(by Victoria Kertz)
“I always wanted her to be a meteorologist,” my mother tells a complete stranger. “Then I could see her on TV.”
He seems puzzled, but smiles politely.
“My daughter,” she says, poking me in the ribs. “She was always good at science. But studied business. Now she’s a writer. Such a waste.”
My mother and I are close, but not in a lovey-dovey way. Our new tradition is to go on a cruise every summer. We eat a lot and drink even more. We have conversations that are bizarre even by mother-daughter standards.
We talk about death a lot. She has big plans for her ashes.
“I want them in a pink Tupperware on top of your TV,” she informs me. “I’m going to rattle it when I don’t like what you’re watching.”
I say that I’m putting all of her furniture on the curb after she passes.
“Not the Bombay chest!” she cries.
It’s the first to go.
Then we laugh, because we’re kidding. But not really.
These conversations are fueled by cheap Chardonnay, her evening libation of choice. Like many older Americans, she likes wine, Daily Mass, and Fox News, possibly in that order.
She lives across the country from me and leaves two-minute voicemails that cover everything from the cat’s dental health to a disappointing bargain.
“What kind of dish soap is this? It doesn’t even suds up!” I hear the bottle hit the trash can at the end of the voicemail.
Valentine’s Day will be her 74th birthday.
As a child, I stubbornly refused to cook with my mother. I wish I had given it a chance, because I genuinely enjoy it now, a thousand years later.
We kind of cook well together, but not always. Maybe that’s why a cruise is best for us.
She is the Queen of the Kitchen. Not just of her kitchen, but mine and anywhere else she may be. She is not open to suggestions. Or instruction.
Part of the reason I didn’t like cooking as a kid was because she cooked heavily with onions and still does. She says it keeps mosquitos away.
But I love her Polish food, and it’s still my favorite. Polish food means cabbage, and like broccoli or brussel sprouts, it produces a strong smell.
Her best Polish dish is galabki (often pronounced ga-lump-ki), which is essentially ground beef and rice stuffed into cabbage.
I won’t see her on her birthday, but in her honor, I will make galabki on February 14. It falls on a very unromantic Wednesday this year, creating a perfect excuse to go out for a fancy dinner the weekend before.
Make galabki instead. It’s a Wednesday night, why not? It might stink up your house and give you gas, but it’ll taste like heaven.
Victoria Kertz is a reporter for the Newport Beach Independent and co-founder of the Third Street Writers nonprofit group in Laguna Beach. She and her husband Mark have one son and a large orange tabby cat. She can be found on Instagram.
1 head of cabbage
1 lb. “good” ground beef
1 white onion, chopped
1 c. cooked rice
1 large can of tomato soup
pinch of brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Put cabbage in a large stock pot, covered with water.
(If you’re sensitive to smells, or have houseguests, pour a little vinegar into the water before adding the cabbage. It helps.)
Place over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to a gentle boil, and cook until leaves of cabbage soften.
Drain, set aside, and allow to cool.
Separate cabbage leaves and use a knife to remove the “vein” of each leaf, particularly the larger ones.
In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, chopped onion, cooked rice, salt and pepper.
Lay a cabbage leaf on a flat surface.
Take handfuls of the meat mixture to create large meatballs. They can vary based on the sized of the cabbage leaves.
Wrap the cabbage leaf around the meat mixture, one corner at a time. Not too tight, not too loose.
Place the stuffed cabbages in a large roasting pan, seam sides down. They can touch on the sides, but should not be put on top on one another.
Mix tomato soup and brown sugar.
Pour soup mixture over the cabbage rolls.
Cover and bake for at least one hour.