Cabbage Rolls, Stress, Love and Life

Today, I wanted to post about stress.  About how there are still three laundry baskets of clean, unfolded clothes in our bedroom(by the time we got to packing, it seemed silly to take them out of one container to pack them right into another box) that I haven’t managed to fold, hang, and put away, even though I still do not have a true sense of how much can fit in our closets and dressers.  I wanted to talk about how those few last things missing in the house (a mail organizer, a printer, an out-of- the-way place to put my purse) are more irritating than the plates that we were missing for two weeks.  I was going to discuss my body’s clock being completely out-of-whack: that waking up at 7am to walk the dog allows me time for a walk, yoga, and a real breakfast before work, but then I am exhausted by 4:30pm only to catch a second wind (with or without additional caffeine) that keeps me up until midnight (or later) and makes me grumpy all evening and sets the cycle to repeat.  I wanted to be a little bit selfish, to let out my frustrations, to vent the stress that builds as both of my jobs go into the second busiest month of the year.

Instead, I’m thinking of Boston.  Virginia Tech.  Sandy Hook.  9/11.  Deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, around the world.  Yesterday, I did not hear about the bombing until almost 5:00pm.  My father’s side of the family lives in Cape Cod, MA.  My cousin lives in Boston.  Everyone fine, as I expected, but the slim, slim chance was enough to jumpstart my senses.  The overwhelming awareness that comes in the blink of an eye: a new wide view of the whole landscape of life, instead of the trivial sliver that I concern myself with on the day-to-day basis.  I have noticed something different with the Boston bombings.  Shock and horror and fear are still there, there are still many people who responded with hate, but even more responded with reminders of love and hope.  From the moments of the aftermath, these glimmers of humanity, faith, and empathy have been brought to the forefront–paraded on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites.  As they should be.

A Projection on the Brooklyn Academy of Music

I am impressed and inspired that so many chose hope, especially on public and social media, where hate and condemnation can escalate so easily.

Today, instead of complaining, I am reminding myself to be grateful.  I have a home that I can afford, a boyfriend, family, friends, and a dog (or three) that love me as much as I love them, two jobs I enjoy, access to healthcare, to shelter, to food, to water.  I am fortunate to be able to be so trivial, to be annoyed at my staying up late.

cabbage roll close

Today, especially is about love.  Many times, I speak better with food than with words.  It is my way of showing people I love them, of showing off, of challenging myself.  The cabbage rolls that I promised to share make a comforting dinner.  The simple ingredients and slow-simmered, familiar flavors do not make these cabbage rolls revolutionary.  They are little more than meatballs wrapped in cabbage.  But the succulent cooked cabbage makes the perfect complement to these un-meatballs.  We ate them with the ricotta gnudi and pasta for dinner.  I made two large pans, enough that we had leftovers with a salad for lunches and reheated for snacks for several days.  The flavors continue to meld, and, in some ways, these cabbage rolls are even better the day after.

cabbage roll low

Italian Sausage Cabbage Rolls

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes

  • 1 small head of cabbage
  • 2/3 lb ground (4 links) of gluten-free italian sausage*
  • 4 slices of gluten-free bread, crusts removed ( I used Udi’s–use less if your slices are larger)
  • 1/3 c. milk (non-dairy is fine)
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese (add a non-dairy substitute, or a little extra salt and bread to replace cheese)
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. sage, ground
  • 1 jar (16 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water or broth
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Toothpicks

*Chicken or pork, sweet or hot, whatever your meat and spice preference, all work–you could even go veggie.  While there are several options for Vegetarian Italian Sausage on the market, I’ve yet to find a brand that is gluten-free.  If you are avoiding gluten and animal products, sub in your favorite GF sausage substitute and throw in some additional spices (try fennel, parsley, paprika, red chili flakes, garlic, rosemary, basil, salt, and pepper).  Par-cook and finely chop/crumble the sausage substitute and mix with the bread as directed

Tear the bread into small pieces.  Add to a large bowl.  Add milk, stir, allow to sit and soak up the liquid.  Lightly saute the chopped onion until translucent.

Carefully remove the leaves from the head of the cabbage.  Remove the tough stem (up to about 1 inch into the leaf).  Rinse, pat dry, set aside.

If using sausage links, remove meat from casing.  Add sausage, onion, parmesan cheese, garlic and other spices to the bread and milk mixture.  Mix well.

In a large saucepan, mix the tomato sauce and water/broth (if your sauce is already thin, you may not need this).  Heat over low heat.

Form the sausage mixture into small balls, about 1-2 Tbsp worth.  Wrap in the cabbage leaf, secure with a toothpick.  Once all meat is formed and wrapped, place into saucepan, ladling sauce over top.  Bring cabbage rolls to a boil over medium heat, reduce to low heat and cook for 35-40 minutes more, under the meat is cooked through and cabbage is tender.

Serve topped with more cheese, with pasta, salad, or side of choice.

cabbage roll top

Next time, I will be sharing something sweet (and simple).  I think we all could use a treat.

What are you grateful for today?

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