Cabbage rolls are a food on which I was raised. It was part of the Russian Mennonite repertoire of recipes that my mother prepared for family dinners. My father cooked, as well, especially in my teen years when he worked from a home office and my mother took a job outside the home. He made “plauten pie” (a shallow apple pie baked on a cookie sheet that his mother had taught him to prepare) and buttered popcorn (popped on the stove and served in a huge mound that covered our kitchen table) and thick cut French fries (cooked to individual order in a frying pan and eaten with much vinegar) – any one of which could serve as dinner. He also made stir fries, inspired by his afternoon television viewing of Yan Can Cook. These were prepared in a frying pan rather than a wok, incorporated onions (always onions!) and whatever leftover vegetables were in the refrigerator, and involved “doctored” sauces (bottled teriyaki or soy sauce, to which he added ketchup/vinegar/sugar/worcestershire sauce). Odd though some of these meals might appear if you watched them being prepared, they were almost always tasty.
Cabbage rolls were one of my favourite meals. They were labour intensive, and so we did not eat them often. Premade ready-to-purchase cabbage rolls have been a disappointment: too much rice and too little meat; too dry a filling; tough outer leaves of the cabbage; tomato sauces that are too lumpy or oddly flavoured.
Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market, however, has the perfect cabbage roll for sale: moist, flavourful, wrapped in tender cabbage, and served with a delicious tomato sauce. Visiting for a conference, I’m struck by how wonderful it must be for those living in the neighbourhood to have access to such a bounty: both of ingredients and of quality prepared foods.
Family-run European Delight, located in the lower level of the market, provided me with one giant cabbage roll and half a dozen equally delicious potato-and-cheese perogies topped with sour cream – a tasty and affordable Saturday brunch.
I could make such a meal myself. My parents gave me the Mennonite Treasury of Recipes when I moved into my first apartment; it contains many of the recipes my mother cooked for our family. But as one of the many single person households in Canada, and as someone who works at a job that extends beyond traditional 9 to 5 hours, I don’t. I do cook from time to time. But I have to eat far more often than I like (or need) to cook.
So often I buy prepared food. Processed food. Premade food. Restaurant food.
I do make meals at home – I say “make” rather than “cook” because of the extreme simplicity and rapidity of the food preparation involved. Soups of boiled and seasoned vegetables blended to a creamy consistency. Salads of raw vegetables served with Newman’s Own dressing. Chicken noodle soup, with homemade stock from the carcass remnants of grocery store rotisserie chicken and star anise, served with locally made egg noodles. Locally grown oatmeal. Pickles and local cheese (Yes. It’s a meal.).
I’ve never made cabbage rolls. I probably never will. I don’t make my own clothes (I’m grateful for fairly traded, organic cotton shirts sold at Canadian cooperative MEC). I didn’t renovate my own house (I’m grateful for charitable organizations that reclaim condemned housing and provide employment for skilled tradespeople and volunteers). And I’m happy to support the skills of those in my neighbourhood who provide quality food and drink in friendly environments.
Until we get community canteens (like the healthy and delicious one I had the privilege to visit in Irkutsk – depicted below), I’ll continue to rely on local providers: farmers’ markets, yes – but also restaurateurs. There are more ways to eat locally and eat healthy than cooking at home. Thankfully.