Samosa Salad

Monday, February 1, 2016

After a week in Burma, we arrived in Mae Sot, Thailand, the border town just east of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side. We crossed on foot by a bridge that arched over a lazy, murky river. Sweat crept down my back, and my shoulders ached from carrying my bag. A woman sat in the middle of the bridge with a baby at her breast, and her eyes were flat as she held out her hand. Below, boats of a former era were packed to capacity, carrying people from one side to the next.

Getting to Thailand was a relief. The paved roads were more predictable. The traffic moved at a familiar pace, unlike in Burma where speed limits seemed to be arbitrary and drivers tailed the cars ahead, laying down the horn in an arrhythmic blast until the car in front gave the universal sign that it was safe to pass. Left blinker meant safe. Right blinker, not safe. We wouldn’t have to be careful about drinking tap water in Thailand. Cultural considerations seemed more predictable in Thailand because of the exposure we’ve had to Thai culture in the Western world. Of Burma, I had known next to nothing.

But as we settled into MJ and Matt’s home in Mae Sot over the next couple of days, I felt a yearning. I longed for the unfamiliarity, the unpredictability of Burma. For the shades of terracotta that colored the country:  in the sand, in the Buddhas etched into the temple walls, in the dirt of the roads, and in the milky, sugary tea. So much of the trip was beyond our control, and that, if I think about it, is exactly when I feel like I’m truly traveling. Moments when the floor dropped out from under us, we were humbled by human kindness. Hospitality seems to be part of the genetic weave of the people in Burma. Again and again, we were invited into homes of strangers, taken by the hands and led to the table, no matter if the house had been swept.

The first day we were back in Mae Sot, MJ took us to her favorite restaurant called Borderline, with a menu of Burmese vegetarian recipes. We ordered a samosa salad, among other things. Diane, MJ’s mom, had her new purple scarf draped over her shoulders, and her dad Mark had ordered a strong ginger tea for his cold. I think I ordered lemongrass tea. Or maybe tamarind, I don’t know. What did MJ drink? Lime iced tea? The dishes came, we shared them all, and it was all very delicious. But I can only remember the samosa salad. It could have been the exhaustion of the weeks leading up to the trip, but after the first bite, I had to fight back the urge to cry. As if however affecting Burma had been, however short but consequential the previous week, it was all woven into that salad.


samosa salad

I don’t know the samosa salad’s origins, but I imagine them to be humble, as a way to use up leftover samosas like panzanella for leftover Italian bread. To me, it tastes like the perfect thing to offer when a friend pops by unannounced. It tastes like genetic hospitality.

Samosa Salad (adapted from Mo Mo and Bo Bo’s Kitchen, a cookbook by the owners of Borderline)

If you’re ambitious and feel so inclined, you could make the samosas from scratch. If you don’t insist, I recommend taking them out from a shop. If you decide to buy samosas already made, ask for some tamarind or sweet chili sauce, too. You’ll use it for the dressing.

And since Mo Mo and Bo Bo make vegetarian samosas, I made this salad with vegetarian samosas, but you can do whatever you want. Buy one samosa per person (or serving). The proportions here are written for 3 large samosas.

Cut up the samosas with kitchen shears. Mince one shallot or half a small red onion.
Shred half a cucumber and about one cup of pale green cabbage.
Add about two teaspoons of chickpea flour and one tablespoon of sweet chili  or tamarind sauce.
Mix gently by hand, and eat right away. It will get soggy very fast!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Well, hi! Coming back to this space feels a little like re-reading my old diary. A little awkward, tenuous, and something to be treated with care. Did you keep a diary when you were a kid? Or do you now? When you go back to school, no one tells you how all-encompassing the work will be. Or maybe they do, but it doesn’t resonate until you begin the work yourself. I started statistics, physiology, and organic chemistry last week. Chemistry especially feels a lot like the first few days of moving to a new city, where you don’t yet know the unspoken rules, the local dialect sounds foreign, and it feels like everyone in the room knows exactly what to do except for you. The breakthroughs are worth working for, for the dedication transition (and learning) requires. You know the feeling of starting something new? The fear of uncertainty? And the flood of relief that follows, when you can stop treading water and start to move with the current? We always get there, step by step, and our day-to-day becomes familiar again. Really the only solution (besides doing it or NOT doing it) is to practice self-compassion. You probably knew that was coming.

