Friday, April 30, 2010

Thoreau and a Track Meet

Hello.  Tonight's blog is on the minimal side -- we had a hectic evening.  As soon as I got out of work I headed to my son's elementary school track meet and rendezvoused with my family to watch Gabe run the 50m hurdles and do the long-jump.  When we got home from the meet, Angel put dinner into the oven (she'd prepped it today) and we went to Gable and Evie's spring concert at the school gym.  By the time the concert was over -- and it was a cute quasi-musical, with a 4th grader portraying Tom Sawyer declaring:  "Wife on the wiver, dat's the wife fo' me" -- it was 8:00 before we got home, and 8:30 before dinner.  By that time all of the kids were hungry, overstimulated and at a volume somewhere between a jet engine and a fire alarm.  So, there aren't any pictures of dinner or anything.

When dinner hit the table -- stuffed cabbage rolls and cauliflower soup -- the kids were in rare form and driving Angel to distraction.  Due to the logistics of cooking, we started with the main course and finished with the soup course, just so as to feed the kids a half-hour sooner.  The cabbage rolls were good -- darn good -- but definitely from an Americanized recipe.  They were covered with thick, heavy Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup rather than the more traditional diced tomatoes that would've been lighter and lent a different flavor.  Everyone except Allison gave the cabbage rolls the thumbs-up -- she was in a mood to hate anything that wasn't chocolate milk, I think.

The cauliflower soup was interesting.  Based on chicken stock, the soup had cauliflower, dill weed, flour for thickening and a couple of egg yolks stirred in like Chinese eggdrop soup.  I can't say that it was bad, necessarily, because it wasn't, exactly.  It wasn't really good, either, though.  By the end of my bowl, I had pinned down the stray flavor that I tasted to a cross between pencil shavings and the smell of spent gunpowder -- not overpowering, but there.  The kids didn't care for the soup at all.

Near the end of dinner, with the kids still picking on each other, Angel decided to read the label on the bottle of local Riesling we were having with dinner, and came up with an unexpected insight:
  • "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came go die, discover that I had not lived." -- Thoreau
This stopped the kids cold.  "What does that mean?" asked one of them. (I forget who....their faces blend together in my mind after a long day like today) Angel started explaining it, but stopped and said, "this is about living versus just existing.  This is why we are doing this experiment at all."

I realized that Angel (and Thoreau) were right.  We've been falling into the trap of simply existing lately: get up, get ready, go to work (or school, depending), come home, eat, clean, (do homework, in my case) fight the kids until they buckle and make them go to bed.  This project stands to breathe fresh air into our household, and open us up to new experiences at the table -- this project is living in at least a small regard.


Cauliflower Soup, (Zupa kalafiorowa)
7 cups beef or chicken broth
1 small (1lb) cauliflower, divided into small flowerets
1 1/2 Tbs instant flour
1 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs dill leaves

Bring the broth to boil.  Add cauliflower, simmer for 25 minutes.  Add the flour mixed with 1/2 cup milk.  Bring to boil.  Remove from heat.  Add egg yolks mixed with the rest of milk.  Add dill.  Serves 10.

Cabbage Rolls (Golabki)
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbs fat
1 cup cooked rice
1/4 lb ground beef
1/4 lb ground pork
Salt and pepper
1 head cabbage (about 3lbs)
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 cup hot water
1 can , cream of tomato soup, undiluted.

Fry the onions in the fat until golden.  Mix the onions with the rice and the meat (do not use precooked meat), season with salt and pepper.
Place the whole head of cabbage in a large kettle with boiling water.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove the cabbage from the kettle.  Separate the soft leaves from the surface.  Return the rest of the cabbage to the kettle and cook for another 5 minutes.  Repeat until all of the leaves are separated easily.  Cut out the hard part of the stem from each leaf.
Place a spoonful of the stuffing on each cabbage leaf.  Wrap the stuffing in each leaf.  Place the rolled stuffed cabbage rolls one next to the other in a baking dish.  Dissolve the beef bouillon cubes in hot water, pour the bouillon over the cabbage rolls.
Bake uncovered cabbage rolls in a hot 450-degree oven for 1 hour.  Pour the undiluted cream of tomato soup (we used cream of mushroom) over the cabbage rolls.  Cover the baking dish.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Bake for another hour.
Cabbage rolls are best reheated.
Mushroom sauce may be used for a change instead of cream of tomato soup.  Serves 10
-- Both recipes from "The Art of Polish Cooking."  by Alina Zeranska

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