Entries from October 28th, 2012

Travel : Korea : Jeju

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I promised a few words about Jeju Island, and a few words have been sitting here since. It took me awhile to put them up not because there wasn’t much to say, but because lately I’ve been feeling conflicted over the idea of travel. I suspect this is a side effect of homesickness. But before we go completely off topic, I have to get Jeju off my chest. Even if the load is light.

Have you been to Jeju? Did you fly? Flying is a good idea. Five hour ferry rides are particularly grueling when piggybacked with overnight bus rides. Once we saw palm trees, though, it didn’t matter. I think they call this selective memory?

It was Chuseok weekend, Korea’s harvest holiday. We had a few extra days off, and on the day of Chuseok, nothing but McDonald’s was open. We were pretty excited about it. Especially when we discovered the kiddie park out back. The park was closed, and we took this very, very seriously.

Sandcastles were made. Sandcastles were destroyed.

We spent most of our time at the beach, but don’t be fooled. That water was COLD.

We took a short boat ride to a neighboring island for a lunch that lasted two hours. We ate sashimi, radish, and garlic wrapped in sesame leaves and dotted with wasabi. At the end of the meal, we had bowls of soup made from the bones of the fish we’d just finished. And after that, a fisherman working nearby gave me a pumice stone for my feet, which is now resting comfortably next to the soap in my shower. I think about that lunch (and him) every time I wash my hair.

One of the best effects of travel, to me, is when strangers become friends in record time. The trade-offs for living thousands of miles from family and friends, are big. We miss birthdays, holidays, weddings, and funerals, and everyday interactions that roll on without us. We trade it for more opportunity to travel, for more freedom, for a chance to broaden our outlook or to gain perspective. We trade it for long weekends away like this one. And hopefully, we live in a way that leaves no room for regrets.

William Hazlitt put it perfectly when he said, “I should like to spend the whole of my in life traveling abroad, if I could anywhere borrow another life to spend afterwards at home.” 

Kimchi Bokkeumbap

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My idea of comfort food changes depending on where I am, where I’ve been, or who I’m with. When I’m at home in Minneapolis, I crave spicy Thai flavors, NY style pizza, or a big bowl of Pho. Here I crave burgers, maybe because here, I don’t each much red meat. Or maybe because burgers are delicious. In any case, if there were as many burgers as there are waffles in Seoul, I’d be in a whole lot of trouble.

Our school provides lunch everyday, and it’s good, actually. Much better than the Italian-Dunkered school lunches of my youth (remember those?). Some days, Helen wraps up bags of leftover rice for us to take home. When this happens, I wait a day for the rice to harden, and then I make kimchi bokkeumbap. Humble and forgiving like comfort food should be, a bowl of kimchi-kissed rice tastes best when eaten with legs tucked under. I’m going to be making it for a very, very long time.

Kimchi bokkeumbap (or kimchi fried rice) recipes vary, but they all begin the same. You want to start with old, overripe kimchi, the kind whose taste is acquired at best and overtly offensive at worst. You fry it with a little oil, garlic, and sugar. The sugar melts away the rough edges of the sourest kimchi and renders it helpless, or at least much softer. Like a curmudgeon in love, sugar turns kimchi into a better version of itself. And from there, the options are endless. I add different vegetables depending on what’s in the fridge, but a few finishing ingredients are mandatory: thick spicy gochujang (or Korean chili paste), salty crushed gim (or dried seaweed), and a fried egg with a soft yolk for the top. And what is it about eating from a bowl that always feels so much more grounding? Aside from eating with your hands, that is.

Kathryn asked me for this recipe today, and so Kathryn, this is for you. x

김치볶음밥 – Kimchi Bokkeumbap – Kimchi Fried Rice for 2

The measurements here are rough, but don’t worry. In addition to being fucking tasty, kimchi fried rice is incredibly good-natured. Don’t burn the garlic. Don’t burn the kimchi. (I give this advice because I’ve done both, twice). The rest will come together quite easily. On a final note, my friend MJ took the photo above. Love you, M.

To fry the kimchi:

¾ cup sour kimchi, squeezed of excess liquid and chopped (if you don’t live in Korea or you don’t have access to a variety, use what you can find)

1 tablespoon oil

1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons sugar

Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic, then the kimchi and a teaspoon of sugar. Stir-fry over medium-heat until the edges of the kimchi brown. Taste and add more sugar to your preference. Once it’s ready, set the kimchi aside off the heat.

For the rest:

1 ½ cup medley of diced carrot, zucchini, potato, chopped broccoli, onion, mushrooms, anything you have

2 cups cold, day-old white rice

soy sauce

½ teaspoon sesame oil

2 eggs

To finish:

red chili paste (gochujang)

dried and salted seaweed (gim)

Quick-fry the vegetables in a scant amount of oil, enough to get the job done, but not too much to make greasy vegetables. Add the rice, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, and the kimchi. At this point, you can add a spoonful of kimchi juice if the rice is too dry. Add soy sauce if it needs more salt. Add the sesame oil at the end. Once the rice is hot and the ingredients are incorporated, pack the rice across the pan and let the bottom get crispy over low heat. Stir and flip to crisp evenly. Meanwhile, cook your eggs as you like them.

