a powerhouse

by breannruthwhite

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When I re-stock our groceries every two weeks, I have my list clenched between my thumb and index fingers, my phone out to calculate costs (because you don’t want to know the truth about my mental math abilities), and my wild animal sliding back and forth in the cart’s seat, pointing at all of the round, ball-resembling objects proclaiming “baah!” and wagging his index finger accusingly at the other shoppers chanting “no, no, no!”.

We don’t buy lavish or random things because we live by a rather tight budget. And it works really well for us.

We always keep beans, a kind of grain, vegetable or chicken broth, canned tomatoes, rolled or steel-cut oats and peanut butter of stock. We buy the kiddo’s favorite cheese for snacks, tortillas, milk and eggs. Yogurt, sweet potatoes, whatever onion is cheapest and garlic. Applesauce, our standard flours, yeast, honey and maple syrup. I’ll grab whatever fruit is one sale, though blueberries and grapes are easiest. Sometimes I buy chicken hind-quarters. Usually we have to re-stock on cooking oils and butter. On a good day, I get Annie’s Graham bunnies as road food.

We have our standard greens to live by too: broccoli (usually frozen for our purposes) or cauliflower, whichever is cheaper that week. We usually get carrots, cabbage, and frozen peas. And our staple dark green: spinach… since my husband really does not like Kale.

Except sometimes this all gets very boring. And though I am a meal planner who likes to have her ducks in a row when it comes to food and money (since the two very much go hand-in-hand), I also sometimes get so sick of routine and spinach that I would sooner chuck it out the window before adding it to my soup, eggs or rice ever again. I would sooner set a field of spinach on fire. Line it along a kitty litter box. Use it as toilet paper for my toddler’s (I mean, my wild animal’s) number two’s!

And there I was at the grocery store the other evening, shopping by my lonesome. I tell you, for me, there has never been a more invigorating experience. My husband was home with the animal, and I was getting out and indulging myself in what odd activities keep me feeling sane and in control … sorting through my grocery list, analyzing prices and getting what food we needed without worrying about my son throwing himself onto the Gouda samples. I even organized the items in my cart just the way I thought they should be organized without a finger piercing the wrappers and jousting grapes.

And then I saw it, Chinese cabbage, and I remembered reading about it a few weeks back. I had often stopped and stared at its sensual shape and soft, dark leaves. And just like that, I threw it the cart (well.. I actually stacked it neatly in the veggie corner of the cart. But that’s beside the point, isn’t it?).

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Like its trendy, dark-leafed counterparts, Chinese cabbage, or bok choy as it is more commonly known, is a powerhouse of nutrition. It contains large amounts of Vitamin C, A and K. Vitamin C (I always think of Tang chimpanzees…) is an essential nutrient that protects the immune system. It is also believed to prevent prenatal problems, cardiovascular disease and even skin wrinkling. Vitamin A is essential to a functioning immune system, and Vitamin K for building strong bones and preventing heart disease.

Bok choy is also a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese and iron.

Because bok choy is mostly comprised of water, it’s important you make use of it roughly 2-3 days after you purchase it, before the head becomes wilty. The high water content also makes it lower in calories than spinach or kale.

Bok choy is light and slightly spicy in flavor. It is makes a delicious addition to stir fry and holds up particularly well in soup. Due to the gloomy and gusty weather as of late, we decided to make chicken soup with a small loaf of cornbread a few nights ago. I added a few heads of diced bok choy several minutes before the soup was done cooking. The finished product was pleasantly warm and mildly spicy. And though my wild animal kept the chicken to himself and fed the bok choy bits to me, I think that deep down he appreciated my grocey-shopping spontaneity.

Chicken Soup with Bok Choy

Yield: 2 as main dish, 4 as side

• 4 cups chicken broth
• 2 cups water
• 2 ribs celery, diced
• 1 large yellow onion, diced
• 4 cloves garlic
• 1 tsp ginger, peeled and diced
• 1 lb. skinless chicken , I used breast**
• 3 heads bok choy, diced
• 1 ½ tsp soy sauce
• Squeeze lime juice
• Sea salt

Combine broth, water, celery, onion, garlic, and ginger in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken, and cook at a bare simmer until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat reaches 160 degrees, about 13 minutes. Remove chicken from broth. When cool enough to handle, tear or cut into pieces. Set aside.

Meanwhile, add bok choy to broth. Simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and lime juice. Season with salt and add chicken pieces. Serve.

Notes:
*Vegetarians can withhold the meat and replace it with mushrooms, egg noodles, carrots and so on…
*You could also use chicken thigh, I imagine, and strip it from the bone.

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