wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside while you make the dressing.
2. In a small bowl, whisk remaining lemon juice with the honey and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Stream in the ¼ cup oil while whisking until a dressing forms, and you like how it tastes.
3. Pour the dressing over the kale, and add the mango and pine nuts. Toss and serve.