Summer is finally seeing its last days and fall is soon upon us. Finally. What a grueling season of heat, stifling humidity, and unforgiving weather I suffered through (I’m thinking you did, too in on the East coast of the US). The most fun I had was the short but thrilling vacation I took in Granada, Spain this past July. Though the temperatures were high and uncomfortable, particularly in Sevilla and Cordoba, enough to give up the itinerary and stay cooped up in our hotel room, I mustered through the God-drawn ambiance and enjoyed it all. I really can’t wait to share the 7-day jaunt through the southern coast. It was more than amazing in so many lovely ways. But, the end of Summer has me thinking of all the fresh foods and meals I’ve been eating, cooking, all the ones I missed making, and the ones I still have time to play with, though the options are slimming.
The temperatures are quickly falling.
This particular cabbage salad was inspired by my father’s methodical strategy in my mom’s kitchen as of late and his commendable eagerness to achieve master cook status in her domain. And also by some dear family friends — a lovely couple which my mother cared for as if they were literally her own blood and shed many tears, aches and pains to make their end-of-life a beautiful one (more like 6 or so years)– both whom passed away in the last 6 months.
They were a happy couple. A well-traveled couple. And a very opinionated pair. Liberals at heart, the bright man and I’d sit in his 1950s living room discussing politics and art, while his sassy-mouthed wife and I chatted her vintage fashion, Texas life, her daddy as she still called him, candy and cookies (she loved sugar cookies from a local grocery store and carrot cake) and the “sexy” muscles on one 27-year old caregiver my mother entrusted to spend the night with them in their last months.
They lived on a gorgeous, urban (one of four in the US) tree-lined lake, only 1.2 miles from our house. I never took advantage of their canoe though he always offered (I think my sis may have one or twice). But last weekend, while Eddie was in town, their neighbors, another pair of dear friends (through whom we met the late couple and whose mother I’ve called “Nana” since I was 7) invited us to a sunset lake cruise on their coveted barge, lined in beautiful wisteria.
As we drifted slowly through 5 odd miles of urban water, sipping on wine and water, nibbling on cheese and crackers, (and drooled over the other homes whose stories of previous owners and mysterious haps within their walls had me rolling — like a small p*rn production company filming videos in their basement; or the house built by a huge scammer whose 2 am private heli landings raised eyebrows and finally landed him in federal prison), I pondered the many times our late friends sat on their deck and watched other paddlers go by over the years. I’m sure it was plenty. I also wondered how many times they enjoyed entertaining guests for a summer night’s fiesta. I wonder what kind of food they offered.
I’m not so sure on that info but I do know the bona fide Texan wife loved to host friends and show off her better-than-perfect coifed hair.
While he was living, my mother introduced him to many foods he’d never consider eating, like papaya. He ended up falling in love with fresh papaya shakes she’d make him every morning. Their Friday trysts to the grocery store resulted in culinary explorations into foods he’d grow to be fond of in his early 90s. Pretty amazing, right?!
So, two nights ago, as I was having this same salad for dinner, I thought about how the young Veteran (he proudly recounted war stories) would have loved this cabbage salad my father takes credit for. I think he would have loved it. It’s not too fancy, but it has a texture and flavor I know he would have appreciated. We’d talk food and French cuisine (he gifted me Julia Child’s 1st cookbook!), my culinary career and what my plans were, but I never had the opportunity to cook for them. That saddens me. I also should have taken him up the many times he nudged me to take use of his untouched, barely-cooked-in kitchen. But he kind of only wanted my mother’s food, in practice.
And that’s okay. They had a special, loving bond.
I feel like I may have resolved that little regret yesterday.
I decided to work out of their idle and unoccupied kitchen early yesterday afternoon, pretending I was making him a healthy lunch, much like my mother used to do. I pulled out some her linens and a bowl from their everyday inventory and looked out the window…not to the the lake, but to the walkway he built leading to his dock.
I adapted my dad’s recipe only because I was a bit pressed for time. My dad shreds his cabbage; I did a rough chop. The difference in texture is noticeable and I’d actually suggest the latter. I continued on and ate some along the way.
My mom was with me as she was packing away some of their belongings for their family member. She came into the kitchen at one point and said in so many words, “yeah, not sure he would have eaten that!” What?!! But when I took it outside to his deck to photograph, she said “Oh, but he’d enjoy eating it out here, staring at the lake and asking you what inspired it.“
That made much more sense.
My father loves that house, probably just as much as Wilson did, so making the salad there was much a treat for me as much as an homage to a man’s life who was full of fun… and to my dad who sat on the deck plenty of times with Wilson and had friendly disagreements on Obama’s policies.
As I crouched down to snap pics in varying angles, my mother came back outside and said “¡No te olvides del lago! –Don’t forget to get the lake!”
So I got the lake in the background. And that made a huge difference. At least in my mind.
So in a way, the salad was a simple way of remembering a sweet old man who had a joi de vivre I’ve seldom seen in men his age, my grandfather apart who was of the same exact age when he died. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing for about an hour what he must have enjoyed for over 50 years, sitting on his deck, looking at the boaters and changing leaves in the small forrest he lived amongst.
The temperature here in DC is quickly falling, and soon all the leaves on the trees lining his house will, too. And the abundance of fall harvest we enjoy will be here to start tinkering with.
In the meantime, and until all summer’s goodies are gone, I’ll continue to enjoy this super easy, fresh, and quite healthy summer salad. Had I made it for my mom’s “Dear Wilson,” I think he would have proved my mom wrong!
Cheers to a healthy life!
SIMPLE CABBAGE SALAD
- 1/2 large cabbage, shredded
- 1/2 large cucumber, sliced and quartered
- 3 roma tomatoes, quartered
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise, better if homemade
- 1 small red onion, julienned
- Juice from 2 fresh squeezed limes
- salt and pepper to taste
- rice wine vinegar, optional
- 1 tsp. sugar, optional
In small mixing bowl, make mayo "dressing" with lime juice and salt. Whisk until ingredient are well blended. In large mixing bowl toss all dry ingredients. Pour mayo dressing and stir gently with wooden spoon, until salad is well dressed.
*Chef's notes: This salad is really about simple ingredients but great, light, refreshing flavors. Add shredded carrots for color, if desired.