O, Christmas Tree

As is our tradition, Hubby and I used part of our Thanksgiving weekend to start decorating for Christmas.  Since he’s deep in rehearsals for The Nutcracker, it’s important to get the ball rolling right after Thanksgiving – otherwise, we tend to find ourselves at the end of December without a tree (and sometimes without gifts for anyone).  We started the afternoon with a trip to Bluebeard Coffee for a couple of La Pistola (spicy) hot cocoas before heading to Green Acres Christmas Tree Farm in Edgewood, WA.  The Hubby even consented to listen to one the radio stations in town that plays Christmas music on their regular (non-HD) airwaves.  Since he’s not big on holiday music, that was a big concession for him!
We meandered through the farm, each of us pointing out trees that we thought would be good to bring home.  He turned down my first choice:

BehemouthAND he wouldn’t agree to my second choice – something about our living room not being large enough and not having tall enough ceilings…

How about this one, honey?

When wWho says you can't put a tree in your trunk?e agreed on a 7-foot tree with a side that would work against the wall, I was sure that we should have brought the Hubby’s car, with its kayak racks (the ones we’d secured our tree to last year).  The Hubby was certain that it would fit in the trunk.  And he was right, although I was doubtful when I saw the tree lying on the ground next to the car.  I should never doubt his tetris skills.

Loaded & Ready to RollOnce we’d unloaded the tree, it was time to decorate, right? I learned from holiday movies (okay, and from my parents) that it’s important to check your lights BEFORE putting them on the tree.  It’s good that I learned that lesson ahead of time, because my 19-year-old lights have given up the ghost.  One string of lights didn’t come on when I plugged it in – it only lit up at all after I messed with the fancy late-90s dimmer controls that determined how quickly they flashed.  Even then, less than a third of the bulbs lit up – not enough from my point of view.  The second string of lights did mostly light up, but both are showing some corrosion on the wires, and maybe nearly two decades is enough for the lights to last.

If we’d been super productive today and had headed to the tree farm in the morning, we may have still been able to decorate today.  But we were NOT super productive, and I think we only got to the tree farm an hour before closing.  Also keep in mind: this delay happened after we’d already spent an hour or more troubleshooting Amazon Video to try to figure out why our playback is so choppy when streaming my favorite Christmas movie of all time, Die Hard.  I finally lost patience with the technology and opted to watch on my iPhone.

So the Hubby made a run to the store, returned with all-new lights, and we were able to get that much done tonight.  It’s time to take the small victory of having a lit tree in our living room and call it good for now.  Maybe we’ll enjoy a nice, slow week of decorating for Christmas and stay in a festive spirit the whole way.

Stay tuned for photos once the decorations are done!

Black Friday #OptOutside

I was excited for my friend, Lala, when I heard REI’s announcement that they would be closed on Black Friday, but didn’t necessarily think it would affect my life too much.  After all, my normal Friday-after-Thanksgiving plans involve sleeping in and eating leftovers.  When Lala invited me to come “hiking or something” with her, I wasn’t sure trekking through cold, November, Pacific Northwest woods was my idea of a fabulous time.  However, when she updated the invitation to kayaking, that sounded a little better to me.

Conditions were absolutely my favorite.  It was cold out and sunny, with no wind.  I love to paddle when it’s chilly – some long underwear in addition to my normal kayaking gear is usually enough, and I layer a hoodie and scarf in case I need them.  The water was glassy-calm with a bit of steam rising as the sun came over the hill to hit gentle waves.  I soaked up the gorgeous scenery and kept reflecting on how much prettier it was than the inside of any store.

We launched from the Steilacoom boat launch and saw a harbor seal as we headed past the ferries.  I was on the lookout for additional seals when  I thought I saw waterfowl diving in the distance – in pairs.  ‘Hey, wait a minute,‘ I thought to myself, ‘I know what dives in pairs – harbor porpoises!‘  I quickly turned to the Hubby to point them out, only to realize he was pointing at another group, a little further north.  For a time, he and I sat and watched masses of porpoises surfacing between Steilacoom and Fox Island. I couldn’t help thinking how much better it was to be around a crowd of porpoises than a crowd of crazed shoppers.

