Or: that time I tried to make kimchi.

The Desire

I was sixteen or seventeen when I first tried cucumber kimchi.  I loved it, first bite.  Sour things, salty things, spicy things – these are a few of my favorite foods!  And here they were, all mixed up together!  Why was this not something we ate on a regular basis, Mom and Dad?  Hmmmm?  Because everyone else hates it?  FINE.

Fast-forward to college with my own money to buy whatever I liked.  Buried amongst a shameful amount of cheap pizza and hush puppies (mmmm, hush puppies), there was a trip to the nearest city’s Asian market.  Said city was so far away, the three of us had to make a weekend of it, but make a weekend we did!  Included in my purchases was a beautiful bottle of cabbage kimchi.  I made it last for nearly a month.  When I wanted some for lunch or dinner, I would sneak the bottle into the school cafeteria, get one of the bowls next to the cereal, then pop it in the microwave, furtively casting glances to the cafeteria matrons who despised outside food in their space, hoping I would not be caught.

Fast-forward once more to the month before my 21st birthday.  I knew that kimchi needed to ferment for a while, so I thought I could use a precious Saturday off from work to put it together, then open up the fruits of my labors on my birthday and have a snack no one else would even think of stealing.  But did I know anyone who could help me achieve this goal?  Nope.

The Recipe

I think this was my first mistake: thinking recipe cooking was a good idea.  As previously established, I cook from scratch more often than not, especially now that I live on my own.  But this was during the living with the family phase and so recipes were still par for the course. Ish. I liked the guidelines they provided, but rarely ever followed closely, much less exactly. But, seeing as I had never made anything close to kimchi, I decided it would be a good idea to use a recipe.  Just this once.  Unfortunately, recipes are this magical land that I occasionally try to observe or contribute to, but recipes confuse the heck out of me.  This is why I cook from scratch.  No recipes to confuse me, just smells and taste tests to let me know if I’m “right” or horribly, terribly wrong So, I went looking for the easiest recipe possible. (WARNING: DON’T DO THIS.  A LITTLE EFFORT GOES A LONG WAY IN SUCH CASES.)

The Attempt

I found an easy-ish recipe, but I still needed an impressive amount of supplies that weren’t around the house.  One (not-so) quick trip to the local Asian market provided me with the food stuffs and a (really-not-so) quick trip to the local grocery stores finally  resulted in the jars my fermented deliciousness would ferment in.  So, I followed the recipe.  I made a mistake (ACKACKACK . . . oh, I can fix that easy-peasy!), I started crying when the spicy powder got into my eyes, I shoved three jars three-quarters full of my cucumber muck/kimchi-to-be and hit it downstairs in the storage room, which had the benefits of being the coolest room of the house AND one of the least visited, in case of smell.

The Wait

It was long, but kimchi was at the end, so I deemed the effort worth it.

The Result

The kimchi wasn’t ready by my birthday.  None of the tell-tale signs (including bulging tops to my jars) were there.  So, I pouted a bit and had a good birthday anyway.  Then I proceeded to completely forget about the kimchi.

I went to college for another year.  I worked that summer.  I played a bit, too.

I went to yet another year of college.  I graduated.  I was a bridesmaid in my former roommate’s wedding.

It was not until I wandered into the storage room looking for a long-lost teddy bear (I lost it when we moved from California to Colorado when I was four . . . this exercise in futility is something of a yearly nostalgic pilgrimage) and instead found the long-ago hidden kimchi.  Which still had not bulged like it was supposed to, but by this time was two years old.  Brave as I am when it comes to old, should-be-rotten-by-now-but-looks-okay food, this experiment tested the firmest of my resolves.  My sense of adventure was found wanting.  I quietly sneaked into the garage with the three jars and unceremoniously chucked that kimchi into the garbage, extremely glad that my family was not around (this time) to witness my shame.  To this day, I have no idea what went wrong, but if two years wasn’t enough to ferment those puppies, there was something very wrong.

The Lesson

There’s an Asian market in town, dear.  Leave this one to the experts.

The Real Lesson

Adventures are a good thing.  It was a hilarious screw-up and though my private shame is not so private anymore . . . the point is to try something new.  This was a pretty big fail for me, but it didn’t stop me from cooking or looking at recipes and finding what worked and what didn’t.  I can’t say The Kimchi Fail taught me anything significant except humor in the face of a failed meal/snack – which is pretty important when a lot of money ends up down the drain – but it did allow me to remember that food is fun, even when it isn’t edible.

The Actual Real Lesson

There’s an Asian market in town, dear.  Leave this one to the experts.

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Any funny food fails from you?  What tripped you up?  Was it the recipe or unfamiliar ingredients or something in the air that day?

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