Entries from April 30th, 2013


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lately the news has painted South Korea to be a place of imminent danger, and while I was home in the States, it was easy to become concerned, too. Reeled in by the collective paranoia that the media inspires, it takes a great deal of care to strike a balance between staying informed, or at least feeling informed, and reacting rationally. It’s difficult to address the situation without knowing more than what the news says and how it seems here, but if you’re wondering what current life is like in Seoul through the eyes of an ordinary ex-pat, one thing appears to be true: it is as it was. Seoul feels safer than many other parts of the world, though everybody has a different threshold.

I moved recently from the basement bedroom in the home of one of my surrogate mothers to the top floor of a brick building owned by a grandmother/grandfather duo. Mimsie and I looked at seventeen apartments around Seoul in one day. We fell for the charm, the space, and the owners, and two days later we moved in. Our new neighborhood is eclectic and alive, with quite possibly the most independent burger joints on one block of any other neighborhood in the city. The jewel of the apartment is in the kitchen, smack dab in the center beneath a window looking over a courtyard. It’s an oven, and from what we can tell, it works. If I don’t seem as excited as I ought to be, it’s because there’s a gentleman roasting coffee straight ahead, and the ensuing fumes have rendered me high. Not that I’m complaining.

We’ve scrubbed our fridge free of little black hairs, cleared the corners of cobwebs, buffed the biff and aired out our bedrooms, and the place is beginning to feel like home. Last night we cracked open a bottle of Rioja and sopped up heaps of Shakshuka with hunks of baguette. Shakshuka is a frittata that’s been widely adapted but is originally found in traditional Sephardic Jewish cooking. The version here is common in Israel, made with tomatoes, peppers and onions, loads of cumin, and eggs poached over the top. I got the recipe from my ever-amazing friend Jen, who got it from her friend Shahar, and though I can’t confirm it turned out how it was supposed to, I can confirm it was delicious, and absurdly so. This is a one-pot meal, warming and delightful, and you’ll probably want to make it two days in a row. You could even eat it cold, which might be especially good during the coming months.

Shakshuka adapted from Adventurous Appetite

4 tomatoes

1 onion

1 red pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 eggs (Shahar and Jen’s recipe calls for 5-6 eggs, but I used a narrow, deep pan and only had room for 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 heaping tablespoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon sugar (if your tomatoes are sweet, use less sugar or none at all)

salt and pepper to taste

Chop onion into cubes, set aside. Chop pepper and tomatoes into cubes. Heat a wide pot on medium-high and add the olive oil. Add onion and caramelize, stirring frequently. Add salt. Add red pepper and tomatoes, and cook until softened. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, sugar, and more salt and pepper. Taste, and if you’re satisfied, break the eggs over top, taking care to keep the yolks intact. Go for an even layer of eggs over the whole. Put a lid on it. When the egg yolks are barely set, it’s ready. Serve warm (or cold) with bread.

Steel Cut Oats

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Unless it’s vacation, the first day waking up in a new city is usually tough. I’m talking a place you’re going to be for awhile that isn’t all that familiar. Minneapolis was that way to me just six weeks ago for the first few days, until it became familiar again. Seoul is that way today – wet, gray, and a tad strange. Sometimes I wonder if I’m cut out for extended bouts of traveling anymore. People insist that it gets easier, but I disagree. I actually think the older you get and the more you appreciate and open yourself up to what’s around you, the harder it is to leave. Patience is the softener for shortening the adjustment period, and so that’s what I’m aiming for.


Minutes after I wrote the paragraph above, I stepped out for coffee. Ladies walked with umbrellas, though the rain had stopped and there was no sun. Bursts of fuchsia blossoms snaked through iron fences that line the sidewalk. Thomas, our building manager, gave me a hug and a string of indecipherable words. Upstairs, my old roommates and I sat in the kitchen like we did every morning months ago. It’s hard to describe how grateful I was for that. Then I made a pot of oatmeal.

Steel Cut Oats adapted from TasteSpotting

For four, or for less with leftovers

1 cup steel cut oats

3 cups water

salt (2 pinches)

Combine oats, water, and salt in a pot deep enough so that the water covers the oats by one to two inches. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for twenty minutes or more, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal is thick and a little dry – not goopy. Top with cinnamon, sugar, and toasted pumpkin seeds.



Top Eleven Twin Cities Eats

Saturday, April 20, 2013

At the moment, there are exactly three-and-a-half million other things to think about besides food. Say, how Minnesotans are soldiers of winter, though that’s all I’m going to say about the weather. Comfort foods here are essential, and Minnesotans know what’s good. Big things on the food front have happened over the past couple of years, and I’d say our Twin Cities deserve a spot on America’s list of food destinations. As I wrap up my trip home, I wanted to part with a quick list of places worth checking out, places good enough to take a visiting friend. These haunts comfort in a way that goes beyond the food. Keep calm and carry on, Minnesota. You’ll be missed.