We kept going (although I continued to crane my neck to see more of the porpoise show), and headed under the railroad trestle into Chambers Creek.  The Hubby saw a seal in the inlet with us, but the truly impressive view was the “Where’s Waldo” of herons as we paddled past the madronas and evergreens.  At one point, I spotted 8 and Lala counted 12 herons roosted in the trees.  Although their squawking is surprisingly raucous, it’s fun to see them lift in flight with their long, graceful wings and necks bent into a tight “s”. After a short time, peering into the branches to try to determine how many birds I could spot, it was time to turn around.

NCKayaks.com

I snapped this shot of the Hubby heading back under the bridge (and had fun editing it at rei.com, as you can see above).  On our way back to the boat launch, I spent more time staring at porpoises – there were more there than I’d ever seen in a group before, and they stayed active almost the entire time we were paddling.  It was good that we headed in when we did, as this was my first time in a kayak since my accident, and these are definitely some of the same muscles the physical therapists are working.

The Hubby had a demo scheduled, and I headed to a local park to read in the sunshine while they explored what the NC17 Quest and NC19 Expedition can do.   I had a great view whenever I wanted to look up from my book, and I could even see some of the demonstration from my vantage point.  That’s the Hubby & his demonstrator in the second picture – those little black smudges in the water.

Reading in the park #OptOutsideNCKayaks Demo

I can’t imagine a more perfect way to spend Black Friday.  We haven’t gotten the house decorated for Christmas yet, but I have the deep satisfaction of spending time in nature, with friends, using my body.  That feeling is hard to beat.

Butter: a Memoir

My grandmother had a dairy farm.  I grew up drinking milk from her cows, spreading her butter on bread (and more often, baked potatoes), and eating hamburger and steak from that year’s butchering.  I remember being in elementary school and discussing at lunch time what our favorite dinners were.  Mine was steak and baked potatoes.  The rest of the kids at the table were in awe that we could afford steak.  The truth?  Steak was already in the freezer.  Chicken and pork were at the grocery store, with price tags attached.  The rest of the kids were wearing name-brand clothing and eating their bagels spread with individual packets of Philadelphia cream cheese.  They were the rich kids; they just didn’t have grandmothers that raised cows.

I digress.

I was lounging around on the interwebs, looking for inspiration for my next DIY/From Scratch foray when I came across a comment at How to Cook Like Your Grandmother.  The one about the butter.  Which made me think, “butter, from scratch!  Of course!  I grew up on that shit.  I should totally figure out how to make it and then blog about it.”  So I obsessively searched through Drew’s blog until I came to the butter post.  This is a different system than my Grandmother used, because I distinctly remember a gallon jar with a special lid that churned butter.  And a paddle that looked kind of like a ping pong paddle, but curved, that had some mysterious power to turn butter into loaves.  Those loaves would then be wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.  There would be a masking tape seal that had the date on it.  You could pull one of those babies out of the freezer at any point and have butter ready to use.

Also in elementary school, I made macaroni and cheese at a friend’s house.  I thought it was somewhat silly that they had taken their loaf of butter and cut it into perfect rectangular shapes and wrapped it with waxed paper.  What’s wrong with the loaf shape, people?  It wasn’t until years later that I realized that not everyone’s grandmother made butter.  Not everyone had loaves of butter wrapped in plastic and foil in their freezers.  Some people had to buy their butter at the grocery store.  At the time, I probably thought they were privileged to do so.  How wrong we can be when we’re young!

The butter post set off a chain of emotional landmines for me, and I ended up sobbing at Hubby, barely coherent, trying to express how much I miss my Grandma Edlah.  I miss her farm.  I miss Christmas and Thanksgiving and 4th of July and canning time and wood chopping time.  I miss reading Archie comics from who knows when in the bedroom where we stayed.  I miss seeing those vintage kitchen implements in use every day.  It has been years since she died.  I have finally gotten to the point that I don’t have the thought, “I should call Grandma up and ask her…”.  I now have switched to, “I wish I could call Grandma up and ask her…”, followed by grief that I didn’t treasure her enough when I had her available to me.

