that sweet acid bite

pickled cabbage and carrots

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.

Pickled Red Cabbage

Yield: 2 pints

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.

Ingredients

  • 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)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Rinse off the cabbage. Put the shredded cabbage into clean, dry jars.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

11 comments on “that sweet acid bite

  1. sheila

    Can’t wait to try this recipe.
    Something must be in the air, as I am asking myself the same questions about my blog. When it is just me and the words, it all makes sense. That’s what I need to remember.
    xxoo to you and all that you need to remember.

  2. Kyle

    I love the changes in the blog over the years and hope you continue to change. I don’t think blog writers should be stuck in the “here is the new, amazing, local-food recipe that makes my life an idyllic wonderland” rut. We have a decade of wonderful, endless blog post full of fodder and inspiration with a mere google search. It’s time to let writers turn the corner into whatever creativity comes next. I also read a number of blogs just as regularly with the comments turned off…it probably improves the experience for both the end-user and writer!

  3. Monica

    The content can and should change but the authentic voice of the writer has to be consistent. That’s why blogging differs from journalism. Be true to yourself and the rest will follow.

  4. Pat Machin

    I went several shades of green in envy at the picture of you table. I absolutely love such honest and functional design. You can keep your mouldings and curves ~ that table really means business!

  5. Chrissy

    Truth is, we all need change whether we like it or not. We need your blog and writing to grow as much as you do. Otherwise, we’d find we weren’t learning anything new. Those of us who have (or choose) to limit our food choices in this crazy S.A.D. need fresh ideas to expand our perspective of what’s possible with what we eat, and that possibilities thinking can take shape in all other areas of our lives.

    Keep the change and your fresh perspectives coming! I love your work.

  6. Chelsea

    What is it about that Proustian epiphany feeling that rises most strongly with food?! I’ve been in places that should sweep me back in time, heard music I’ve heard as a child, or as a teenager, or at my wedding, and remained firmly in the present. But food! Food sweeps me into re-inhabiting moments and becoming (an older, I hope wiser version of) that self I was when I first ate that food.
    But as you say, I think it’s that older/wiser/new version of self inhabiting the memory-ghost of who we were that makes the moment so layered and thick with meaning. It would be no use to anyone to still be who we were. That would be like publishing the same brownie recipe over and over and over again! We need freshness and newness and much as some folks resist it, that’s only going to come with change.

  7. Joan

    Studio is looking good. Are you still planning on cooking lessons?

    If/when you close this blog I would miss it but life is change. I’m certainly not the same person,doing the same things I was seven years ago.

  8. Dianne Jacob

    Thanks for the link, Shauna. I too was blown away by Molly’s address. She got to the heart of what so many writers ponder, and many of the comments on my blog were about the same issue you address: what happens when life changes? The thing is that you can’t stop life from changing, but for those of us who are writers, I don’t think we will ever stop trying to express ourselves.

  9. eve

    I don’t even cook and I still just love to read your blog. Good writing is good writing, yknow? Abd it helps me keep the inspiration I need to continue with my little blog.

  10. jill

    agree with all the above comments!

    i’ve made this recipe and LOVE it so much I must make more. my question: can I reuse the pickling liquid? if so, how many times?