Eli’s East.

For thoughtful, delicious Midwest comfort food, great cocktails, and service that’s easy and unadorned, Eli’s fits the bill. Dishes to try: tempura walleye, cauliflower and beans, chop salad.

815 East Hennepin, Minneapolis

(612) 331-0031



My friend Niki is always hot on the next-big-thing when it comes to food, and she takes visitors to Borough. Best to go with adventurous diners, order a myriad, and get recommendations from the chef if you can as he or she brings food to your table. Less salt all around would be better, but that’s where my critique ends. The menu changes, and if octopus is included when you go, order it, if only to obliterate any misgivings you’ve had of how perfectly tender octopus texture can be.

730 North Washington Avenue, Minneapolis

(612) 354-3135


The Groveland Tap. 

Baby food, thirty-four tap beers, and an award-winning turkey burger are just some of the gems of The Groveland Tap’s menu. I go with my cousin, and she’s been going for years. Cozy and super family-friendly, it doesn’t get much more neighborly than this.

1834 Saint Clair Avenue, Saint Paul

(651) 699-5058



Go for the lunch special (usually a sandwich) and add a cup of the plantain dumpling soup. It’s my favorite restaurant in the Cities – the people who run the place are so nice, and even if the food sucked, I’d return. The food, however, is outstanding.

2851 Central Avenue Northeast, Minneapolis

(612) 788-1328


The Coffee Shop. 

I love the unassuming, come one, come all vibe of this Northeast java joint. Feels like everyone in the neighborhood does, too. With strong coffee, good cookies, and genuine Midwest hospitality, it’s the first place I choose when I need an energetic space to work or want the kind of afternoon pick-me-up only a local coffee shop can deliver.

2852 Johnson Street Northeast, Minneapolis

(612) 259-8478


Que Viet. 

People travel far and wide for Que Viet’s egg rolls, but I was lucky to grow up down the block. Fried to perfection and tightly-packed with minced pork and shreds of tender vegetables, these rolls hooked me years ago and keep me coming back whenever I’m in Minnesota.

2211 Johnson Street Northeast, Minneapolis

(612) 781-4744

Smack Shack.

When it comes to a sandwich Minnesota can be proud of, most of us think Juicy Lucy over Lobster Roll. Yet Smack Shack’s rolls and po’ boys have garnered such a following that they’ve recently expanded to bigger [and fancier] digs. Don’t go to relax. Go to be a part of the buzz, ideally at the bar, where an open seat is tough to come by. And whatever you do, don’t leave without tasting the lobster guacamole. That’s an order.

603 Washington Avenue North, Minneapolis

(612) 259-7288


Mojo Monkey. 

Righteous doughnuts, particularly the old fashioned kind. Closed Mondays.

1169 7th Street West, Saint Paul

(651) 224-0142


Red Savoy. 

For the best taste of Minnesota-style pizza, head to Red Savoy. That’s a pie with a thin crust and toppings blanketed in cheese, and always cut into squares. Go for the gold and try the sauerkraut and sausage.

421 7th Street East, Saint Paul

(651) 227-1437


The Bachelor Farmer.

Start with a drink from the progressive cocktail program, stay for the thoughtful and beautifully-plated food. It’s contemporary Nordic fare, and it’s excellent.

50 North 2nd Avenue, Minneapolis

(612) 206-3920


World Street Kitchen.

Another mobile to brick-and-mortar expansion, WSK fuses global flavors with gusto in a way that might turn off the purist. But the team deserves praise for shaking up the MSP dining scene with their ambitious mission and enthusiastic menu. Dishes to try: lemongrass meatball lettuce wraps, short rib rice bowl, curried peanut butter cookie, mango and passionfruit lassi soft serve.

2743 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis




Marinated Watermelon

Monday, April 15, 2013

A quick hi from Charlotte, North Carolina. They say Charlotte will lose spring to summer in a few weeks, but it’s hard to imagine. If you’re in Minnesota and reading this, I’m sorry to say it, but spring fits Charlotte like a glove. We’ll get there, Minnesota. Believe.

After a long weekend of eating and walking and stoop-sitting in New York, I took a bus to Philadelphia to visit my friend, Grace. The trip took under two hours, and I passed the time by looking out the window. The driver pulled over, announced the first stop, and unloaded our  luggage as we stepped to the side of the highway. A quick exchange, rough at the edges, but with typical fast-talking, East Coast charm. I miss that.

