Just as I reached for another bite of this pickled red cabbage (with pickled red carrots mingled in there), I had a memory. Pale February light might have jolted me back, or maybe it was merely the puckery taste of red cabbage.
Seven Februarys ago, I wrote a piece about the pickled red cabbage Danny had made for me at his restaurant a few days before. Loving a chef who works in a restaurant means never going out for Valentine’s Day. Instead, we fed each other pickled red cabbage in bed the next morning, in our apartment on the top floor of a house in Seattle.
I wrote about how I took a bite and immediately wanted him to dictate a recipe so I could put it up on this site. He shushed my over-active mind and reminded me to simply enjoy the sweet acid taste in my mouth, squeak the cabbage between my teeth, and lay back on the pillows and relax.
Seven years later, almost everything has changed. We live out in the country now, in a two-story house with our daughter. There are few long, lingering mornings anymore. Her joyful stories wake us up early, bleary-eyed and smiling as she dances in front of us. Danny no longer works in a restaurant. I’m no longer a high school English teacher. Instead, we work together on cookbooks, recipes for other places, and the endless spin of new ideas that form between us.
The person I was seven years ago didn’t see any of this coming.
Right now, I’m sitting in our kitchen studio, pale February light falling on the new table finally in place here. Our work life happens here now, not on the line surrounded by chefs in a hot kitchen or in a quiet room alone with a computer. More and more, our work is centered in this physical space and our small home town, instead of online. We work together. We’re still madly in love, more every day. I just don’t write about it as openly as I did then. Some people have told me they miss that. I know more now. Our full lives are no longer for public consumption.
But he still knows how to calm my over-active mind. And there is still the food. There are the cauliflower fritters with cumin, shallots, and almond flour that Danny just imagined. There are dates and buckwheat groats to bake. There are grain-free hoagies and sourdough starter and hash brown waffles to play with next week.
My friend Molly gave a wonderful talk at Food Blog South, a talk I wish I could have heard in person. Like me and so many of us with this weird habit of keeping public spaces with food stories, she has struggled to figure out what she’s doing, exactly. I love this idea from her:
“The reasons why I keep blogging are different from the reasons why I started, and believe me, I’ve thought many times about stopping. I mean, let’s be real here. I am not the same person I was when I started Orangette, and the energy that drives me in doing it isn’t the same energy. What I’m interested in is different. I fought that realization for a long time, because, hey, my blog was succeeding; I shouldn’t change it! What kind of crazy person would change something that was succeeding?”
Honestly, I think about quitting this site sometimes. Many times. (Don’t worry. I’m not going to, yet. And I don’t tell you this to have you rush in with what this place means to you. We’re good.) As soon as the story of our lives — and our food — changes, someone shouts, “What? I thought I knew this place.” (Danny started doing the dance from Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime after I read this.) And as soon as I try to keep things the same, I start to feel stifled. And the writing dies.
I started this site to write. I’m going to keep going.
As Molly wrote: “I want my blog to keep me excited about writing. I want it to be a place that forces me to keep writing and practicing, and to be a cattle prod to me to keep cooking and working. I want my site to reflect what I’m excited about. We expect to change; why shouldn’t we expect our work to change? I have this conversation with myself all the time. And I try not to think of it as, What do I stand to lose by following my nose? Instead, I try to ask, What do I stand to lose by NOT following my nose? I try.”
I’m trying, too.
So seven years of living — some hilarious, passionate, falling-down-making-mistakes living — were all telescoped together with one bite of pickled red cabbage.
And then I remembered: I never did give you that recipe.
Here it is.
This recipe is only a template, a path to finding your own pickled red cabbage, if you don’t already have a recipe. Maybe you like white vinegar, or a full-bodied red wine, or sherry vinegar in your pickled cabbage. Throw in a cinnamon stick for a tiny bit of heat and sweetness in here. If you’re anything like us, you might not be able to stop pickling once you start.
- 1 small red cabbage, shredded fine
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
- 1 cup champagne vinegar
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove
- 1 tablespoon sugar (if you’re not eating sugar, you could try honey here)
- Put the red cabbage into a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage and massage it into the cabbage. Let the cabbage sit for 4 hours.
- Meanwhile, put the red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, black peppercorns, bay leaves, and clove into a pot. Set the pot on medium-high heat. Bring the vinegars to boil, then turn off the heat. Let the spices infuse the vinegar while the cabbage rests.
- Rinse off the cabbage. Put the shredded cabbage into clean, dry jars.
- Set the pot of vinegars and spices back on medium-high heat. Add the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved into the vinegar, turn off the heat. Pour the hot vinegars over the cabbage in the jars. Seal the jars and let them overnight in a cool place.
- You could eat the cabbage the next day, if you wish. The flavors will intensify over time, so you’ll find your own favorite length of time before you start eating.