The Big Apple, My Little Grape

November 15, 2014

My daughter moved far away last month, and since I dropped her off at LAX, I keep thinking of her as a piece of fruit. A little grape, to be specific.

grape and MLG hand med

I mean, the weekend after she left New York we did a dual mother/daughter retreat in Santa Barbara and bought some tiny Thompson organic grapes at the farmer’s market. Could that be it?

I asked a writer friend, who got no closer than me to the curious source of my flora-fication. She urged me to make it art.

It all happened so fast. One minute My Little Grape and I were lugging her leaden suitcases to the car. Then, on the way to Venice Beach for lunch, we visited the tennis-court sized AT&T store on Lincoln Boulevard to unlock her iPhone, where the specialists were pretty useless and looped her back to the phone operator who’d sent her to the store in the first place, leaving My Little Grape so preoccupied with reaching 611, and listening carefully because the options may have changed, that, as she was stepping back into the car, her ankle gave way and instead of landing in the seat, next to me where she belonged, she crumpled down into the curb and vanished

so I’m distracted and flustered because my daughter has been talking on the phone and she’s about to move to Asia

I bellowed my excuse to stone-faced Officer Genill, who ignored it, along with my out-of-state-thank-you-for-illuminating-California-motor-vehicle-code apology, and persisted in writing me up for the pedestrian-crosswalk violation that, in the keep-it-moving Big Apple, wouldn’t even draw a cop’s attention, let alone prove cause for a citation. Only ticket in thirty-five years behind the wheel. It was a weird, and expensive, thirty minutes. But assuaging too, because by the time I parked across the street from Café Gratitude, I was so discombobulated that I had almost forgotten our destination was the international terminal. It felt like we were just a mother and a daughter going out for lunch.

impressionist crop


the vegan café’s sidewalk placard proclaimed, in a rogue burst of the Manhattan-Mini-Storage-billboard variety of wit that I pine for when roaming the Irony Desert, otherwise known as Southern California.

Isn’t My taco-de-lengua-loving Little Grape going to miss that about the Big Apple?

I wondered, as we studied the cruelty-free menu she had readily agreed would provide good research for her burgeoning role in the family restaurant business in Bali.

I don’t know what makes me feel empowered. Do you, Mom?

My Little Grape asked after our not-blond anomaly of a waitress—a New Yorker whom I couldn’t believe had managed a straight face when she recited the café’s Question of the Day—went to fetch our turmeric latte and raw coconut water, leaving My Little Grape and me to ponder an answer. Had the waitress asked me what gives your life meaning? I could have easily answered by pointing to My Little Grape, but this West-coast-guerilla-empowerment challenge had me stumped.

What makes you feel empowered? The worry of My Little Grape’s green suitcases visible in the back seat of the rental car across the street wasn’t an answer. Nor was the demise of my pristine driving record, nor the vaguely sickening knot in my stomach reminding me that twelve time zones would soon separate the Big Apple and My Little Grape. What makes you feel empowered? Not sitting across from the beautiful, independent young woman whose new life plan required no more from me, at least for now, than a lift to the airport.

Getting to the airport on time makes me feel empowered. Eat faster

My Little Grape blurted out, snapping me out of my wallowing daze as her millennial fingers were all business entering menu notes into the newly liberated iPhone. We concurred the turmeric latte with almond milk was inspired. She asked me if I agreed that the risotto needed more white wine, which it did, and if the Brazil nut parmesan on the Caesar was so far from the flavor it was attempting to mimic, they shouldn’t have bothered. She was right about that one too, but I refrained from divulging how dulce flakes would have been a better choice. When she’s tackling a vegan Caesar in our kitchens, who knows. Maybe My Little Grape will do what every bunch of little grapes has been doing since dial telephones hung on every kitchen wall. She’ll pick up the telephone wireless device and call good ol’ mom for the recipe.

duck and cabbage crop med

Savoy Cabbage with Apples and Grapes

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED (for four):

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 head savoy cabbage, shredded
1 cup good, mineraly dry white wine, plus more for finishing
2 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced, or coarsely grated
½ cup seedless organic grapes, tiny if you can find them, halved if you can’t
Salt and freshly ground pepper
pomegranate seeds, for garnish, optional


Melt the butter in a heavy-gauge 12″ (30cm) skillet over med heat. Do no burn. Toss in the mustard seeds and allow to simmer until they start to pop. Stir in the cabbage, and saute until it starts to wilt, about ten minutes. Add the white wine a little at a time so the alcohol and burn off and you don’t flood your cabbage. You want a saute here, not a boil.

Once all the alcohol scent has evaporated, stir in the apples and cook, covered. Add the grapes after about 10 minutes, then cook over medium heat, uncovered, until the whole mixture is soft and and quite wilted, stirring occasionally. This may take about another 20 minutes.

Season the cabbage with salt, pepper, and a generous splash of wine. Cook for two minutes to evaporate the alcohol, then serve. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

This is delicious with fowl, and while I’m not a pork eater, from all reports it’s good with that too.



  1. Karen – again, what a truly delightful heartfelt piece. so fresh and so original….and I don’t mean the food, I mean your writing! how you could tie together dropping your daughter off at the airport, eating vegan and giving us a recipe, and your daughter going to the other side of the world to work, and turn it into a nice neat little package…. it was very sweet and emotional but not at all cheesy. cheers – laurette

     ~ Laurette Kittle, November 17, 2014 at 12:11 am.
  2. Quirky, full of surprises, yet still telling a story. That’s my Karen. The many layers of motherhood, and cooking, and travel, and time zones, and culture zones sautéed up together. I love your writing Karen!

     ~ Anni Crofut, November 18, 2014 at 4:14 am.
  3. Bingo! Once again, all L I F E is involved in your great piece of writing…
    East Coast vs West Coast, East vs West, Vegan vs Pork, leaving vs staying, falling vs rising…I could go on and on. And best of all, I have my dish for tomorrow’s dinner with friends. LOVE YOU! Galina

     ~ Galina, November 18, 2014 at 11:03 am.
  4. sooooo…glad that you are writing again! soooo….sad that you are separated from your Little Grape….soooo…glad your Little Grape is heading out to find what she can find…

     ~ Gayle, December 13, 2014 at 5:02 pm.

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