Hubby doesn’t quite get it yet.  Even though he’s seven years older than me, he still has three of his grandparents alive and kicking.  He doesn’t understand why I so love hearing Grandma Irene’s stories.  He thinks they’re great, sure.  But he doesn’t get the fact that you only have so many years to hear the stories before they’re gone.  And then you can’t quite remember the details, but you can’t call to verify them.  Of course,  you can call other folks.  You can call your parents and your aunts and uncles.  You can call the cousins.  You can probably get a pretty accurate rendition of the story from someone in the family.  But not from the source.  And it’s not quite the same.

I remember older people telling me (when I was younger) that you want to take advantage of the time you have with people.  I remember them implying that everyone dies, and that I might regret the time I spent doing other things.  I remember thinking, “but there’s plenty of time.”  How I wish I’d listened then.  Now I wish I could take every youngin’ that’s thinking they’ve got plenty of time and shake the knowledge into their head that there will come a time that they regret that they didn’t soak up more from their grandparents when they had the chance.  It wouldn’t work though.  I’d just be that crazy lady that’s always talking about grandparents.  No one wants to be that lady, and no one wants to spend time with her.

After I was done sobbing, I sent an email to my mother.  I sobbed some more in the process, because even writing about the fact that Grandma’s gone makes me miss her more.  But I sent the email.  I asked my mother to pass Grandma’s butter-making techniques along to me.  I know that I can learn how to make butter on the interwebs.  But as I was reading the butter post, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that Drew was doing it wrong.  He was using a spatula to press buttermilk out of the butter.  He used yogurt to culture the cream.  He used a hand-held mixer to churn the butter.

Yes, I know: none of these items are actually what you could consider wrong when discussing butter-making techniques.  But they’re not Grandma Edlah’s.  Drew understands the value of “how I was raised” in how we think about food, so I’m sure he’ll understand my feelings of wrongness surrounding his butter recipe.  Especially if I’ve been clear enough in the idea that I know there’s nothing inherently wrong with his way.

He has given me a gift.  I did not realize that I missed my grandmother so much.  I did not realize that much of the impetus to reach back to the old-school housewife is actually a way for me to recapture what I can of that relationship.  I did not realize that I wanted to learn my grandmother’s method for making butter.  I did not realize that there is something fulfilling in a foil-wrapped loaf of butter that I will never get from my Costco-pack of butter sticks.  Now I  know, because I read about Drew making butter.  Stay tuned.  There will be butter.  The butter is not a lie.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Casey September 22, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Learn the butter recipe… and then TEACH ME! Making butter sounds right up my alley. :)

I’m sorry about your grandmother. I lost mine just before William was born and I miss her dearly too. :(

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The Housewife September 24, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Hi, Casey!

Making butter does totally seem up your alley – I often wonder how you manage to do so much from scratch with four little helpers!

Thank you for your sympathy, I really appreciate it.

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Heather September 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Hey,
If it makes you feel any better (it won’t) I never ever called Grandma up cause I never got old enough that it seemed reasonable before she passed. I really feel that I missed out with our grandparents (excpet maybe Grandpa – cause I spent so much time with him near the end) .

Anyway, I really wrote to say this: I got some raw milk from a farm around here one time. It was so delicious. I really didn’t like Grandma’s milk all that much as a kid (it didn’t taste like store bought). The raw milk brought back so many memories. It tasted just right. I tried pouring the cream on cereal, but it didn’t taste as good as I remember (maybe because I eat more fat in my diet now so it’s not as exciting). I looked up butter making online and it said that if you have whole cream, just shake it in a jar with a tight lid and you’ll eventually have butter. I did it. It tasted great too. It took a long time and my arms were tired when I was done, but that’s all it took. You should give it a try. :o )

Heather

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The Housewife September 24, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Hi, Heather!

