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A Lesson in Waiting


Being in limbo is a rough place to find myself. I’m anxious. “How long before they’re ready?” I wonder, gazing at the jars. I think back to my explorations in South Korea, and my mouth waters in anticipation. The longed-for taste of spicy fermented leaves with hot rice ushers me back into the pantry. I patrol the shelves, watching my cabbages, artichokes, cucumbers resting in liquid. I squint to detect signs of fizz, to observe the vegetables marinating slowly.


All I can do is sit tight. And the doing nothing is affecting my body. My muscles are sore. Every evening a headache makes its way from the back of my eyes to the bottom of my neck. I can’t fall asleep. When I want the days to speed through, insomnia is a dreadful burden. The sun sets, I finish dinner, I watch the stars…and then count out the seconds staring at my ceiling. I’m exhausted, but my mind keeps spinning in jumbled directions. My thoughts circle around me and my problems. What will life be like after this? Is everyone else feeling the same way? Should I stock up on flour, salt, potatoes? Who else can I talk to about the isolation?

What is it about waiting, interminable waiting, that is so unbearable to the human persona? We devise ways to perform faster, short cuts for every aspect of life. There’s new slang to hurry our communication along, to indicate our unwillingness to listen to one another. Programmers concoct various icons to mitigate our annoyance regarding download, upload, and processing speeds. Retailers clamor to placate our desire to possess an object at the very instant we lay eyes on it…or even as we’re imagining we want it.


We’ve forgotten the joys that come from postponed gratification. The sweetness of anticipation before festivities. The pleasure in recognizing hard work that goes into a beloved creation. The satisfaction of long hours spent in making something of value. Waiting is hard work to so many of us. It feels opposed to the constant push for productivity we’ve accepted as normal. Waiting plants us firmly in the universe’s reality and a great truth we cannot seem to swallow: life is uncertain. 

We love to make plans. We find it impossible to function without the illusion of predictability. “Tomorrow I will still be alive,” we lie to ourselves, “I will do those three things left on my list…next week I’ll call my mother…next year I’ll have lunch with my friend…”  


There’s another normal — not being able to imagine what happens after this moment. And there is no solution for that troubled space. Only the opportunity to search inside myself, to question my fears, to live in the waiting. Maybe there aren’t happier days ahead, maybe there are no future possibilities, no end to this continuity of…delay…of coping. I have to learn how to adapt to that.

So I sit with this time, with the loss of certitude, with the sorrow that comes out of change. I keep working on my capacity for patience and gratitude…now…and now…and now. I wait…for the pickling to mature. I steep in my discomfort…and I return to watch over my containers of cabbage, artichokes, and cucumbers as they gradually brine. In these vessels, perhaps, are the rewards of my indolence.


Serves  2 quarts  Prep Time: 3 hours


2 pounds (1 kg) Napa cabbage  

¼ cup (62 grams) salt (with no iodine)

6 quarts (5.7 liters) non-chlorinated water 

8 ounces (200 grams) radish, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon (2 grams) grated ginger 

