I mean fall up the way I mean listen up, smarten up, eat up; these things are commands when I say them. Lately I've been shouting in my mind, "Fall up already!" to no one in particular. It's been hot, dry, fiery, and certainly not the autumnal mildness that I crave when I only get to have a few hours of daylight a day. If the sunshine is going away, can't the heat too? I mean, c'mon.
My district gives this whole week off for a much-needed Thanksgiving break, so I've had free time lately to search for the fall that I haven't felt.
I looked closely for it in my garden.
The garden was growing and happy and full of cool-season vegetables, but it wasn't enough to make me feel that autumn was here. Since I had to keep looking, I went for a walk up into the canyon.
The animals all seemed to know that fall is here, but I still wasn't convinced, so I went to my kitchen to try to trick myself that it was.
To force the season in, I braised red cabbage. It was really, really good, but it didn't make fall feel like it was here.
So I kept muttering, to no one in particular, "fall up, fall up, fall up."
Finally, finally, autumn arrived in a way that I believed. Last night, I fell asleep to the sound of the rain falling down.
Braised Red Cabbage with Star Anise
Star anise stole the culinary show on my recent trip to Washington, DC. I ate several dishes at different places where the brilliance of each depended on this star. Inspired, I wanted to try cooking with it at home. Although I often associate it with Asian flavors, this recipe does not really work as an Asian side dish. The star anise takes the traditional French and German side to sausage, pork, and duck to a different place, a place where it can still easily serve as the side to these meats (or grilled salmon, wouldn't that be good?), but it will no longer feel the same. It's like putting sexy undies on under one's flannel pajamas—the combination of comfort and surprise is mighty alluring.
You will need:
2 tablespoons of fat of your choice (butter, oil, bacon or duck fat . . .)
1 small red onion, peeled and diced
1 medium head of red cabbage
2 sweet-tart apples, peeled and diced
2 clementines/tangerines/whatever you call those small, orange citrus in your neck of the woods
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or more, if desired)
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 star anise
1 small bay leaf
salt and pepper
To make the cabbage:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the fat in a large, heavy, ovenproof pot (such as a dutch oven) over medium-low heat. Toss in the onion, stir to coat the onion pieces with the fat, and sprinkle a little salt over the onions.
While the onions are softening on the stove, cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out the white core from each quarter. Slice each quarter across the narrow side (not length-wise) into 1/8 inch strips. When you've finished, toss the cabbage and the apples into the pot and stir the cabbage into the onions and fat. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.
While the cabbage, apples, and onions are cooking on the stove, grate the peel off of the clementines. Place the peel in a small bowl. Juice the clementines and stir the juice into the bowl with the peel. Stir in the red wine vinegar to the bowl with the juice, add the dark brown sugar and whisk to combine, then pour the acidic mixture into the cabbage pot on the stove. Add the whole star anise and the bay leaf at this time as well. Sprinkle a little more salt over all, a twist of black pepper, and stir to combine all the ingredients. Finally place the lid over the pot and remove it from the stove to place it in the oven.
Cook the cabbage for 2 hours. After the first hour, check every 15 minutes to see if you need to add liquid. Most likely, you won't need to—only add a splash of water if the mixture is drying out or sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the 2 hours are up, remove the pot from the oven and taste. The cabbage should have absorbed all the liquid and now be melted into silken, spicy, sweet-tart goodness. If the cabbage needs it, add another splash of vinegar or a sprinkle of sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste.