A Friday morning in late January.
Last night we had what passes for a winter storm in central Texas. By the time I left work at 7:15, the day’s misty drizzle was meeting up with the 29-degree air and sticking to things such as sidewalks and windshields.
This kind of weather makes many central Texas drivers eager to get home, so they trot out their very best bad weather driving skills, like following your car from a distance of eight to twelve inches in an effort to convince you to hurry home as well. These tactics are ineffective with me, however, especially when I am in the far right, go slow, old lady, my dog is in the back of my car lane. Oddly enough, under such circumstances I experience a paradoxical reaction in which my driving speed steadily decreases until the infuriated hurrier passes me with very entertaining wheel-spinning and hand gestures.
The newspapers reported that over 150 citizens hurried their cars into other cars on the drive home yesterday. I saw the flashing lights of one pretty big pile-up last night as I exited the freeway, and was uncharitable enough to be relieved it hadn’t affected our commute. This morning we have the usual post-ice quota of abandoned vehicles on every sloped road and overpass in town. A millimeter of ice has quite an impact here; local schools and even the university are closed for the day.
I have nowhere to hurry to and nothing much to accomplish. I’ve been fighting with one sewing project for hours, and have only gotten as far as to be able to say that am perfectly okay with not being sufficiently skilled to tackle expensive slippery fabric. (Note to self: if must buy slippery fabric, make sure articles of clothing are pre-assembled.)
All week I’ve been having a mad craving for Molly Wizenberg’s cabbage soup (http://orangette.blogspot.com) but unexpectedly having the most ridiculous time procuring a cabbage. You wouldn’t think that would be the most challenging part of the recipe, but there you have it.
First I forgot to pick one up at Central Market last Friday. Remembered at checkout time, then said to myself, Oh, heck, why bother running back to the produce section? We’ll be grocery shopping again at some point over the weekend. I don’t really remember what happened after that. Sometimes the days just get away from me.
Then, when I left campus Wednesday afternoon I thought, I’ll run into Whole Foods and pick up a cabbage. As if just running into a store with a multi-level parking garage is a two-minute errand. Plus, I was running a little later than usual and traffic was starting to become a factor.
No problem, I thought. I’ll get over the bridge, stop at Trader Joe’s on Bee Cave Road, and grab a cabbage.
Our Trader Joe’s has an odd little produce section. I know perfectly well that many Trader Joe’s have odd little produce sections. Still, I figured they would have at least one type of cabbage IN JANUARY. I was prepared to cook with whatever kind they had, and not feel too sorry for myself if there were no Savoy cabbages to be had.
However, I was not prepared for a sizable mound of iceberg lettuces and not one single cabbage of any kind. It was one of those moments when the brain talks like a teenager: Are you kidding me right now?
Determined to be cheerful, resilient, and (I can’t think of another word for not being irritated. Maybe you can supply one.) oh, “a good sport,” I picked up a bag of Romaine, a hunk of Creamy Toscano, and a small ciabatta loaf. Came home and grilled the bread with garlic and olive oil, threw together a salad, hacked up some cheese and ate like the starving woman I was.
All the while craving cabbage soup. This is a rather odd position in which to find oneself; I have heard that many people do not care for cabbage at all.
I was facing a long workday Thursday, and if my vigilance slipped I would end up at Torchy’s Tacos scarfing down three thousand calories’ worth of tacos and/or chips & queso. So on Wednesday evening I made a pot of lentil soup. Not exactly what I wanted, but delicious enough in its own right to be an apt substitute for the mysteriously elusive cabbage soup.
All this is especially strange because I don’t even like soup.
Oh, I make the stuff once or twice a year when the weather hollers for it. Usually it’s a giant pot of minestrone to ladle into little plastic squares for my mother-in-law to have in the freezer. I’ll generally eat a bowl or two and never give soup another thought for the next twelve months. I never crave it, wouldn’t think to order it in a restaurant, and employ all the discipline I have at my disposal to pass on cellophane packets of grocery store ramen – “junk-food soup” as I call it. Now that I could eat twice a day every day. As it is, I only let myself indulge when I’m sick. Not sick so far this season, knock wood. No junk-food soup, no soup.
However, in a recent Orangette post, Molly featured “Approximately a Soup,” this recipe taking a Marcella Hazan cabbage plan and extending it with broth and arborio rice into a giant kettle of yummers with a couple of handfuls of grated parmesan to gild the lily. The first time I tried it, the splash of red wine vinegar into the sautéing cabbage and onion made me a little nervous. I felt like I was making sauerkraut and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
But you’re always supposed to follow a recipe exactly the first time through, and I did, and for once it paid not to get all unruly about following directions. I’ve been making this near-soup every week all month, carrying it around in glass bowls with plastic lids, and shaving parmesan atop steaming mounds of it noon and night.
I should mention that as I was cooking my cabbage yesterday I was also making Molly’s coconut macaroons with chocolate ganache, and for a few minutes there the simmering cabbage and the coconut-sugar-egg white mixture were both on the stove looking quite a lot like one another, all strands of melting tenderness. I’m sure I’m going to need to watch out for this sort of thing in the not too distant future, or I’ll be making coconut soup and cabbage cookies with chocolate capes.
Fortunately, all was well. Better than well. I would post you a photo of the first macaroon I tested, still faintly warm with an absolutely warm cloak of dark chocolate ganache; but I deleted my entire Photo Stream last night, so you’ll just have to trust me. Better yet, go make some and take your own pictures.
I’ve also been roasting lots of vegetables lately.
The method here is from Giada di Laurentis – not that you need much of a method, just a hot oven and 45 minutes or so. She advises a big bowl of winter veg (I’ve been using carrots, brussels sprouts, halved beets, and a cut up onion) into which you toss half a cup of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a generous dose of herbes de Provence. The herb mixture adds a marvel of interest: it seems like every bite of carrot has the tiniest hint of tarragon, which is so wonderful.
Although I don’t even like soup, I’ve been making lentil soup in the past few weeks as well. No recipe needed, just onion and garlic, celery and carrots, lentils and broth. I bring it to work and school, eat it for lunch and supper. Humph. I hear there are people who don’t even like lentils! Hard to imagine.
Who knows why you can go for years ignoring an entire category of food, then find yourself craving it, making it, and craving it again?
These are the things I do when there’s not much to do in the yard: I read, I sew, I cook. I like to get down on the floor with Travis and pretend to want his toy bone, then practice getting up from the floor without using my hands – this is what the AARP says you should do. Maybe I think that as long as I can get up from the floor with no hands, I won’t be as old as I am. Maybe hiking can help too.
It is, at the moment, Sunday night. “Downton Abbey” is coming up in a few minutes. I wanted to say that after the grueling winter we suffered this past Thursday and Friday, today was splendid: clear, sunny, seventy. Travis and I took a wonderful two-hour hike in the greenbelt, and where yesterday we saw icy crystals gathered in every shadow, this morning we saw nothing frozen at all. The air, the light, the earth were mild as spring.
We walked for a long time, even daring trails that were completely unfamiliar to me. Travis checked out every group of hikers and bikers hopefully, believing somehow that we would encounter Floyd and his friends, who’d headed out twenty minutes before we’d done. At last he heard a familiar voice and I told him, Go!
Sure enough, there they all were, surprised and happy to see The Dude. As the guys took off in one direction, Travis and I headed in another. Headed for the dam.
Travis thought it was a wonderful day for a swim.
Travis thinks every day is a wonderful day for a swim.