If you had met me ten years ago, I would have told you I hated roller coasters, expressways, family vacations to Wisconsin and, with passion, every kind of dog, big or small. I didn’t like the texture of tomatoes until I grew my own, just two years ago. I didn’t like hot weather. And I didn’t like several people I knew, mainly because I’d labeled them weird, or fake, or rude, or something else.
In every example named above, when my perspectives changed, so did my opinion: An October weekend with some college friends taught me strapping myself into Batman and letting it turn me upside down wouldn’t make me vomit—what’s more, it would be fun; A year spent studying in Florida, hundreds of miles from my family and friends, would cure me of my fear of expressways, if only because they were the means to the white sandy beaches; Four years away from my family made me appreciate them, and their vacations, more; we got a tiny white peekapoo, who, by the way, is at this moment sitting on my lap and my left arm, which makes typing an adventure, and named him Bailey, after my favorite movie character.
Old habits die hard, though, and that last group—the people—I’ll admit I still fight sometimes. Or, rather, the tendency to label them based on an initial impression. If I were more discerning—like my brother or my friend Becky, for example—this might be worth something, my first impressions, as theirs are seldom wrong. But mine? Almost always wrong, and almost always humbling.
I am learning, painfully slowly, to give people the benefit of the doubt and know that I don’t know their motivations or their back stories or their past. Maybe if I did, I would understand them better, you know? Like that guy on the road the other morning—that one who honked his horn for two straight minutes at the little old lady who was practically crying, on our way to a red light? Maybe if I ran into him at the post office, he’d be letting people in front of him in line. Or if I’m honest, maybe he’d be the one catching me rolling my eyes at someone or sighing loudly, like I have been known to do and regret, just obnoxiously enough so people know I’m not happy, like that is what is most important.
There are other examples of this learning, even beyond human interaction—like artichokes, celery root, carrot soups and kale, for example. Just when I am sure I don’t like something, I am proven wrong, my quick-draw character revealed. So it was with cole slaw.
I have always hated cole slaw. There’s this sort-of-unwritten rule that people always have to bring it to picnics and summer parties; at restaurants, there’s often a tiny container thrown in with sandwiches or fried chicken, which I either throw away or generously offer to anyone willing to accept. I’ve tried it, once or twice, but have written it off, uninterested, unwilling to look its way again.
Until. Enter perspective change. Last week, I was craving something refreshing and light, high on fresh produce but low on being all fruit (i.e., all sugar). I remembered my carrot slaw, which I half-considered making again, even though, as its only fan around here, I’d be eating the whole batch alone. And then I saw this.
It was pretty, and that is important, all decked out with bright reds and oranges, as colorful as the flower gardens outside my window. (I have decided, for the record, that should I ever have children, I will make the effort to make foods pretty because that is half the battle, at least in my genetics, though, if they still don’t want to eat it, I probably won’t force them.)
And so I set to work Sunday afternoon, cutting Deb’s original recipe in half, chopping half a half a red cabbage and the same in green. Lacking a food processor made all the chopping take a little longer, but not by much, and my big, sharp knife did its job well. In the end? I even liked it: cold and crunchy, simple and sweet. I ate some that night, alongside takeout, and, right now, I’m off to repeat the process, with a homemade burger I’ll grill on the stove. Then I’ll probably sit down on the sofa and see what’s on television, dog at my side, happy.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Ina Garten
The only real derivation I’ve made from Deb’s recipe is in the ingredients—I used whole grain Dijon mustard instead of whole grain; celery flakes instead of celery salt. Also, don’t feel like you need to add all the dressing to the slaw—Deb prefers less, I like a little more—the choice is yours, and she says leftovers make a great vegetable dip.
1/4 small head green cabbage
1/4 small head red cabbage
2 large carrots, scrubbed or peeled
1 cup (8 ounces) good mayonnaise
1/8 cup Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon celery flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Cut the cabbages in half and then in quarters and cut out the cores. Chop into thin pieces about the size you’ll like in your slaw, and place them in a large bowl. Next, chop the carrots and add them to the bowl.
In a separate, medium bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients but the parsley leaves (mayonnaise, both mustards, vinegar, celery flakes, kosher salt and pepper). Pour as much of this dressing over the grated vegetables as you’d prefer, and toss to moisten well. Add parsley and toss together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to meld. Serve cold or at room temperature.