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Sunday, November 09, 2008

warm red cabbage salad


my wonderful customers

Seems like it’s been ages since I’ve had any spare time to write a blog post. My latest big adventure: I’ve just launched a new business with my farmer friend, Arthur! It’s called Glacier Valley Farm CSA, and it’s a year-round Community-Supported Agriculture program based here in Alaska! While the last few weeks have been incredibly busy and stressful, I’m digging out from my mountain of tasks with a new appreciation for the kindness of people.

So, about the new business: Arthur and I decided we needed to step up to the plate and provide a local alternative to the wildly popular produce boxes shipped up from Washington State. We’re using Alaskan produce, grown by several farmers in the Matanuska Valley, just north of Anchorage, as the foundation of our box contents, but in the wintertime, we’re adding certified organic produce from Outside to add variety to our nourishing Alaskan staples: cabbage, potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, and onions.

So, Arthur grows vegetables and fruit, procures all the other produce, fills the boxes, and delivers them all around town. I get to help plan what goes in the boxes, write the recipes and the weekly newsletter that goes into the box, maintain the website, and answer customer service questions as people order and pay for their boxes online. And my husband Dan does the paperwork and book-keeping! Starting all this up has kept us pretty busy!

For the last couple of months, we were taking orders for boxes by email, and tracking them all manually. But last week we launched our Glacier Valley Farm CSA website, which allows people to order and pay online for their produce boxes! But, as happens with any website launch, there were some glitches. And, because we didn’t have a lot of time to test the site before the launch and try and “break” the system, there were more than a few hiccups… So last week was a bit of a challenge for all of us! But you know what? It all worked out just fine in the end because of two things:

1. My fabulous programmer, Steve, and extraordinary designer, Taughnee, were working around the clock to make it right, and working as a team, we eventually recovered our data and eradicated all the bugs.  *knocks on wood*

2. Our customers are so wonderful! They are tolerant, forgiving, friendly, and patient. When I had to call them to ask questions about their orders that had accidentally gotten eaten, they were good-natured and understanding. When the website suddenly started sending all the confirmation emails to one unsuspecting customer, she was confused at first, but was good-humored and kind when we discovered the error and were working to fix it. Not one person gave me a hard time, or wondered (at least out loud) “What kind of a fly-by-night operation is this, anyway, losing track of my order?”

And here’s another thing—using the internet to order anything, let alone paying with a credit card via PayPal, is something that a lot of my customers aren’t familiar with. But they gamely gave it a try, and if they had troubles, patiently followed along with my step-by-step instructions over the phone.

I’m so grateful for my customers’ patience, understanding and support through these first bumpy weeks. It has made all the difference, and makes all our hard work worthwhile. I guess I always thought that people were basically good, but now I know it to be true.

And thank goodness, too, that this week, our website is running like a well-oiled machine! So smoothly, in fact, that I’ve had a little time to cook something! A nice change from thawing out frozen soups that I made from last summer’s bounty, or for counting on Dan to cook our meals! So I made an old favorite: my warm red cabbage salad. It’s comforting, tried-and-true, easy to make, and I didn’t have to go to the store for any ingredients. Need more reasons to make it? It’s beautiful and colorful on your plate, and the combination of savory flavors from the cabbage and balsamic vinegar, richness from the salted walnuts, and sweetness from the apples are really wonderful. It was one of the recipes in last week’s Glacier Grist (the weekly newsletter that goes into the produce boxes).

warm red cabbage salad

This dish is fabulous—I make it all the time through the fall and winter, and I never get tired of it. The recipe is based on one in Deborah Madison’s The Greens Cookbook. Even if you’re not a diehard cabbage fan, this recipe may well convert you.

The cabbage can be as soft or as tender-crisp as you like—I usually cook it until it’s fairly tender, but make it to your liking. I have been known to make a huge vat of this for parties—you can make it in the afternoon, before dinner, and warm it up in the microwave and then sprinkle on the nuts, parsley, and optional cheese at the last minute.

¾ cup shelled walnuts
2 teaspoons toasted walnut oil (I use Loriva oil. Don’t bother with refined walnut oil—it won’t have the flavor you’re looking for.)
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
1 small red cabbage (about 18 ounces)
1 crisp red apple
1 clove garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus extra to taste
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 ounces soft goat cheese, broken into large pieces [optional]
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the walnuts with the walnut oil and some salt and pepper and toast in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the nuts are toasted and fragrant. Remove them from the oven and let them cool.
2. Quarter the cabbage, remove the core, and slice it thinly.
3. Core the apple and slice it thinly.
4. Put the garlic, vinegar, and oil in a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat. As soon as the mixture is bubbling, add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the cabbage and continue to cook until wilted, and as tender as you like it.
5. Season with plenty of salt and pepper, and definitely add more vinegar to sharpen the flavors. Don’t be shy with the vinegar and salt—it’s what makes the salad yummy.
6. Add the apple slices and stir for another minute, then remove from the heat. Just before serving, add goat cheese (if using), parsley, and walnuts.

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