Friday, March 15, 2013

Homestead Eating: Gourmet Cabbage Salad

This evening, I am meeting the ladies of HBB for a glass of wine and baked brie at our favorite classy local joint.  We will celebrate Faye's first official rejection letter for her novel from a publisher, talk about plans for April's Camp NaNoWriMo, giggle madly, gossip, and discuss the meaning of life.  We frequently go to Lavelle's after shows, or for an HBB heart to heart; sometimes we go on dates, and we went there to celebrate Maple and Me's elopement.  It is an expensive restaurant and the closest thing to a wine bar that Fairbanks has to offer.  It has good taste in wine, vinagrette and cheese.  I usually get salads or appetizers. 

I have taken to recreating one of their salads, a warm red cabbage with bacon in it.  I think I've had it as many times at home as at the restaurant, perhaps more.  I've made a couple of variations on it, depending on what is in the pantry, and it has been a while since I had the one that Lavelle's makes.  But the best I can remember, Lavelle's cooks dried cranberries (which soak up some juices), bacon and walnuts with the red cabbage and tops it with a dab of goat cheese.  It is super delicious. 

Tonight's version began with chopped up applewood smoked bacon cooking in the wok.  Then I added half a head of chopped red cabbage.  The bacon hadn't provided quite enough fat, so I added some olive oil with basil, thyme, salt and pepper.  A splash of merlot at the beginning of cooking and a glug of balsamic near the end added to the cabbage juices to stain the bacon purple-brown.  I didn't have any walnuts or dried berries today, so I added in a couple handfuls of frozen lingonberries.  I anticipated writing here about how the tiny ruby red berries exploded tart and sweet and wild in the mouth, a surprise among the cabbage.  But it turns out that the high heat of the cooking and the quick transition from frozen to cooked burst most of the berries in the pan, and the lingonberry juices mingled into the salad.  I liberally topped our plates with goat cheese, and we ate it with a glass of Merlot and the last episode of the first season of True Blood.  (I'm hooked.  It's kind of ridiculous.  We don't have TV, but we have a television and I occasionally watch TV shows on DVD.)  It was delicious.  And the deep purple of the salad with the crisp white of the goat cheese next to the deep red of the merlot was strangely appropriate for a vampire film. 

And one of the best parts is that – apart from the olive oil and herbs (some of them anyway), which I will import without compunction for as long as our shipping systems allow it – it all could have been produced locally.  Unfortunately, I got the cabbage, the goat cheese, and the bacon all at Fred Meyer's.  But cabbages grow beautifully up here, we intend to raise pigs, and I hear tell that over on another hillside Maple and Me will have goats before too long.  When I think about eating locally in a just barely subarctic climate, it is easy to slip into a poverty mindset: well I can't eat that or that or that or that because it doesn't grow up here.  So I find it rewarding (as it is in so many ventures in lfe) to frame my mind to abundance.  To celebrate the things are.  The foods that grow and the meals they make.  And, if that just happens to approximate, or even surpass, a gourmet restaurant meal?  Well, I'll take it with gratitude.

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