I’m going to apply to study nutrition within the next several weeks, but everything else over here is up in the air. Talk about opportunity for letting go, for trusting in the unknown powers at play. Maybe that is exactly the lesson I’m due to (re)learn. I don’t know what lies ahead. I can be okay with that (it’s fucking hard, yes). And so I open my hands, and I offer what I have, and trust that I’ll get back what I need.

I’ll leave here with a few photos from Burma (all from Mary Jo’s camera-thank you MJ!). Mary Jo, her boyfriend Matt, her parents Mark and Diane, and I spent Christmas and New Years in Burma and Thailand, an incredible two weeks that already seems like it happened years ago. In Burma, there is a profound instinct to show hospitality, and we were treated with a gentle, transparent kindness by everyone we met. Thailand was vivid, pungent, sensational. I’ll be back soon with a recipe and a story from our trip.

Happy Sunday to you. xo

p.s. If you’re looking for a new podcast to subscribe to, check out The One You Feed, specifically this episode about emotional first-aid. We were in a van traveling from city to city in Burma when Mary Jo passed her earbuds to me and suggested, with mild force, that I listen immediately. We grow up learning how to treat minor scrapes and bruises when they happen to us, but when do we ever learn to treat common emotional blows, like rejection, loneliness, rumination, or guilt? We don’t! The point of this episode is that we should. In fact, it’s imperative that we do.

Church on Christmas eve morning. DSC03773 Handstand races! DSC03846 DSC03856 DSC03903 DSC03918 DSC03936 DSC03952 DSC03985 DSC03976 DSC04107 DSC04024 DSC04128







Miso Soup

Friday, May 22, 2015

I’ve been ruminating on this post for some time. When I decided to take a break from writing here for awhile, I didn’t know it was going to last six months. I made the sudden move of starting school again full time last semester, and classes started in January. If you consider that I’ve let the possibility marinate for almost five years, the decision doesn’t seem so sudden. It still felt that way. There was an adjustment period, a steep learning curve. There were some tears. But I’m on the other side of that first semester now, with twelve more credits under my belt. And dammit, it feels good.

miso soup

Every Monday at 7:30 a.m., I’d pack my safety goggles and graphing calculator and head to chemistry lab, where our instructor would meet us at the door, laced with coffee and true enthusiasm for the periodic table. The man could motivate, and he expected us to show up and keep up. We’d start each lab with a quiz on that day’s procedures, of which we had to get a certain score or be dismissed from class before it began. And then we’d get going on whatever experiment was planned. My lab partner David could roll out of bed, grab a pen, and ace every one of those quizzes. I, on the other hand, could study the night before and an hour in the morning and still forget how many times we’d be using the analytical balance that day, which solution we’d be titrating, or what color a reaction solution would turn in the presence of starch. We started meeting on weekends to power through each week’s load of assignments. I worked for that C. David got an A. After our last test, we toasted with beers at Eli’s, a dark watering hole that has probably seen as many victories as defeats. I was surprised to feel wistful and proud altogether. Work will do that, if it’s honest.

Going back to school as a grown adult is interesting. I’m not the same student I was ten years ago. (Ten years! Makes my chest a little tight.) This time I’m in it for more than the parties and the independence. I’ve got a much better idea of what I want today, and wider eyes for the possibility. And this time, it’s my money. I still fight the urge to skip classes, and to procrastinate. What worked in business school does not apply to science classes (found that one out immediately after our first biology test), and so I’ve had to learn spanking new study habits. You know what’s funny? The moment I let go of trying to learn every single concept, I started to absorb more information. Those fine little details were tripping me up, and I was failing to see the big picture. If that ain’t a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

There wasn’t a lot of time for cooking or writing, and I’ve missed both. I ate many meals of scrambled eggs. I craved the sodium kick and the full-bodied bite of miso, and I made a lot of soup with it, tweaking the ingredients here and there until I landed on a recipe that didn’t need to be changed. To make it, you do need two kinds of miso. Here’s why: by itself, either sweet shiromiso or brown miso will make a fine bowl of soup. It’s the way I’d been making miso soup all my life (or as long as I’d been making miso soup, which is about two years). The two types of miso together are better, I think. The salty, earthy lick of brown miso grounds the gentler, whimsical shiromiso. Soon you’re so accustomed to them together that you can’t really remember them apart.

