I am beginning to understand you, you Spring people!
Sunday was surreal.
Sunday was many things, most mundane, a few hair-pulling, but it was also sixty-three and sunny, and that makes up for a lot. Maybe even losing an hour.
Pictures aren't worth a thousand words, here, or for that matter, an incomplete sentence. The above and below are from Friday/Saturday/Monday, when it was snowy/chilly/rainy. But Sunday was Sunday, and something else entirely, and suited for so many things, none including the word "camera".
Sunday was dusting off bicycles, re-fitting helmets, riding to the park and back. For the first time this year, for some. For others, for the first time, ever. It was stretching stiff legs to pump on the swings, like a butterfly pumps wings, still damp and rumpled. Sunday was Zoë crying out in alarm, and me looking back, thinking she'd toppled. Upright: check. Alright: check. What on earth?
Mom, what IS that, on my arm?
Your freckle, sweet girl. You've had it since you were born.
*Giggle* Ohhhh, guess I hadn't seen it in awhile.
Sunday was biking back to refrains of I'm HOT! and Can we get the shorts out? and Now?? And doing just that, and then watching them skedaddle right back outside to play. It was looking out the window in search of small faces, seeing instead only Crocs and bare knees in the tree. It was looking out, later, to find them applying snow "lotion" to pale arms. Or maybe it was freckle juice. Beats me.
Sunday was stealing away on my own bike, before dinner, to return library books, solo. And taking the long route, to the faraway branch, just because it was so stinkin' pleasant. I saw runners, running, creaky with winter. I felt my own muscles, no better off. They made, shall we say, their presence known. I'm pleased they're still there. If a bit rusty. Maybe a squirt of WD-40?
My nose startled at the smell of burgers grilling, on the way. By the return trip, I picked up wood smoke. The two seemed to sum up Sprinter, nicely.
Sunday was taking the trash and recycle out at eight. Eight! With a shred of light, still, and no coat, and a smile. And turning around to find a boy in his PJ's, on the lawn, bat in one hand, baseball in the other. I don't play baseball. I'm terrified of baseballs. I was hit in the face once by a baseball. I can still hear it, taste it, thirty years later. My kids, therefore, barely know the game's name. But on a day like Sunday, with a boy and a bat (and a Nerf ball; very, very important, that), we pitch, hit, pitch, hit, until the sun falters, giddy just to be in the gloaming.
In my reading, Monday, I came across the word resplendent. I paused, struck first by the thought that I couldn't recall when I'd last seen or heard the word. My second thought was, Sunday. I'm not (quite) baroque enough to use resplendent in a sentence. I'm just saying, my brain spit it out, unbidden. Shoes and socks, salt and pepper, Sunday and resplendent.
And as I mulled Sunday over, the next morning, I thought, This! is why people like Spring. They don't see an ominous prologue to summer, to muggy and buggy and insufferable heat. They see sun that warms instead of burns, light that invites, windows wide open. They see air as addictive as any controlled substance. They see crocuses, and purple, and color returning.
They see finally saying yes! to endless requests to make Mudpies and Other Recipes. They see strawberries, long presumed dead, pulling a Phoenix, resurrecting. They see buds overtaking barren witch claws. I've always been fond of barren witch claws. But buds, they're nice, too. And I do love a good breeze.
They—You?—see Spring as itself, fresh, spare, clean, overridingly pleasant. Full of possibility. A lot like cabbage.
Do you feel this way about cabbage? I do, and I have for some time, and I think you should, too.
After all, a recent survey of the world's 30,000 happiest folks revealed that 86% of them adore cabbage.
I totally made that up. But it could be true. Rigorous cabbage/happiness research is sorely underfunded.
Until cabbage gets the attention it deserves, I'll gladly step up as Cabbage Apologist in Chief. When fresh, in fall, it rocks salads, raw, shredded into plump, juicy slivers. It melts into soups; braises like a champ; and surprises, and delights, barely boiled and buttered. Flash-fried with ginger and chilis into a mustard-seed-dotted, turmeric-stained tangle, cabbage by way of the sub-continent dazzles. Stir-fried, with a nub of ham and splash of rice wine, it makes a smashing five-minute side.
But it is to this mess of sautéed, slivered cabbage that I probably turn to, more than any other. It is plain and simple, to make and to look at, and all I can say is: don't let it fool you. I've been known to eat the whole pot in one sitting. In my defense: it shrinks a lot. Still. It's a whole head of cabbage.
A whole head of cabbage, a knob of butter, salt. That's it. The rest is all heat and alchemy.
