Some things last longer than others, it’s just the way life is.
Cabbage is heartier than lettuce.
Pickled vegetables last longer than fresh.
And we humans, live much longer than our beloved dogs.
A few weeks after Buddy left this earth, we went to “the cabin” for the weekend; our first trip there without him smiling crazily in the back seat with his sister, or curled up comfortably on my lap.
Instead, his remains were in a beautiful wooden box as smooth as his once silky hair, yet so small it seemed unlikely he could fit inside. The box sat next to Ginger in their double wide “deluxe snoozer” that they traveled in on so many occasions in the past.
After a lovely, but very emotional weekend, on the way back home we stopped (as we always do) at Hunter Farms. As I was paying for my fresh produce, the Farmer’s daughter mentioned that my box of goods was much smaller than usual.
There were many wonderful things that would usually have ended up in my cart, like the blueberries I hadn’t even bothered to look for, fresh, plump, sweet; the ones Buddy loved to eat.
Or the nectarines that were so plentiful, it seemed too much trouble to choose which ones.
There was also a single head of cabbage, larger than any other I had ever seen. I almost picked it up, but passed it by instead.
I do love the cabbage from their garden. It is always the perfect cross of bitter and sweet, just as our last few months with Buddy had been.
After I finished checking out, her words compelled me to go back and claim the last cabbage. “That will be $1.00”, she said.
I used part of the cabbage to make a coleslaw flavored with apples which I paired with fresh halibut. I used it in a stir fry, as well as the base for my sesame-chicken salad. We used it on sandwiches instead of lettuce, tossed briefly in spiced crema for our tacos, and we ate some plain, sliced the way I used to slice it for Buddy.
Weeks had passed with not eating it at all but it was still there, crisp, sweet and ample enough to continue feeding us more. It had not browned nor gone limp. It remained with us reminding me of the cabin, the Farm and of Buddy.
A few nights later, I made lamb-stuffed cabbage for supper. It brought back memories of Buddy making large circles around the outside of the cabin. He used to walk all the way around from the gazebo in the back yard, over the gravel path, along one side and across the front drive that led him around to the other side, past the garden and back to us again.
This went on and on for upwards of an hour, nose pointed forward, with a serious face and without breaking his stride.
He did not stop to sniff things along the way, as Ginger surely would, nor did he squat or lift his leg to pee.
He was on a mission, yet I am still not sure what that mission was? The first time that he did this was the first time we had cabbage from Hunter Farms, a number of years ago.
So it is fitting that the dinner I served to introduce our new family member, Winston, to some close friends, was the stuffed cabbage. I used another cabbage I brought back from Hunter Farms three weeks ago. It too was still fresh, and continuing to nourish.
We certainly hope Winston stays just as fresh, and stays a very long time.
We proudly introduce to you: Winston Bender: 12 lb, 6 oz
Born January 1st, 2007
LAMB-STUFFED CABBAGE – serves 8
The first version I made was with un-cooked, un-soaked, long-grain white rice. I used
only 1 cup. It was still a bit crunchy and didn’t fluff and vocalize loudly in the dish. I can’t say it wasn’t tasty because, it was. I just felt the absence of rice and wished the rice had been been more prevalent and soft.
This version replaces long-grain rice for short grains. The short grains flew over from Italy to join the lamb as outsiders in what is actually a traditional Polish dish; hence the need to soak them for a bit in hot water to soften after their long journey. The almonds and currents were party crashers as well.
1 large head green cabbage
Salt and pepper to season
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups tomato sauce (I use my basic tomato sauce which I keep on hand, frozen but you can use jarred if you don’t want to go to the added effort)
1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
1 3/4 cups Italian short grain rice (such as Carnaroli or Aborio), soaked in boiling water overnight or at least 1 hour
1/3 cup slivered almonds, crumbled by hand
3 TB dried currents
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dry oregano
1/4 fresh-packed parsley, chopped
2 TB butter
2 TB olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 small leek, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeño, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Kosher salt
French or Sheep and Goats milk Feta, crumbled
Chopped fresh parsley
1. I like to get the cabbage ready first but it can be done at anytime. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. To help make it easier to separate leaves, turn the cabbage over to expose the stem. With a long, thin knife, carve around the stem and dig it out as best you can (as if you are going after it with a cookie cutter).
3. Add the head of cabbage to the boiling water. The outer leaves will loosen first. Keep removing the leaves whole as they loosen. After several minutes the whole cabbage should be soft enough to have all leaves separate. Set the leaves aside.
4. In a saute pan, melt the butter and add the olive oil.
5. Add the onion, leek, jalepeño and red pepper. Cook over low heat until soft, approximately 10 minutes.
6. Add the 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp Kosher salt. Stir this in for a few minutes on low and then shut off the heat and let it come to room temperature.
7. In a medium sized bowl, combine the ground lamb, drained rice, almonds, currents, salt, oregano, currents and parsley.
8. Add the vegetable mix to the lamb mix and stir to combine.
9. Divide mixture into equal portions. There will be approximately 1/2 cup per leaf of cabbage but will vary depending on size of leaves. You can make small packets or large packets accordingly. If you have some small and some large leaves, adjust portions accordingly. You will need enough cabbage leaves to cover bottom of deep skillet and cover the top.
10. Put one portion onto each leaf, adjusting quantity according to size of leaf, and roll them up, tucking in the sides.
11. Layer the smaller or extraneous cabbage leaves over the bottom of a deep casserole and place the rolls on top, seam side down.
12. Pour chicken stock and tomato sauce over rolls.
13. Top with a layer of cabbage leaves and cover pot.
14. Transfer to 350-degree oven and let cook for 1 1/2 hours.
15. When fork tender, Remove from oven and let sit a 1/2 hour before serving.
On heated plates, spoon some tomato sauce down and top with one or two rolls (size and hunger-dependent). Garnish with crumbled feta and chopped fresh parsley.