In some ways, I’ve been down this road before and didn’t want to divulge this fact until the proposal had been sold, and I could just make a giant layer cake, throw my hands up and announce the book deal. But, as I keep learning over and over again, getting what you want out of creative endeavors is never as simple as you hope them to be. It always takes five times longer than you’d planned and is ten times harder than you’d anticipated. So, instead of celebratory, self-assured cake, I bring you workaday, hopeful cabbage.
I had been eyeing this cream-braised cabbage recipe that Molly Wizenberg offers up in her book, A Homemade Life, for a while now, but had been waiting for the right cold day to make it. When gray clouds and rain set in about a week ago, I knew it was time. I picked up a small head of green cabbage and heavy cream at the grocery store. Only, the very next day, the day I’d planned to make the dish, in classic Los Angeles fashion, it was shockingly hot and sunny—not exactly cream and cabbage weather. I’d spent the morning and afternoon in a tizzy—the kind when no sooner had I hung up the phone, I was dialing again, afraid to be alone with myself for longer than a few moments, afraid what that might actually feel like.
At around four o’clock, I realized that we had no good ingredients for a decent hot-weather dinner. I started thinking about what else I might make, when something in me told me to stop thinking and just make the cabbage.
I’m so glad I listened. Once I began—once I turned on some music, did the dishes/cleaned the kitchen (yes, I pre-clean, what of it?), and started in on the simple act of washing the cabbage leaves, I could feel the tension leaving my body. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always this therapeutic in my kitchen, but that day, that moment, I needed a break from the rapid-fire thoughts shooting around in my brain box. I needed to focus on something else, and if that something happened to smell like buttery, nutty, toasty cabbage, I was okay with that.
When I re-made the recipe (so that Matt could take the photos in order to share this miracle cabbage with you), I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, On Being with Krista Tippett. Ms. Tippett was speaking with the late Irish poet and philosopher, John O'Donohue, who at one point, said the following:
“But for me, philosophically, stress is a perverted relationship to time. So that rather than being a subject of your own time, you have become its target and victim, and time has become routine. So at the end of the day, you probably haven't had a true moment for yourself… to relax in and to just be. Because, you know, the way in this country—there's all the different zones. I think there are these zones within us as well. There's surface time, which is really a rapid-fire Ferrari time.”
Surface time! So what I’ve been doing has a name! Something must have gone off in the host, Krista Tippett, as well, because she chimed in: “Yes, and over-structured.” Exactly, Krista! We fill our days with over-structured, surface-time. I think this is partly why making this heavy-cream-braised cabbage on a hot, sunny day was so good for me. On a practical level, the two didn’t belong together, but on another level, a level that was meant to soothe and restore me, they did. And if I hadn’t listened to that part of me that was begging to just start cooking and stop thinking, I may never have discovered this.
So, if stress is indeed a perverted relationship to time, well then, count me as a total pervert. I take on project after project and then rush to distribute them into the universe. And when things don’t go as quickly or as smoothly as I’d like, I become discouraged and anxious, which leads to sleeplessness, which leads to grumpiness, which has a marked, negative impact on the work and everything else.
Mr. O'Donohue explains how one of his friends does a meditation where he first imagines the surface of the ocean; it’s restless and unsettled. Then, he imagines slipping down deep below the waves “where it's still and where things move slower.” Like all of us, I have many structures in my life, but probably none quite so rigid as my day job and the weekly Bon Appétempt posts. And while I love this latter arrangement, while it gets me through many a week, I also want each and every post to be thoughtful and somehow better than the one before it. And in order to get there, I believe I need to let go of my weekly schedule for just a bit—in order to wander and wonder more, in order to relax and just be—under the sea, if you will.
The good thing about not being able to sleep is that I’ve gotten to do a lot of bonus reading. One of these nights, I picked up A Homemade Life and reread the chapter with the cabbage recipe, curious as to why something so plain had appealed to me so much. Wizenberg writes: “Cabbages may be homely, hard-headed things, but with a little braising, they’re bewitching. Cut into wedges and cooked slowly in a Jacuzzi bath of cream, they wind up completely relaxed, their bitter pungency washed away and replaced with a rich, nutty sweetness.”
Friends, we have quite a few funny cooking videos to shoot, Paris to explore (only one month away!), and beautiful cakes to mess up; I won’t be gone long. I’ll be surprised if I last more than two weeks without you, but when I do return, I hope to be a little more relaxed and a little sweeter, just like this cabbage.
See you soon!
Cream-Braised Green Cabbage via Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life
1 small green cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
First, prepare the cabbage. Pull away any bruised leaves and trim its root end to remove any dirt. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half lengthwise, taking care to keep a little bit of the core in each wedge. (The core will help to hold the wedge intact, so that it doesn't fall apart in the pan.) You should wind up with 8 wedges of equal size. (She also notes that if you've chosen a larger cabbage, just be sure that each wedge is no thicker than 2 inches at its outer edge. Otherwise, the cabbage won't cook properly.)
In a large (12-inch) skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage wedges, arranging them in a single crowded layer with one of the cut sides down. Allow them to cook, undisturbed, until the downward facing side is nicely browned, 5 to 8 minutes. She likes hers to get some good color here, so that they have a sweetly caramelized flavor. Then, using a pair of tongs, gently turn the wedges onto their other cut side. When the second side has browned, sprinkle the salt over the wedges, and add the cream. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce the heat so that the liquid stays at a slow, gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and gently, using tongs, flip the wedges. Cook for another 20 minutes, or until the cabbage is very tender and yields easily when pierced with a thin, sharp knife. Add the lemon juice, and shake the pan to distribute it evenly.
Simmer, uncovered, for a few minutes more to thicken the cream to a glaze that loosely coats the cabbage. Serve immediately, with additional salt at the table.