What we're talking about here is plain old ordinary cabbage, the celadon, sixty-nine-cents-per-pound bowling ball. Savoy and Napa have their place, and a lock on picturesque, what with their ruffles and frill. But for our purposes today, what we want is the snap, crunch (and cowlick) of the humble Green.
You sliver the thing, fine as you can, which is half the fun, since cabbage was made for cutting. Halve it [THWONK], lay flat side down [WHOMP], grab a large knife and slice [SCHWOOP! SCHWOOP! SCHWOOP!]. It's the work of two minutes, if the phone rings, and satisfying as all get out.
Melt butter. Add cabbage, and salt. Keep heat close to high. Stir, read paper, stir, practice spelling list, stir, taste, oh. Well, oh. Taste again. For seasoning. And again. Because you're careful that way. Once more, just to be sure. Another once, twice... get that fork outta there.
Cabbage cooked this way is cabbage under the influence: of butter. Better influences, I know not. There are, inexplicably, only two Tablespoons, pitted against pounds of cabbage. But man, do those two get around. Over the course of twenty minutes, give or take, this measly little knob makes the acquaintance of every last strand, thread and shred of cabbage. The cabbage is totally on board.
It tastes as if it has absorbed the butter, as if it has been steeped in the stuff. That, my friends, is a very nice as if.
The cabbage, for its part, has this neat trick of becoming three vegetables in one. Green cabbage's leaves are a diverse lot, some thick, most average, some paper-thin. Each behaves differently in the pan. The mainstream leaves, file-folder-thick, relax and melt and swoon a little, like a Waterhouse Ophelia. The barely-there leaves almost disappear, gossamer little wisps whose main function is to catch in the pan, maybe caramelize. And then there are the flashes of rib, which retain just a bit of their muscular crunch. They make a fine team, these three.
In the same way those parsnips trump, for me, french fries, this cabbage eats like buttered noodles, only better. (My children, I should mention, couldn't agree less. This would be why they are called children.) The flavor is primarily sweet, and nicely salty, with little caramelized winks of leaves and milk solids. The glory that is butter is omnipresent. The cabbage is silky, supple, soft. Except where it's not, where the bits of thick rib interrupt with their own juicy snap.
It's a good dialogue, interruptions and all.
You could, of course, fancy it up, add fresh herbs, or minced meats, or a custard-filled tart shell. I tend toward the plain, because the plain is extraordinary. (Well, plain eating, if not plain serving. I often heap it on an old platter, just to make it feel better about itself. It's not easy living life as the Toyota of cabbages.)
It is nice on thickly sliced toasted crusty bread, topped with your sharpest cheddar, and piled high with as much soft cabbage as said bread can manage. I'm fond of an olive-oil fried egg, set on a golden nest of the stuff. Tumble in creamy white beans, and/or tiny fried potatoes, and/or nubbly grains, farro, barley. Toss it with buttered noodles (never too much of a good thing); fettucine are especially nice. Mostly, I eat big sloppy bowls as is, reveling in twisty bedraggled forkfuls.
Oh, and if you're Irish, and/or a St. Patrick's Day fan? (I most definitely am not, and am, in that order. I never miss a March 17th.) Corned beef never met a better plate mate. Although, it's awfully good alongside fennel-ripped Italian sausages. And come Easter, sweet pink slivers of ham. And... Well, I won't bore you with all the possibilities. Anyway, you'll find your own.
I'll just close on this: today, before lunch, we picked two of our twelve crocuses, to bring a glimpse of the outdoors in. In the space of an hour, over soup and cottage cheese, they went from silent, secretive buds to yawning cups of porphyry and gold. All from that unassuming, compact package. Seemed familiar, somehow.
Softly Sweet Buttered Cabbage
adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties!
I love that Ina Garten published this in a book devoted to parties, and under Valentine's Day, no less. Cabbage love, indeed.
1 medium head (2 1/2 pounds) ordinary Green cabbage
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Remove only the tattiest bits of outer leaf; the dark green exposed leaves add lovely color to this dish. Cut cabbage in half, and place each half, cut-side down, on a board. With a large knife, slice cabbage into thin ribbons, working around the tough core. Continue until all cabbage is chopped.
In a large, heavy dutch oven or deep skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add slivered cabbage and salt, and stir well to coat. Sauté, 15-25 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until cabbage has reduced by roughly two-thirds in size; has released and re-absorbed its liquid; and is bronzing at the odd edge. You want to keep the heat high enough to seal in the juices, but toward the end, take care not to let it burn. The shorter time will result in plump, juicy threads that retain a bit of crunch. Take them a bit further, and they'll slump, concentrate, and take on a caramelized edge, here and there. Your call.
Taste, add additional salt if needed, pepper if you prefer, and serve piping hot.