I did know that you can make butter by shaking a jar. There was a time that mom used to do that with her students, but I’m not sure if she still does. Mom told me she could show me how grandma shaped the loaves and everthing, so I’m excited to make the “real” version – you know, _my_ version of real.

I love how we both thought that store bought stuff was better when we were kids, but the “gross” versions are actually what we like now. That’s right, “yucky bread,” I’m talkin’ to you!

Love,
Melissa

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Annabelle September 25, 2010 at 6:59 am

I remember making butter in grade school. Yup, shaking, shaking, shaking….and it was
delicious. We might have added a couple grains of salt also. Delicious.
Loved your grandma remembrance….my mom and dad, city folk, retired to a farm………..so I was “old” when I learned her new-found farm ways. I still remember the first stab at getting an egg from under a live chicken :-(
She also made cottage cheese …..don’t remember how because at that time in my life I didn’t like cottage cheese.

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The Housewife September 25, 2010 at 7:42 am

Hi, Annabelle!

I’ve never actually gotten eggs from a chicken. The chickens lived next door to Grandma, and I’m sure all my cousins know how, but I’ve never tried it. Now that you brought it up, I’ll have to learn. I know a few folks with chickens, so it’s probably not too late (Nathe & Alicia? Linnea? Adrian? Who’s going to teach me?).

I am not sure how soon I’ll be making cottage cheese, since I’m not that fond of the texture. I’m sure to run out of other dairy products to experiment with at some point though – stay tuned!

~Melissa

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Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother September 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I just read this to my wife, and she’s sitting here all misty-eyed, trying not to start bawling. I’ve never seen anything that so perfectly, and so completely, captures why I’m doing the blog.

It’s not just about the food. It’s about sharing time — and food — with family and loved ones.

Good luck finding the right tools. The last time I wrote about making butter I looked for the jar with the hand crank in the lid and all I could find were antiques and decorative reproductions. I just looked again and found this one-gallon glass jar churn, this 1.6 quart model, and this much more period-looking one-gallon version.

Kristin mentioned the butter paddle that she has, that’s at least 100 years old. (You’re not the only one who remembers making butter with Grandmom.) So I went looking and found this. Expensive, but so cool.

Do you know if anyone kept Grandma Edlah’s kitchen tools? When my wife’s great-aunt Nora died, none of the family wanted the kitchen stuff, except the microwave. We got all the good stuff.

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The Housewife September 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Hi, Drew!

So glad you stopped by and so relieved you understood my comments about wrongness! Thank you so much for the links. I do still need to check out what may still be available within the family, because the farmstead is still around. It’s just not the same without Grandma.

Funny thing, when I was discussing this with my mother: I had found a motorized gallon jug churn online, which is what I remember Grandma using. I emailed the link to my mother, and she replied that Grandma’s churn was more like those that you linked to. Then she realized that I didn’t remember Grandma churning butter before the 80s, and she had switched to electric by then. So even though I’m going to be learning how to make butter from my mother, who learned from my grandmother, I will have to choose between using equipment that is wrong from my point of view or wrong from hers.

Thank you so much for stopping by, and for your kind comments. I’m still really new at this, and I feel like a celebrity stopped by!

~Melissa

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Christy September 24, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I never really knew my grandparents – how lucky you are! What a lovely post! (I came here via Drew)

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The Housewife September 24, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Hi, Christy!

Thank you for the perspective. I was lucky enough to have three out of five (don’t you love the new family math?) grandparents until I was in my twenties. Sometimes I forget to focus on that luckiness when I’m consumed with jealousy over how many grandparents my husband still has.

Thank you for stopping by, and for making me pause for a moment and reflect on all the times I did have with my grandparents. Now you are in the same boat as Drew – making me stop, think, remember, and treasure. Good place to be.

~Melissa

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Wade September 24, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Hi Melissa.

I’m trying to judge if the post is more about missed time with lost relatives than figuring out how to make butter from scratch.

I’ve found that our life expectancies are not increasing fast enough to accommodate how much later we’re starting families. But it’s worse than that: our bodies are still aging the same speed, but we’re asking them to do things later than the time they’re designed for. Fifty years ago, who would imagine starting a family in your 30s? Or 40s? This is my dilemma.

