Entries from July 24th, 2012

Omelet of Patience

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sometimes life is so good, it feels like sadness. I mean that when you have so much to be grateful for, it feels huge, like it would be impossible to give back everything that you’ve been given, but you hope that you can get close.

I’ve thought about things that have happened recently. Things in the news that spur thoughts closer to home.

Like a trip I took a trip to Busan to visit my friend, Paulina, recently. She made the most incredible omelet for breakfast, cooked in coconut oil and filled with garlicky greens. The next day, she cut up apples and folded them into a Polish pancake batter. It rained for two days straight. It was such a great weekend. We didn’t know each other that well before that weekend, but at the end of it, I felt like we did.

Kathryn is packing up to leave this weekend, back to her family and friends in Canada. We’ve had quite the year together, and I can’t begin to fathom it without her. She’s been a rock, an agent of change, and an amazing friend.

I thought about the end of a relationship, the one that began so quickly and intensely last October. It took longer to end than it did to begin, and now, we feel like strangers. Again, I can’t imagine my time here without knowing him, and though the decision to be grateful about the encounter usually feels better in the end, sometimes I can’t wrap my head around the circumstance. One day I might be brave enough to tell the story, but right now, the really crucial details involve his own life story, and that is his to tell, not mine. The solution here is clear. I loved and lost. And now it’s time to let it fly.

My good friend Mary Jo is visiting this weekend. She and I have been traveling together for years, and we’ve been friends since middle school. I can’t wait to get into some semi-responsible trouble with her. Whatever that means. When Mary Jo is around, you’re bound to have a good time. What an amazing reputation to possess.

I’ve been thinking about my mom. She would have turned 60 this week. I wrote her a letter, and in it, I asked her a lot of questions. I also told her things I’d think a mother would want to know about a child she hasn’t seen in awhile. I wrote it, and sobbed publicly over coffee, and felt weepy and cleansed all at once. No one around seemed to mind. Don’t be alarmed, though. I don’t intend to make a habit out of crying in cafes. But just think of how much more humorous something is when you’re not supposed to laugh. How your sides ache from trying to hold it all in. I think it must be like that with other emotions, too.

Thanks to Paulina, and to Kathryn for positive taste-testing feedback, we now have a recipe for a kimchi omelet. Let’s call it the Omelet of Patience, since it took the stuff that patience is made of: timing, trial and error, and other human beings.

The bread and butter of this recipe is, as one might guess, the kimchi. For that, it’s gotta be good kimchi. I use a wickedly spicy and sour version of an age-old recipe from a friend’s family. She gives me a big plastic container filled with it, and it takes our apartment about two months to use it all. When it’s gone, she refills the container. (I mean, really. Besides being a mentor and a friend, she’s also a magical kimchi fairy. Big ups to Helen, too).

I fry the kimchi in oil and add sugar to tame the acidity. Do the same, but use your discretion with the sugar. If you like the taste of your kimchi, you might not need it. But the sugar does something special, deepens the flavor as it mellows it, and it’s a step I don’t ever leave out.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and fry 1/4 cup of kimchi until its edges are caramelized. Meanwhile, crack 2 eggs in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of water (or don’t. This step is up to you). Whisk. Cube cold butter and mix into the egg. Melt more butter in a 10-inch frying pan, coating every inch that the egg will touch. Pour in the egg and cook it over low, low heat. Tricks Paulina taught me: keep the heat the lowest your stove will allow, use two eggs per omelet, and gently push the uncooked egg at the top out towards the sides as the bottom sets. This will ensure that the top will cook evenly. When it does, spoon the kimchi onto the top half of the omelet. Top it with torn pieces of baby gouda, or another soft and smooth cheese, fold the bottom over so that the edges meet, and cover the pan off the heat to let the cheese melt.

Travel : Korea : Dolsando

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In the middle of June, Mike, Kathryn, and I visited Dolsando, an island connected to the city of Yeosu by bridge. It was another trip without much premeditation. And time without an agenda meant opportunity to meet strangers. When I think about that trip, I think of the likelihood of the three of us coming together in a small, residential section of central Seoul- Kathryn from Toronto, Mike from Texas, and me – and the likelihood of us liking each other enough to travel together, on a whim, without much more than a one-way train ticket to our destination.