In deep bowls, layer the fried rice, a dab of chili paste, a fried egg, and a scattering of crushed gim.

pasta, prostitutes, & the art of performance

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I live in a red-light district of Seoul. Usually, I forget. Besides the omnipresence of love motels lining the main drag, no other visible signs exist. At least not to a foreigner’s eye. Women don’t walk the streets or sit behind glass under the eery red glow of butchery lighting. Once while some friends and I were having a beer on a street corner, I happened to look the right way at the right time. The door of a black van with dark tinted windows slid open and a women in a miniskirt and impossibly high heels slipped inside. Such a smooth and quiet occurrence it was, I almost missed it. And I’ve seen nothing of the sort since. Upon first glance, there’s nothing remarkable about my neighborhood. Still, when I return after a few hours or a week away, I feel like I’m coming home.

Last weekend, I took my camera for a walk down the center line of the busiest street in the district. For over a month, the World Street Dance Festival had been advertised on posters stuck up on the walls of our building and every other free space in sight. It was a big deal for our humble neck of the woods. On the day of the festival, thousands of residents packed the streets, young and old. I bet you can’t guess which song we heard most often.

I’m not sure which part of the festival was international, but I also didn’t walk the whole length of it. I stayed near a huge stage bordered by apathetic-looking photographers and cameramen where groups of teenagers took turns bouncing, stepping, and giddy-upping in unison, sometimes performing the same routine seven or eight times in a row. The movement of their bodies mismatched their bored-stiff expressions. Between two of the dozens of choreographed sequences, the MC called three volunteers up to the stage, all of them over the age of sixty. These old-timers, on the other hand, had a ball, and it was obvious. The crowd cheered on each of the contestants, but a man in a suit and tie edged out over the competition in a last-ditch attempt at the Running Man. He won a prize, I’m sure, but probably nothing more gratifying than those few moments of freedom. I ask you, are there many things better than dancing while people are watching?

Ajummas shoved their way to the front, and ajusshis drank canned beer sold at a premium. I felt a little intrusive, and I tried to be mindful with my camera. I’d just about reached my World-Street-Dance-Spectating limit when my friend Mike braved the congested subway commute to meet me. We looked at each other, shrugged, and bought ourselves each a beer. We stayed until the sun left before we joined my roommates back at our apartment. While I made a big pot of Pasta Puttanesca, Mike poached chicken rolled with an herby, fragrant olive oil. Ryan retreated to the living room with his djembe for a music performance of his own. Music being the operative word here, but hell, if it feels good and it isn’t hurting anybody, why knock it?

Pasta Puttanesca (allegedly, a dish made by Italian prostitutes to lure men in from the streets) based on Mark Bittman’s recipe.

Pit and chop 3/4 cup of black olives. In a bowl, drain and smash two 14 ounce cans of whole tomatoes with a fork. Measure out four tablespoons of capers, drained, and set aside. Put a pot of salted water on the stove for pasta (I used linguine).

In a hot pan, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 6 cloves of peeled, smashed garlic, and 5 anchovies. Stir over medium heat to let the garlic brown slightly. The anchovies will crumble and melt into the oil. Epicurean magic. Then add the tomatoes and some salt and pepper. Don’t overdo the salt at first – the rest of the ingredients will help to season, too. Let the sauce simmer and reduce for about ten minutes. Add the olives, capers, and a pinch or two of crushed red pepper and dried oregano. Continue to simmer on low heat. The sauce turns to the color of old burgundy (according to Wikipedia, old burgundy is the color of tomato sauce that’s been saturated with capers and black olives). After another 8-10 minutes, I tasted it and added about a tablespoon of sugar. It was pretty acidic without it. Meanwhile, boil your pasta.

When the pasta noodles are cooked and drained and when the sauce tastes good, combine the two and toss.

for the love of links : October

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Recently I’ve been in a bit of a hazy comedown from five days away in Jeju. What a gorgeous island. While I get some words together about the trip, here are a few links I found to be worth sharing. Have a great week!

Start cooking with anchovies with this iconic recipe. Perfect food for two. Perfect food for a crowd.

My friend Suzi inspires me to make my own almond milk.

French bees produce blue and green honey?

No-bake crumble for folks without an oven, like most of us in Seoul. Genius.

Freelance Whales via my new friend, Ji-Sun.

Love the idea of DIY Custom Camera Straps.

Currently reading this book, and I can barely put it down.

An Everlasting Piece of Pork Belly.

This cafe in Itaewon serves wine smoothies! It’s true.