But there are also families that don’t have that history of cooking to share. None of my grandparents were great cooks and my own mother is firmly stuck in the “fat is bad” school.

Wade.

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The Housewife September 24, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Hi, Wade.

Thanks for stopping by. I think that _this_ post is about missed time with lost relatives, because there will be a future post just about making butter.

You make a good point about starting families later. I’m 33 now, and I’ve noticed how much harder everything is just in the last few years. I definitely had more energy, stamina, and ability to play with babies on the floor in my early twenties than I do now. Of course, I couldn’t pay my bills back then, so everything’s a trade-off.

I also feel very fortunate in the experiences my family provided me (on both sides). I know that many of my peers didn’t have the opportunities I had to see where food comes from and how one goes about turning it into actual meals. The last few years with the CSA has gotten me thinking a bit more about where our food comes from and what happens to it along the way to our dinner plates. I realize that many people my age, and even in my parents’ generation, just don’t have those same memories.

I feel like there’s probably an upcoming post on some related subject, because I apparently have quite a bit to say on the matter. There will be butter though, as soon as my mother and I have a chance to gather equipment and make it happen!

~Melissa

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Linda September 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm

What a beautiful love letter to your grandmother and her influence on your life. I feel the same way about mine; the other day one of my cousins sent me a number of scanned recipe cards — just index cards with grandma’s precious handwriting on them, detailing a few old-fashioned pickle and cake recipes — and oh, what a treasure! I recommend also contacting any siblings, aunts & uncles, and cousins, if they’re out there, because you may be able to exchange tidbits between you for the enrichment of all.

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The Housewife September 26, 2010 at 9:00 am

Hi, Linda!

You’re so right. I was hanging out with one of my cousins, and told her about this post, and she called her sister who still has the wooden bowl and paddle Grandma used to use. Those will be heading toward Tacoma soon, so the butter-making will be authentic! No one seems to be sure where the churn is, and Hubby is convinced that he should just make one. We’ll see…

~Melissa

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Mary Lynn September 26, 2010 at 7:52 am

Every Fall (absolutely every Fall), when I see grape arbors, I remember my Dad pushing us up through the arbors to pick the grapes. And then we would sit in my Grandma’s kitchen and get the grapes off the stems and Mom and Grandma would make jelly. We would spend the weekend. Picking. Picking. Picking. And the end results was ambrosia. I do remember sitting at school with my homemade bread and jelly sandwich and wishing that I could be like the other kids and have “Wonder Bread.” Alas, I didn’t realize until I was much older that my bread was the WONDER BREAD and their’s was just a poor imitation.

Your butter is my jelly. And I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. Missing Grandma and Dad and Mom.

p.s. My Grandma’s dog would only eat homemade bread with homemade jelly and real butter. None of that store bought stuff for the princess!

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The Housewife September 30, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Hi, Mary Lynn!

Your jelly also reminds me of canning time in Grandma’s kitchen – especially eating the grapes as Mom and Grandma worked. Our family wasn’t so much about the jelly, but I remember being pretty young and prepping green beans for canning. We snapped off both ends, and then broke them into 1″ lengths (or so). Both my sister and I remember eating about as many as we added to the “ready to can” pile.

Grandma also baked bread – I remember her bread made the BEST toast ever. I knew that, even at the time. Of course, the “yucky bread” I referred to up above was some version of Wonder Bread. I do remember begging mom & dad for that bread, and squishing it into fistfuls of dense bread-like masses before eating it. Gross now, but I thought it was wonderful then!