Hopefully you’ve had a fulfilling few months of all kinds of stuff you love, or are somehow finding your way back to it with the onset of spring.

Miso Soup (serves 2-3)
4 cups water
1 3-inch strip kombu
4 mushrooms
5 oz firm tofu
green onions
2 tablespoons brown miso
1 tablespoon white miso

First, make the dashi. (Dashi is a basic Japanese stock made from water, dried kelp (called kombu), and bonito flakes. The bonito flakes can be omitted for a vegetarian dashi. I don’t like the smoky taste of bonito flakes, so I usually make vegetarian stock).
In a medium sauce pot, combine water with the strip of kombu. Bring water to a boil, then turn off heat and let the kombu steep for three minutes. Strain the stock (kombu can be kept for a day or two, sliced thinly and added to stir fries-otherwise discard it).

Chop mushrooms and tofu to a pretty small dice. Slice green onions.

Pour dashi back into the pot, and measure out 1/2 cup of it in a separate bowl. Mix both (both!) miso pastes into the 1/2 cup of reserved dashi, and keep it aside off the stove. Meanwhile, bring dashi in the pot up to a boil and add mushrooms. Simmer on medium heat for three minutes. Turn heat to low and add the reserved miso/dashi mix to the pot. Add the tofu and allow it to warm through, then remove from heat before it boils and ladle into bowls. Scatter lots of scallions on top.



Adieu, 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It is before noon on New Year’s Eve, and I am writing this from my sister T and my brother-in-law S’s place in the suburbs where I’ve been housesitting for the past four days. Their three small dogs are curled up in a line to my right, from hip to ankle. Four days feels like four weeks when you’re in someone else’s house, sleeping in someone else’s bed, and with three living things to take care of. When I lived here twenty years ago, there was a different dog, two cats, and two parrots who’ve since left this realm for another. I was an angry and grief-stricken middle schooler. T and S were newly married and the same age I am now. But we survived. It is negative four thousand degrees with a six-inch snow cover today, HOWEVER, the sun shines. Glory be.

Six months ago, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do for a job, a place to live, a social life. Knowing that soon the answers would come, that there is little else we can guarantee, I tried to stay content with the unknown and without a longterm plan or an exit strategy from Minnesota. I started substitute teaching for public schools in Minneapolis. During the month of September, I cried at the end of the day on the car ride home at least three days a week, sometimes five, until I found a sweet spot and a handful of schools that clicked. This has been the toughest job I’ve ever had, but I needed it. I started some contract culinary work for a woman who is a respected nutritionist in the Twin Cities, and this has filled my well personally and professionally beyond expectation. My longtime friend Annie and I moved in together, and despite a few bumps in the road, we’re still close friends. In fact, we probably make each other better. It’s been a trip.

So here we are, at the end of another year. Whenever I make a resolution, I break it within the first week of the new year. This time, instead of thinking of resolutions, I’ve thought about what made 2014 distinct, what made it challenging, and which patterns were easy to repeat. Instead of resolutions, I’m setting intentions. I’m going to get them out now, and then I’m going to step away from this space for a bit to absorb a fresh start. More practice, less plan. More heart, less critical thinking.

Happy 2015 to you. I hope your new year overflows with light.

To work through the fear.
I’ve typically dealt with life through a prism of fear that the worst scenario is bound to occur. Since my mom died, I’ve believed and feared that I would eventually lose everyone important to me. This is especially true in relationships, and it keeps me trapped in a cycle of creating friction. By creating fiction, I’ve always got problems to solve, and when I can solve problems, I maintain an illusion that I am in control. Ouch. What if the boundaries were fluid? What if I rode the wave? What if I allowed something to happen without a timeline, an expectation, or an attachment to the outcome? The fear will always be there, but what if it were just a filter I learned to work with instead of against? What if I could remind myself that I have survived, and will survive again? All relationships have a timeline, and not all are meant to last a lifetime. Loss is painful, but those relationships are usually worth what they teach.

To own this experience.
I overheard a couple talking the other day. Fine, I was eavesdropping. He was telling her about experience vs. baggage, and how we can either shoulder one or carry the other. It’s so obvious, but yet so amazing how a small switch in vocabulary can make such a big difference to an idea. I wanted to high-five him, but instead I walked in the other direction a little lighter.

To continue to be flexible.
With my ideas of success, progress, stability, and purpose.

