Beet & Kale Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

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Hello dear ones and happy beautiful, cloudy, mystical October to you! 

I have been absolutely adoring this fall and the way it keeps oscillating between beautiful sunny seventies and moody gray days that are a bit cooler. I’ve worn heavy sweaters and shorts, cozied up next to bonfires and sweated while hiking, sipped warm soup and devoured the last of the tomatoes: all of which make me very happy. I don’t think these conditions are altogether favorable for humanity but I’m enjoying them regardless. I hope you have been too! 

Another thing I’ve been enjoying quite a bit is the sweet little girl I’ve been spending my days with. We’re 12 weeks in and motherhood is still an absolute TREAT. Not that we haven’t endured our hard moments. We absolutely have. And it’s been exactly the kind of hard moments I’ve been waiting the last six years for. So somehow, even when I mind them, I don’t mind them at all. 

In the past three months, okay, the entire past year, I have been thinking a lot about this journey towards motherhood: what it looked like for us and how it really affected me. And finally I feel ready to share my story on a deeper level.

I don’t know if this is the right space to share these thoughts about infertility and what I went through (therapy is probably the better place) but for better or worse this blog has been the place I share the words that just need to get out and the place I’ve shared my life and my story for the past seven years. And right now it feels right to share the darkness that led to the goodness I now have in my life. 

I should also stop here to provide a small disclaimer for those still dealing with infertility. As someone who struggled to conceive for five years, I know how painful it can be to read other women’s stories about finally being able to have children when you yourself have not. If that is you right now, please let this serve as a warning that these words may not serve you. Stop right here and skip down to the recipe. 

As many of you know, I’ve dreamed of being a mother for a very long time. 

I’ve longed and I’ve worked and I’ve hoped and I’ve prayed and I’ve wondered and I’ve cried and I’ve worried and I’ve pined for a very long time. And I feel so lucky, so blessed that the journey of the last five years, the journey that tried to shatter me and break me, ended this way: with a sweet little babe who (somehow) makes every day easier even when she makes them harder and who makes everything flow better even when she steals every ounce of structure I still try to command into my day. Life with this sweet little thing is truly perfect and I’m grateful for her in a way words could never express. Trust me, I’ve tried. 

And with everything finally as I dreamed it could be, I feel as if I can release how deeply unhappy I was for the past many, many years. I can accept it, honor it’s place in my life, and let it go. 

I know I’ve shared bits and pieces of our infertility struggles before. That was always important to me. I never wanted to suffer in silence, I hoped to help other women who were also suffering, and I believed sharing to be cathartic. Most of the time it was. What I didn’t know is that those words I shared were still on the surface, the wells of pain underneath too hard for even me to comprehend as it ravaged my mind and body, stealing my sleep and making my heart race in a way that still scares me.

The five years before falling pregnant with Lilly were a rollercoaster of hope and hopelessness, a space where nothing made sense, a life that always felt a little artificial, a little less than because the one thing I knew would make it complete just wasn’t happening. 

I yearned to be a mother. Every part of me was ready. I craved nurturing someone other than myself. I wanted a rhythm that wasn’t my own. I welcomed the hard parts of motherhood that all our friends warned us about. I dreamed of the chaos. But it just wouldn’t happen. Again and again and again, it didn’t happen. 

So, I kept filling my life with one more thing and one more thing and one more thing, hoping something would finally fill the void. Nothing did, of course. I searched endlessly for answers to what career, what life mission, what relationship, what achievement would make me feel good. And the answer, ultimately, was all of them for a minute and none of them for any duration of time. 

In contemplative moments in winter when I really allowed myself to feel the pain, I’d break down in tears and say to my Carrot: I’m sorry that I question everything all the time. I don’t know what will make me feel good. To which he would always say: Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out. And it will happen for us. He would trust when my heart couldn’t. And that would get me through until the next activity, the next project, the next plan or goal or distraction. But underneath, I still felt a kind of lost I could never explain to anyone else. 

And that kind of lost made me doubt everything about myself, about what could or should make me happy, about every decision I’d ever made. I was never not thinking. I was never turning my brain off because I thought, somehow, I could solve this. Every major decision of the last five years had something to do with getting pregnant.  

In the back of my mind, there was always a strategy involving more peace and less stress, more money for potential rounds of IVF, more security so I could feel safe and stable, more nutrition so my body could function “correctly”, more therapy so our marriage could be good enough to make a child, more time in nature, more yoga, more acupuncture, more chiropractic appointments, more podcasts, more knowledge, less work, less toxic products, the list was never ending. 