6 garlic cloves grated

5 tablespoons (25 grams) chili pepper flakes

3 tablespoons (40 mL) distilled water

1 teaspoon (4 grams) granulated sugar

¾ teaspoon (3.75 grams) kelp powder *

1 medium bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces


  1. Rinse cabbage thoroughly. Cut lengthwise into quarters. Remove the core. Slice each quarter into 2-inch wide strips (5 centimeters). Deposit cut cabbage in a bowl and add the non-iodized (iodine will prevent fermentation) salt. Massage the salt into the cabbage until the leaves begin to soften.
  2. Cover the cabbage with non-chlorinated (chlorine prevents fermentation) water. Rest a plate over the bowl in order to keep the cabbage pieces submerged in the water, if necessary.
  3. Take out the cabbage after 2 hours, keeping the leftover brine water. Thoroughly rinse the cabbage and allow it to drain for 30 minutes.
  4. In a separate bowl mix garlic, ginger, chili flakes, sugar, kelp powder, and the 3 tablespoons of distilled water until they form a paste. Smear the paste over the drained cabbage, cut scallions, and diced radish, making sure to coat well. 
  5. Pack your mixture into a lidded container, pressing down so that any excess liquid rises. Pour the leftover brine water into the vessel to cover the vegetables, if needed. Do not overfill. Leave a 2-inch (5 centimeters) space at the top for fermenting juices to release.
  6. Store the sealed kimchi jar in a safe place at room temperature for 3 days, after which you can check for bubble formation on the fluid’s surface. If there are none, check back after the 5th day. Ensure your kimchi stays properly submerged by gently pressing down on it with a spoon.
  7. Once bubbles appear, refrigerate your kimchi for 2 weeks. The longer you allow fermentation, the more full-bodied and complex the flavor. 
  8. Kimchi is traditionally served as a side dish or banchan (반찬; 飯饌) with meals. You can also eat it with rice, put it in soup, or enjoy it on its own. Kimchi can be safely preserved in the refrigerator for up to 5 months. 

* BT Tip: Kelp powder will add an umami flavor to your kimchi. You can substitute fish paste, if preferred.


107 replies »

  1. This line “I keep working on my capacity for patience and gratitude” resonates with me so much. Having our usual well planned, active lives screech to a halt has been shocking. Yet, perhaps like you, I have taken to exploring new or old adventures in the kitchen. The sewing machine which has not seen the light of day in 30 years was dusted off. A bit like finding an old friend who says ‘ It will be all right.’

    • Ah! I’m finding that a lot of people are taking up hobbies they’d abandoned or learning new skills they’d never had “time” for. I’m humbled to consider how lucky I’ve been and to continue to live responsibly. Thanks so much for the cheery messages and the wide-ranging voices you’ve shared during the pandemic.

    • Coming from you that’s so marvelous to hear! Thank you. In anticipation of a better tomorrow I continue to strive for the right words and actions in the moment and your encouragement has always been an inspiration.

  2. Not a fan of cabbage I’m afraid but I am a fan of patience. We’e always been comfortable with taking our time with travel and other situations and have never been instant-gratification types. It is tough currently though for so many who have never had to wait for anything. Perhaps it’s partly a generational issue? We were brought up without ever being bored, if you had nothing to do then you found something or made something up yourself.

    • Hmm…I’m sure it is partly generational…and partly I think it has to do with having digital distractions easily at hand and relying on tech heavily for entertainment means that instant gratification becomes a normal. Thanks for reading, for sharing the wisdom of your lived experience, and for being a fan of patience. May this find you safe and well.

  3. All this will pass, like all epidemics did. Just stay safe, enjoy yourself, and your new hobbies. We will all be fine. You have an extensive collection of delicious preserves. Thank you for the recipe. I always wanted to try kimchi, and now is a time to make it.

  4. Cooking is an option to fend off the ill feelings. What worries me most is the possibility of a closed world for a while. Endless barriers to travel. The joy of civil servants exerting their minute power in refusing entry…
    Take care.

  5. – “Tomorrow I will still be alive,” we lie to ourselves.

    Quite. We need to learn to cope with new realities that change daily. I sleep but with terribly vivid and disturbing dreams. When I wake up, I don’t know know where and when I am. You have your kimchy friends. They can help you learn how to ferment. Maybe our best used by date is still to come.

  6. “We’ve forgotten the joys that come from postponed gratification.” – this is so true. You’ve answered your own question.

    In the past, we were very good at lots of quiet down time, but with tech we don’t need those anymore. Or do we?

    Do you meditate or practice any kind of mindfulness? This might be a good time to dive into those waters. There’s a free mindfulness workshop going on if you are interested. It’s only just started.

    I’ve signed up but I haven’t made the time for it yet. You’ll understand when my newsletter comes out. But I hope you find something useful there 🙂

    Sending hugs your way.

