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A Lesson in Waiting

Pickling-dishes-BT

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.

Pickling-jars-BT

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.

Pickling-cukes-BT

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…”  

Pickling-dish-BT

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.


BT’s CABBAGE KIMCHI RECIPE

Serves  2 quarts  Prep Time: 3 hours


WHAT YOU NEED

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


WHAT TO DO

  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.

 

94 replies »

  1. A compelling read as always. Your words always seem to convey exactly what I feel inside. I’ve recently faced the destabilizing realities of life head-on, being ever more grateful for the glorious moments leading up to the present one and hopeful that many more will follow before we have to say our final farewell.

  2. I love your phrase “steeping in discomfort”.

    It’s true what you say, all of it. I’m someone who likes results Right Now, and I find it frustrating when I have to wait. I often forget what it’s like to wait in anticipation and not be anxious about it, to be OK with it.

    Thanks, you, for this. I needed it.

  3. Your lovely, melancholy reflections mirror many have pondered over these past few months. Those who have any depth, anyway. This has been difficult for our “I want it all and I want it now culture.” My personal way of coping has been to surrender to the now. The future is too nebulous. Your kim chee will be worth every second of the wait, I’m sure. Wishing you bon appétit in advance.

  4. I always love your pictures.
    It’s nice to savor good food, and it’s great to cook it also. I personally never eat anything spicy, but I also don’ t have digestive issues or heartburn, never had in all 62 years.
    Patience is virtue, sometimes unappreciated.
    We all have different outlook when it comes to plans and planning. I kind of stopped doing that too much after the accident 25 years ago. It cancelled any plans, lots of intentions and possible became impossible. Yeat, that also changes with every added year. We all wnat the best life, the real life, the perfect life. I think it makes sense to learn how to live when things don’t turn out as expected.
    From the distance of many decades, it is visible that sometimes it is good not to get what we want and vice versa.
    Wonderful post, as always!

    • Oh, thank you Inese for such beautiful words and thoughts. As I get older I’m learning to step into the world as it is: strange and confusing, unpredictable and complex. Wishing you the best.

  5. Every-time I read one of your posts I feel like I’m talking to a wise friend. Everything about this resonates with me.

    By nature I like everything to be aligned, scheduled and in order. I have to frequently remind myself to surrender. To observe instead of drive. Despite this natural inclination, I loved how you framed it as an “illusion of predictability”. It’s true. 
I suspect many people lean on this for a sense of comfort and normality, myself included.

    As a side note – I am a secret-fermentation-oholic so I can’t wait to try this recipe! I frequently make kraut but I’ve never tried making Kimchi. 🙂

  6. I really enjoyed your prose and analogy to fermented goodies. I have been doing just that at home and it’s better than store bought by far.

  7. The stories you weave around everyday things like food and long walks are always so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your gift of words with us.

    I’m going to keep thinking about what you shared on waiting this weekend.

  8. We used to make kimchi on our sailboat when sailing in the tropics for eight years. We would put the jars in the sun on deck and let the contents ferment that way. 🙂

    Some people seem to have more trouble with this pandemic, lock-down, self-isolation, shelter-in-place … than others. As nomads ourselves you’d think we are “suffering” right now, having to alter or stop our lifestyle and travels indefinitely. But, we (especially me) are actually doing great with it. I see the “waiting” as extra, free time, without pressure to perform or achieve. It allows me more freedom to do with my time what I want. There is no guilt about not being out and about, discovering new places. Plus, I’ve been able to stay in houses instead of a 19ft camper, which provides heaps amounts of welcome comfort.

    I also find that being a nomad for over fifteen years means that I’m used to uncertainty, flexibility, and not making plans or having anything familiar to live by or look forward to. It’s all about perspective and what you’re used to… 🙂

    • Ooh…kimchi sunning itself on the deck…sounds like a delicious life. 😋
      “I see the “waiting” as extra, free time, without pressure to perform or achieve.” — how marvelous…this time is really an opportunity for you…and clearly your years of embracing uncertainty and being flexible is well suited to now.

  9. I think the key to waiting for something is to fill your time with something else. Of course, if your not careful soon there’s so many something elses, you have a hard time getting back to the original something!

    That being said, I impatiently wait for being able to travel again. So much to see, and even less time…

    • Haha…balance in all things remains a good thing…I think for me learning to be without pressure to perform or achieve is key to growing. As for travel…it will be interesting to see what happens.

  10. I absolutely love the way you blog. It paints a vivid picture. I also like how deep you are. We take simple things for granted and everyone keeps waiting for the new normal… or things to turn back to the way it was. It won’t. Adaptability is key. Love the symbolicness of canning foods in your post as well. Well done.

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