The best and worst Valentine's gifts I’ve ever received
Let’s start with the worst to get it out of the way. Our first Valentine’s Day as a couple, my then boyfriend got me a AAA membership. I can't remember if it was even wrapped.
Men and women often differ in how they react to this story. A lot of our male friends think that it was thoughtful and practical, because I drove a beat up VW Jetta at the time that needed a 15 minute “rest” every time I turned the engine off. (I spent a lot of time reading in gas stations waiting for my car to wake back up). I agreed it was a practical gift - that was precisely the problem. Where was the sweep-me-off-my-feet creativity and heart? If he couldn’t be insightfully thoughtful when we're in the glow of our first months of dating, what were my chances years and decades in?
Dear reader, it turned out that my chances were excellent. Because, years and decades later, I got the most thoughtful gift from my spouse for Valentine's Day that anyone has ever given me. Burton made me homemade kimchi, despite the fact that he doesn’t really like the stuff. In fact, he often makes annoying exaggerated expressions like he’s choking to death when I pull it out of the fridge.
And yet. He bought a homemade kimchi kit, gathered up all the ingredients and then he made. Me. Kimchi.
If you’re not Korean, you might not know that making kimchi is an insanely long and labor-intensive task. Growing up, all Korean church ladies would come over to our house for days, washing, trimming and salting the cabbage, then letting it sit while they chopped and grated and chopped some more. Green onion. Ginger. Garlic. Daikon. All magically transformed into perfectly uniform matchsticks or evenly minced puree without the help of a food processor.
Watching my mom and her friends efficiently ingredient-ify hundreds of pounds of vegetables back then, I never would have guessed that I’d grow up and marry a white guy who would rumble with his version of this corest of core Korean traditions.
It was delicious and I ate every last salty, crunchy, spicy bite.
In case you’re curious, here’s a recipe for easy homemade kimchi. It’s yummy, probiotic, gut-friendly goodness in a salt-bomb. My mom would have kept the cabbage whole and stuffed the spices in between each leaf of cabbage, but this recipe makes concessions to the shortness of life.
- 1 napa cabbage (about 2 lbs)
- 1/2 cup kosher salt (inauthentic upgrade)
- 12 cups cold water
- 8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into perfect 2-inch matchsticks
- 4 medium scallions, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (use all parts)
- 1/3 cup go-chu-garu (Korean red pepper powder)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic cloves (from 6 to 8 medium cloves)
- 2 teaspoons saewoojut (Korean salted shrimp, minced)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 2-inch pieces, throwing out the root end. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt until well coated. Add enough cold water to just cover the cabbage, making sure almost all of it is submerged. Cover and let sit at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Drain and rinse the cabbage in cold water, squeezing out the extra liquid. Set aside.
- Place the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Then add in the cabbage and toss well until evenly coated. Pack it all into a 2 quart glass jar with a tightfitting lid. Let sit in a cool, dark place (like a garage or cellar) with a tray underneath the jar in case it bubbles. After 24 hours, open the jar to let the fermenting gases escape, then reseal and put in your refrigerator for another 2-7 days (the kimchi will peak after a week or so). Delicious for up to one month.
Whew, that’s a lot of unfamiliar steps, which is only part of the reason I loved this gift so much. Also, I just love kimchi.