  7. Like many people, since moving to Jakarta twelve years ago, I’m more accustomed to finishing things fast, making plans, and do things as efficiently as possible. While I’m still practicing these while working from home, my houseplants have been very helpful in reminding me of one of the core principles of the Javanese people whose culture was what my parents, grandparents and their ancestors grew up learning and practicing: “alon-alon waton kelakon”, which translates into “slowly but sure”. I can’t rush my plants to grow at a speed that I want. Instead, it’s better and more enjoyable to actually follow the process and let nature take its course. In this time of great uncertainties, we are forced to reevaluate our lives, to get ourselves ready when the world is open again.

    • What a wonderful mantra to keep with you! “Slowly but sure” is something I will be repeating to myself each day. Thank you so very much for this tender advice. May your days unfurl as beautifully and magically as the care you are giving your plants.

  8. I’m in a different place, hon, though I admire your analogy with the kimchi making. Beautiful prose, and you make me want to prowl your shelves, though I don’t even know if I like kimchi! Such a sheltered upbringing. Or a stunted life? Feeling a little unraveled right now, as Portugal has gently started to move on, and I have already made 2 visits to my favourite restaurant. You never saw such smiles as we got from the waiters. The first time we were the only customers all night. People here were frightened, and there’s an undercurrent still. My first ferry ride to the Ilha yesterday in almost 3 months. Wearing a mask, onboard a boat where we were outnumbered by crew. How bizarre is that? And when the tourists start to return it could still go awry.

    • In your recounting of life in Algarve I see portends of my own bizarre future…whether to be the first one…where to go…how to behave. I’ve seen images of people “interacting” through layers of plastic, restaurants looking like office cubicles, stores setup like hospital quarters… I think we’re all feeling unraveled no matter what stage of the pandemic we’re in. As for the kimchi…it has a distinctive aroma and taste that’s not to everyone’s palate. But, I believe in Portugal you’ve got pickled pork?…which I’ve never tried.

  9. I love kimchee. When we lived in Korea, our landlady use to make it using traditional pots, it was on the roof of our building where she had a garden. Wonderful.
    “We love to make plans” that’s me. We are also in the middle of an international move. What is interesting about that is that moves are stressful regardless of the situation so I feel like this pandemic has introduced some new challenges, but every move has had its challenges, so it’s both different and yet not.
    Thanks for writing this. Stay well.
    Cheers, Amy

    • Yay! I love finding a fellow kimchi lover. 😊 I’m very lucky that my Korean friends taught me how to make it, but also that I fell in love with its taste and aroma. How exciting that you are embarking on a relocating adventure! As a species we’re very good at adapting, so I think you will meet all the challenges of moving during this time with courage and ingenuity. And may your new home bring you great comfort and joy. Take care!

  10. Fantastic insights. What a lesson we all have an opportunity to learn in this season.

  11. This is wonderful. So much of what I do requires patience. I can see that it pays off!!

  12. We are all taking lessons in patience! Although I am not terribly bothered by much of the required isolation to date, there are still times when I chafe at not only the restrictions we face but the indefinite end to them. I’ve always been a bit of a rusher – hurry and get the puzzle done, or the dishes washed, or the laundry folded. Now I am actually finding some pleasure in taking my sweet old time (which I have a lot more of these days!) doing both mundane tasks and pleasurable activities. I love your vegetable pickling activity; good things come to those who wait! Enjoy!

    • Haha…thanks! Hopefully my jars become tasty little treats! I like that you are making mundane tasks more enjoyable for yourself as well by taking the time to be attentive to them. It’s something I need to attend to as well. Take care.

  13. Wonderful post!!! I love how you weave waiting for your recipes to marinate with what is going on in our world. I can relate to the sleepless nights and worry. I think we have become very impatient … people protesting ‘stay at home’ for instance can’t wait for things to be back as it was. Here our tourists are notorious for tailgating and speeding. They are supposed to come here and relax but they can’t wait to get to the next spot. Great photos and now I’m hungry!

    • I think collectively there is still so much privilege we need to unpack in our lives. I don’t want “things to be back” to what they were. I’d like for us to move into a place where we acknowledge and value the labor and lives of one another including remembering that those of us privileged to travel enter places where others live, that the tourist “destinations” are communities in which we are given entitlements locals don’t necessarily have. Thank you for your lovely comment. Hoping this finds you safe and well.

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