To attune to the underlying emotion.
It is so easy to react, but not so easy to respond. Most emotions that hurt are carried by pain–anger, disappointment, sadness. To have more patience with myself, and with others, and to try to understand this sequence.


To recognize when I am putting up barriers.
Up until about six months ago, I was having a lifelong recurring dream that I was running away from something with invisible weights strapped to my ankles. I couldn’t move with any kind of speed–it felt like the air was full of jello, like a force was pushing me back to the starting line. Six months ago, the dreams stopped. Since I surrendered, essentially. If I put up an intellectual barrier to a deeper heartfelt instinct, I give myself permission not to try. And if I don’t try, I won’t risk losing anything. This is when self-love comes in handy. Sweet girl, says this wiser, patient voice. What if you had a daughter and she was sharing these things with you? You would wrap your arms around her and whisper to her that she deserves to live, that she has felt the difference between an open and a shunted heart, and that whatever happens as a consequence of choice or circumstance, she will survive.


Doenjang Jjiggae

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Out of all Korean food, I miss the stews the most. For whatever reason, stews at home never taste the same. Restaurant doenjang jjiggae is often so aggressively seasoned that the homemade stuff never seems to compare, and that’s probably why I never liked it when I made it in Seoul. The broth seemed weak, the vegetables never cooked evenly, it wasn’t hot enough, etc etc.  A big part of the experience is sensory. Barbecue restaurants clatter with silverware, soju glasses, and KPop, and people cram around charcoal grills that hiss with the sizzle of meat. Every day of the week, these restaurants are busy for dinner. At barbecue restaurants, you can count on at least two standard stews to be present on the menu: kimchi jjiggae, a stew made with mature, sour kimchi, soft tofu, and pork, and doenjang jjiggae, a salty vegetable stew seasoned with fermented soybean paste.

Doenjang (pronounced dwen-johng) is comparable to miso in consistency and function. The process of making doenjang is time-honored and complex, and not many modern households make it from scratch anymore. Hye Rae’s mother-in-law still does, and before I left in June, Hye Rae packed a plastic container with enough to last me the year.

Restaurant doenjang jjiggae always comes in an earthenware bowl big enough to share, and it is always boiling as it hits the table. My doenjang jjiggae at home is different. I don’t have a ddukbaegi, so just before it’s time to eat I heat the soup to a rolling boil and quickly ladle it into bowls. The first taste could burn the tongue, and that’s the way it should be.

doenjang jjiggae

These days, you can find doenjang in any Korean mart and most bigger East Asian marts. It’ll come in a bigger container than you think you’ll need, but it can last a year in the fridge. Sempio makes non-GMO doenjang (and gochujang, a spicy paste made from red chilis) that you can find online. Wholly Doenjang makes a gluten free version.

A note about stock: The baseline of ingredients you use to make your stock is up to you. The simplest way is to dissolve doenjang in water, but you could also use prepared vegetable or chicken stock, and dissolve the doenjang in that. You could make a quick fortified stock by steeping water with two or three dried anchovies, a couple of dried oyster mushrooms, and a piece of dried kelp. The best way to eat this stew is with some sticky white rice, so I soaked one cup of rice in just over two cups of water, and used that starchy rice water for the stock. It worked great.

Doenjang Jjiggae
(makes enough for 2 or 3)

2 cups rice stock (made by soaking 1 cup rice with 2 1/4 cups water)
1 tablespoon doenjang
1 turnip (potato is traditional, but turnip is what I had)
1 green chili
fistful dried oyster mushrooms
1 zucchini
extra firm tofu (buy the smallest container you can for this)
paengi mushrooms (also known as enoki)

Prepare all ingredients first. Cut zucchini into half inch pieces. Peel turnip or potato and cut into half inch pieces. Chop oyster mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Rinse tofu and slice into quarter inch thick rectangles (or whatever shape you prefer-cubed is fine, too). Slice green chili  into thin ovals. Rinse paengi mushrooms and trim the bottoms.

In a small pot, bring stock to a simmer. Add turnip or potato first and cook until soft, about three minutes. Then add one tablespoon of doenjang and stir until it dissolves. Taste. At this point, I added a bit more–about a teaspoon. Then add zucchini and oyster mushrooms and cook for a minute more. Check the vegetables, which should be nice and tender. Ladle into bowls and garnish each with enoki mushrooms and sliced green chili.