Thank you for sharing your remembrance. I’m so glad you found my blog. I read your comment a few days ago, and I think you should know that every grape vine I’ve passed this week, I’ve thought of you and your parents and your Grandma. I have no idea what any of you look like, but you’re all in my imagination now. Of course, there aren’t a lot of grape _arbors_ on my walks in Tacoma, so I have to imagine that, too…

~Melissa

Mexican Rice

I love, love, love this Mexican Rice Recipe.  I eat this rice by itself, topped with cheese & sour cream, in burritos, with tacos, with beans, or any other way I can imagine.  I figure it’s got to be somewhat healthy, since it’s got a minimum of fat and it has lycopene.  I’m a carb junkie, so I’m not surprised that I can’t stop eating it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups rice
  • up to 1 onion
  • up to 3 tomatoes, depending on size
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, minced or pureed, divided
  • 2 cups broth – either chicken or vegetable
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ bunch cilantro, chopped fine

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Heat oil in an oven-safe 12″ saute pan over medium heat.  Once oil shimmers, add rice and toss to coat.
  3. Cook rice until it begins to turn golden, 5-10 minutes
  4. Meanwhile, puree onion and tomatoes.  You’ll want just 2 cups of puree, which is why my ingredient list is so vague.  I estimate how much puree I’ll get based on the size of the produce.  If you end up with more or less than the 2 cups needed, just adjust how much broth you use to equal 4 cups total liquid.
  5. Once rice is golden, add garlic and two of the jalapeños and saute until fragrant (about 30 seconds).  If you’re sensitive to pepper spray, keep your face away from the steam here.
  6. Add puree, broth, and tomato paste and stir to combine.  Cover and bring to a boil.
  7. Transfer pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes total.  After the first 15 minutes, you need to stir the mixture to re-incorporate the tomato mixture (it all works its way to the top while baking)
  8. Meanwhile, mix remaining jalapeños and chopped cilantro together.
  9. After 30 minutes, taste rice for consistency.  If it’s a little al dente for your taste, put it back in the oven until done.
  10. Sprinkle cilantro mixture over the top of the rice and fold to incorporate.
  11. Enjoy!

Limey Cabbage

We get cabbage quite often in the CSA, and I didn’t used to be a cabbage person.  I never understood why folks wanted cabbage instead of lettuce on their fish tacos.  I don’t like coleslaw.  I don’t like cooked cabbage – blech!  Limey Cabbage is pretty much the only way I really like to eat cabbage. Now, this is where Hubby and I differ.  He loves cabbage.  He’ll eat it raw, he’ll eat it steamed.  He told me once that he almost ate the cabbage from our CSA share on the way home from picking it up, like an apple.  The only thing that stopped him was the fact that he needed to take a photo for this blog.  One day, in a huge display of matrimonial support, I will actually prepare corned beef and cabbage for him.  Then he will die of shock and surprise.  But he will have died happy.

The thing about how much Hubby loves the cabbage is this:  unless I’ve told him that he has to fend for himself for a meal, he won’t think of making anything.  And even if I’ve told him he needs to feed himself, it’s far more likely to be cereal than anything that requires preparation.  Even the day that he was tempted to eat the cabbage on the way home, he then put it into the refrigerator and forgot about it until I pulled it out to make this recipe.

So this Limey Cabbage recipe is what I’ve found to use cabbage in a way that I’ll actually eat it.  One day, I came across this recipe on Epicurious, and I’ve developed it into the wonder you see below.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  •  cabbage – this can be red, green, Chinese, whatever you want (or happen to have on hand).
  • leaves from ½ bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Slice your cabbage into a nest of thin, squiggly bits and combine with cilantro leaves in medium bowl.
  2. Zest your lime (directly into the same bowl) and make it all cool and stripey looking.
  3. Juice your lime into the same bowl and add olive oil and salt & pepper.
  4. Toss your limey cabbage and it’s ready to serve as a component in tacos or burritos, or as a side salad.

The Verdict:

We’ve made several variations on this recipe; when we’re out of cilantro, it’s just cabbage in a lime/olive oil dressing.  When we have bell peppers that need to be used, we throw them in.  It’s a pretty forgiving base for getting some tasty veggies into your tacos.  We’ve always used it as a taco topping, but my cousin’s son loves it on its own, just as salad.  I guess that’s not surprising, since both her children ask if they can eat the lime pulp after I’ve squeezed the juice for the recipe…