Of the Earth: Hospital haute cuisine and dreams of local greens


For the Recorder
Published: 3/6/2018 6:26:39 PM

On the second day following my surgery, I awoke with “Little House I Used to Live In” from Frank Zappa’s Burnt Weenie Sandwich album screaming in my earbuds. Next to my bed was a covered plate with a three-egg cheese omelet, two slices of bacon, two slices of white toast (with little butter packets that I can never open), hot coffee and about three ounces of grape juice. I don’t remember ordering either the Zappa or the Great American Breakfast. Nor will I take responsibility for the endless closed-caption episode of “Revenge Body” on the TV.

What does this have to do with “Of the Earth?” Plenty.

Readers may remember my mentioning last week that I would be out of commission for a few days. And so it was that I found myself at New England Baptist Hospital (NEBH) in Boston, a place with an unsurpassed reputation for orthopedic surgery, catering to the likes of the Boston Celtics. Let me say right at top that every aspect of my care at NEBH was superb, a combination of skill and compassion for which will always be grateful.

But the food. The food...

The breakfast in my first highly-medicated dream looked like this: sliced egg on a bed of baby arugula, avocado and chopped young asparagus in a light vinaigrette, and wedges of rye toasted with sweet butter. Optimistic, full of the fragrance of spring, recovery and healing.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually relished the truck-stop breakfast that actually appeared that first morning, although I couldn’t eat much. It was comforting — in a truck-stop kind of way.

By noon, both my head and nausea had begun to clear, and when the nutritionist called for my lunch order, I was getting the hang of the menu. I jumped headlong into the cheeseburger. “French fries?” she asked. Sure. With a Coke. Pickle? Yup. “What for dessert?”

Dessert, for lunch? Never mind, I’ll take the apple pie. Yes, of course, à la mode. The burger turned out to be of that wonderful once-grilled, twice-steamed-on-white-roll consistency that I remember from college. Not a green in sight. This was comfort food.

Come day three, I think I was hitting the toxic range for comfort food levels in my blood and I was getting edgy. Breakfast had been French toast and sausage; lunch, a chicken and mayo sandwich with fries, slaw and a brownie. Dinner would be pot roast and some kind of pasta in cream sauce, still without a hint of a green or fresh vegetable.

Finally, on day four, we pulled into Greenfield in a light rain with yet another new hip. Already our blessed neighbors had arranged for us to receive glorious vegetarian lasagna, a chicken soup with barley bread and the finest kind of macaroni and cheese. Everything tasted fresh and wholesome, and was served without earbuds or Khloe Kardashian.

And while I don’t regret my NEBH post-surgical binge, I find myself wondering why, with the Copley Market just down the street, there isn’t a a bit of fresh local fare from Atlas Farm and others on the hospital menu?

All I know is that I am very happy to be a locavore at home, quietly humming Zappa’s “Call Any Vegetable.”

The Cutting Board

In contrast to the lack of greens I saw at NEBH, here is the easiest recipe for kale chips.

Kale Chips


One bunch kale

1-2 T avocado oil

Kosher salt

Edible Brewer’s yeast, grated parmesan cheese or spices like cumin, chili powder or toasted sesame seeds

Wash, dry, de-stem and tear the kale into bite-sized pieces. Put the leaves into a bowl or plastic bag. One very large bunch of kale can make up to four trays of chips.

Add avocado oil and shake the bag or bowl to distribute the oil. Massage the curly parts of the leaves with your fingers to make sure they’re thoroughly coated with oil.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and dump out just enough leaves to cover the sheet without overlapping.

Sprinkle the leaves with kosher salt and edible Brewer’s yeast, grated parmesan cheese or any combination of spices such as cumin and chili powder or toasted sesame seeds.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15 to 17 minutes. The kale should be browned, but not burnt.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.

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