I always had to have a new angle, a new strategy. All our tests kept telling us nothing was broken — so my brain kept working day and night to figure out what was. Everything was on the table. Literally everything.

And that permanent uncertainty became a permanent worry that became a permanent anxiety that became insomnia and pulled me out of conversations. When I look back honestly, I realize I wasn’t in my body for at least two of the last five years. It was the most heart-wrenching, mindfuck of a journey. That’s the only way I can explain it. 

Anyway, somewhere along the way something changed, and I’ll never know exactly what, but somehow, some way we were able to get pregnant and see that pregnancy to the end and meet our sweet Lillyan. I think it has something to do with surrendering. Maybe there’s another blog post there. But regardless, I am now a mother, and I’ve never been more content. 

I feel a stability and solid ground underneath me that I’ve craved for half a decade, maybe longer. Every moment with Lilly feels 100 times easier than life was without her. Sure, there’s less sleep, less ability to focus on anything for any amount of time, and way more unpredictability, but there’s also no bottomless uncertainty to get lost in or deep, confusing pain to swallow me up.

I’m just grateful. It’s all I feel, much of the time. I am grateful this finally happened for us and I’m grateful for this space and the words I get to share here. And instead of searching for any words that connect this journey with food, let’s just eat. 

-Your Leek

BEET & KALE SALAD WITH MAPLE BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

The longer we farm and the longer I cook with our produce, the more I realize that every vegetable is miraculous (and easier to use) than I had previously thought. In a lot of ways, this salad represents that to me. I used to believe beets, kale, and fennel were hard vegetables to cook with, their flavors too strong and too bold to know what to do with. Now they are three of my favorite items we grow. I love that about this salad. It reminds me how far I have come as a lover of fresh produce and a successful home cook.

I also love this salad because it holds many of my (growing) strong opinions about vegetables in one gorgeous bowl: first, that one doesn’t actually need to peel beets to eat them; second, that kale makes a wonderful salad green; and third, that fennel is delicious and can add a subtle complexity to pretty much any meal you’re making.

The addition of the sweet & salty pepitas will add a step and an extra dirty pan so if you’re in a hurry, feel free to skip that altogether or skip it and substitute in some quickly toasted nuts. The scallions and fennel can also be nixed if you don’t have any on hand: a thinly sliced red onion or shallot would make a fine substitution. I hope you enjoy this lovely fall salad and that it feels as simple, decadent and perfect for you as it did for me.

Makes 2 dinner-sized salads or 4 side salads
Takes 1 hour

3 large beets (a combination of colors is lovely if you have it), quartered and sliced (no need to peel)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch lacinato kale
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 ounces crumbled feta or goat cheese

Sweet & Salty Pepitas, optional
1 cup pepitas (also called raw pumpkins seeds)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
Pinch black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss beets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes, removing from oven once or twice to toss and rotate beets for even cooking.
  3. If making sweet & salty pepitas, place them in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Toast over medium high heat until they start to pop and smell fragrant. Stir frequently to keep them from burning. Once about half the pepitas look puffed, remove to a parchment lined-baking sheet.
  4. Return your large skillet to the burner, but turn off the heat. Add in sugar and allow to melt without touching it. Shake the pan if you need to distribute sugar evenly. When it turns golden (this should take just a couple minutes), pour the pepitas in along with the salt. Stir quickly with a silicone spatula. When all pepitas are coated in melted sugar, pour them back onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Allow to cool and then break up the clumps with your hands.
  5. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a half pint jar (or small bowl). Shake (or whisk) to combine.
  6. In a large bowl, combine kale, scallions and fennel. Toss with balsamic vinegar and let sit while the beets finish roasting.
  7. Once beets are done, allow to cool for 5-10 minutes and then add to the salad along with feta or goat cheese and half the vinaigrette. Toss to combine.
  8. Serve salad with sweet & salty pepita clusters on top and additional dressing on the side, to taste.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jude R says:

    What an amazing, agonizing, honest, beautiful, enduring journey of strength you shared to complete your family. God bless you, Kyle, Lillyan, Kimber, Koya, Lucas & Koya.

    The salad looks absolutely mouthwatering….

    On Sun, Oct 24, 2021, 9:46 AM The Leek & The Carrot wrote:

    > Leek posted: ” Hello dear ones and happy beautiful, cloudy, mystical > October to you! I have been absolutely adoring this fall and the way it > keeps oscillating between beautiful sunny seventies and moody gray days > that are a bit cooler. I’ve worn heavy sweaters” >

    Like

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