We traveled, nay, zoomed by bullet train from Seoul to Yeosu, and it was entirely worth the extra expense. Most people were in the city for the World Expo, but away from the giant white tents, the side streets we walked were deserted. We peeked into a restaurant, and a man and woman, a pair of grandparents, presumably, peeked back.

“Samgyeopsal!” proclaimed the man, indicating that the restaurant specialized in barbecued pork belly and lettuce: a dynamite amalgamation.

We looked at each other with glee, nodded to the man, and followed his motion to a table near the kitchen. The woman produced a grill, a hefty tray of side dishes, and bowls of tepid seaweed soup. The man observed closely after he delivered the main attraction. He didn’t take much interest in Kathryn or me, instead focusing his attention on Mike. He wanted to take care of him, to make sure that he was enjoying his food. A man-to-man effort, it seemed. Little did he know that when it comes to barbecue, Kathryn and I can (and do) throw down with the best of them. We double-wrapped our grilled meat in sesame leaf and lettuce and added slices of cooked garlic, thinly shredded leeks, sesame powder, and a deliberate dab of salty ssamjang, a paste that is revered in the world of Korean Barbecue. This was the order the gentleman prescribed, and he was right. Samgyeopsal must always be served with cooked garlic, shredded leaks, sesame powder, and ssamjang. And it must always be double-wrapped.

Mike has said, for a long time, that the first thing he’s going to do when he gets back to Texas is cut a hole in the middle of his kitchen table to fit a charcoal grill. Sounds tricky to me, but if there’s anyone who can make it work, it’s Mike. He once fashioned two metal bowls and a few other gadgets together, called it an oven, and an hour later we were all eating warm chocolate chip cookies.

On our bus ride from Yeosu to Dolsando, we met a high school music teacher named Kong. He wore a purple striped shirt and brown and orange checkered pants held high with a leather belt, white sneakers, and a white and black gingham fedora. We learned he was a widower and a father of two, and that he was traveling an hour from his hometown for his favorite grade of makgeolli. When the bus dropped us off in Dolsando, he went his way and we went ours. We needed to find a place to stay, and he had his own mission to carry out.

The first four places we tried were booked, and each manager told us that everything on the island was full for the weekend. On our way to the fifth motel, we heard Kong shouting to us to join him at a picnic table outside of a small restaurant. He’d found some friends, or maybe new acquaintances. We diverted. Makgeolli would ease the stress of finding the night’s accommodations, but we didn’t need an excuse beyond Kong. He treated us to an a cappella performance of his favorite ballad, in Italian, and then he spoke pursuasively of why Mike should switch from beer to makgeolli, and immediately. “Veeeeeerry very good for the health! Really!” Kathryn and I took a short break to see if we couldn’t secure a room and be done with it. And we did, in an ondol-style room, which meant we’d be sleeping next to each other on the floor. (This is actually much more comfortable than it sounds. Especially with the sound of the ocean outside your window). When we rejoined Mike and Kong, they were talking about marriage. I wonder what Mike will remember from the conversation, and what sort of advice he was given. I wonder if Kong will remember the day like we will.

A baby boy taught Kathryn how to bow in front of a statue of Buddha. He looked like he’d just learned to walk. We watched women gutting fish outside of the island’s only restaurant open past 9 pm. Giant buckets spilled over with dried mussels, and the smell soaked the air all around. We met a German teacher, well past the mark of cynicism, who seemed disgruntled with everything about Korea, his country of residence for the past eleven years.

After we hiked to Hyangiram Hermitage, we ate seafood pancakes and seafood stew at the only restaurant on the hill open after dark. We picked up a few beers at a nearby 7-11, and we took them back to our room. The island was still, quiet, and dark. My alarm went off at 6:50 am, and I walked in the opposite direction of the crowd while I wondered if there was something I was going to miss. There was a tall, dense fog at the horizon, and it took some time for that neon-pink sun to break free.

Read Kathryn’s reflection of the same trip here.

words to live by

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

“Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Tomorrow will look after itself.”

-Anthony De Mello