cabbage can save your bacon

Dear Uma: It’s hard to believe how quickly the summer is going. The brevity of the season of warmth and light imbues it with a sort of…

Dear Uma:

It’s hard to believe how quickly the summer is going.

The brevity of the season of warmth and light imbues it with a sort of intensity, poignancy, which is unique to the North.

Regular meetings and classes are cancelled; most people putter in their gardens after work and go camping on the weekends.

While Yukoners savour their summers, they also complain about the heat.

They complain about the heat in numbers that convince me they live up here because they need the nine months of winter; I’ve yet to hear as many complaints about the cold.

Entertaining outdoors, usually in the form of the ubiquitous BBQ, is de rigueur in the North, as in most of Canada, and after an enthusiastic start, I am heartily sick of the sight of hamburgers, hot dogs and even steaks and chicken breasts sizzling on the grill.

I find myself longing for a bowl of cool gazpacho, or a toasted lettuce-and-tomato sandwich.

My Yukon summer was made less than enjoyable by spruce beetles, one or more of which can be relied upon to make an appearance wherever human beings gather.

I am much comforted by having seen many other people, including longtime residents, react with the same lunatic gyrations and high-pitched vocalizations as I do when encountering one of these hideous creatures.

The rapid removal of clothing is one woman’s way of dealing with being a landing field for a spruce beetle.

She literally tears the shirt from her body, flings it to the ground and proceeds to jump up and down on it, all the time uttering a keening wail reminiscent of documentaries featuring mourners at Middle Eastern funerals.

The fear of spruce beetles is genderless; I have seen grown men behave with girlish abandon, waving their hands in the air while doing a rapid little dance designed, I think, to dislodge the insect without having to touch it.

I haven’t heard of anything that eats spruce beetles — couldn’t that be called a major oversight on the part of Mother Nature?

These damnable things have caused me to wander far away from the topic I began to write to you on — summer food that isn’t barbecued meat.

I have been exploring the crispy crunchy culinary realm of salads.

While we buy groceries almost entirely in Whitehorse, lettuce is not a great keeper and the price of a head of lettuce in Watson Lake is simply insulting.

We are resolved to follow the example of many residents and grow our own salad ingredients next year.

Cabbage, on the other hand, keeps very well, and is waiting in the fridge in fine condition when the lettuce from the city is finished.

Remembering how you insisted on sharing recipes with me when I didn’t cook, I am going to share them with you now that you don’t cook. Rather beautiful, isn’t it?

Here is my current favourite salad featuring cabbage. I have taken it to a few potlucks where it has been greeted with approval. If you don’t want to try it, pass it on to someone who does.

• One small or half of a medium red onion, cut into quarters and then very thinly sliced. You should have about one cup.

Place in a sieve, add one teaspoon of salt and toss well. Set over a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes to drain.

• Two cups of shredded cabbage, in a bowl. Pour four cups of boiling water over it, letting it stand for a minute or two before draining in a colander. Place back in the bowl and set aside.

• Rinse the onion with cold water and squeeze dry and add to the cabbage. Set aside.

• Heat two teaspoons of sesame oil in a small wok or skillet over medium heat.

• Add one tablespoon of minced ginger and cook for about a minute, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. (trust me, this is a very good instruction — the damned minced ginger can stick all over the pan like some sort of crazy glue).

• Add one tablespoon of rice vinegar and, once it bubbles, pour the mixture over the salad.

• Toss to blend, adding more salt to taste.

• This salad can be served immediately, or left to stand for up to an hour so flavours can blend. (the first time I made this dish I put it in the fridge late in the morning and forgot about it; we went to Whitehorse and didn’t eat it until the following evening and it was fine).

• Just before serving, taste and add a little more sesame oil if you want to bring that flavour forward, and add a half a cup of coriander leaves before tossing again.

I would never have believed how much fun it is to cook! There are now three shelves of cookbooks in the house, and enough condiments, spices and cooking tools to have warranted a new cabinet built onto the end of the kitchen counter.

Shopping for groceries, I find myself in spirited conversation with strangers regarding various ingredients. I have copied down recipes on whatever scrap of paper I have at the time, and at least once a week I am trolling the web in search of new ideas for the alteration of vegetables, fruit and meats into stunning new flavours and presentations.

So eager am I to engage in this new pursuit that I have taken on the responsibility of cooking for my neighbour’s dogs!

No, not the neighbour who is rumoured to have eaten his dogs — that would be too Brothers Grimm — this is a woman who wants to feed her dogs, all four of them, a vegetarian diet. She is too busy to do it herself, so….

Pete thinks I have lost my mind; preparing the dog food is labour intensive and it must be fresh-cooked every few days. I am inclined to agree with him, but I was so enthusiastic in my volunteering to do this that I am now feeling somewhat obliged to continue.

You must be laughing hard over this one; when you were going through your devotion to all things related to food and I was razzing you mercilessly for it, at least you never cooked for animals.

I admire your restraint in not responding in the same vein as I did back then to your pasta poems, your mantras to meat, your reverence for recipes, your veneration for veggies, etc. etc., while happily eating everything you put on the table.

Are you just a better person than I am, Uma, or have we all simply achieved maturity?

While you ponder the immensity of this question, take time to hunt out a recipe for me for wild cranberry whatever. OK? Please?

Love,

Heather

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