Our visit was short, but we packed in as much as we could. Grace is a mom now, and nothing seems different even though everything is. She’s still laid-back and intuitive, and if I didn’t know how multi-tasking looked before, I do today. She’s a hero.

My friend Jess lives in Charlotte. We used to work together at PF Chang’s, and then we lived together after college, and when I moved to New York she visited and we’d travel to any borough for the best Cuban sandwiches or bloody marys. She has a baby now, too, a boy who’s just about ready to walk, and though she’s not quick to admit it, motherhood fits her like a glove. She and her family live in a busy neighborhood where everyone waves to everyone. The other night we sat on their deck for dinner while a neighbor mowed her lawn. The air swelled with mosquitoes and enough pollen to coat the bare surfaces and stain your bare feet yellow.

In a few hours, we’ll take a drive to visit my aunt and uncle and cousin outside of the city. The last time I saw them together was in Pittsburg almost twenty years ago. I’ve remembered her way of turning watermelon into something extraordinary since then and have found nothing to compare since. It’s a little premature to consider watermelon, especially when some parts of the country are still getting snow, but I think Marlene’s method is worth sharing anytime. It’s simple enough to remember. File it away for a day when only sweet, sour, and drippy fruit will do.

Marinated Watermelon, Marlene’s way

I doubt she used exact measurements, but I can’t remember. I do remember the taste – to get it right, the watermelon should be less sweet than sour and taste distinctly of lemon. The juice should scoot down your chin like with all good watermelon, and the sugar helps extra with that. Use all of the watermelon’s flesh – even the white part close to the rind.  

Peel and hack a watermelon into bite-sized hunks and put them in a big bowl. Squeeze two to three lemons over the lot, sprinkle with a quarter cup of sugar or less, and stir so that each piece is coated. Chill for a few hours at least.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I grew up in lots of homes, starting with a modest blue house in Northeast Minneapolis. I’ll call it Benjamin in the name of clarity here. When my parents divorced, my mom, my brother, and I moved in with my great-grandmother Nana. Her house itself wasn’t stately, but she had fancy furniture and expensive lamps, and as she got older and less lucid she grew less amused by our curiosity – especially when we used our hands. She made a killer red jello salad, and the recipe lives on today. We ate it with perogies for Easter yesterday, in fact, even though Nana never cooked Polish food, even though Nana was Polish.

When Nana died, we moved to an apartment in Roseville, and when our mom died, we went back to live with our dad, his basement renters, and a new nanny named Tasha with bleached blonde hair and a spanking new high school diploma. She was as underprepared as the rest of us, but she was honest and generous, and I liked her immediately. A year later we moved to southwestern Ohio to live with our aunt and uncle for two years. I spent a year with my sister and brother-in-law before it was back to good ol’ Benjamin. When I was a senior in high school and the house became too small for both my dad and I, a friend’s family had an empty bedroom waiting.

When I graduated from high school, I chose Florida. It was far and warm, and I was fancy free, never homesick. Once I had a choice, I didn’t stop moving. I lived with strangers who became friends, friends who became strangers, friends who remained friends. I learned how to cohabit and communicate differently than how we’d done it at home, where it was all notes and silence when it wasn’t shouting and slammed doors. Not exactly healthy, but certainly not without expression.

I’m back in Northeast Minneapolis while I’m home, and the neighborhood has evolved into this hip arty district with great food and lots of locally-owned shops. I want to hang out here more than anywhere while I’m home, when before the neighborhood gave me the creeps. My dad still lives in Benjamin, but he’s constantly renovating, so in his way, he’s still making change. I’m staying with his first wife, my siblings’ mother, where she’s lived since 1974 in a house they used to share before I was even a possibility. It’s not a conventional arrangement, but we’ve found a cadence, she and I, and it usually begins with the local paper and butter on toast. She mothers me with small gestures, things like emptying the garbage can in my bathroom, leaving the porch light on at night, and keeping the fridge stocked with soup. We blew the snow from her driveway a few weeks ago, me for the first time and she … for the hundredth? Today her lawn is all mustardy grass and slush, a patchwork of residual winter. She gives me free reign of her kitchen, and that feels like the offer of the year.

Time is, and always has been, a thing of significance and irrelevance at once. Last week when I looked at a calendar so that my dad and I could schedule dinner, I realized I’d been here for three weeks. After a year and a half away, three weeks felt like a blip. It felt like a gift, too.

Whenever I’m back in Minneapolis, it takes time to find a steady pulse and to be comfortable within such close proximity to family again. Sometimes I pass with flying colors. Sometimes I fall ass over teakettle. In a week, I can cook dinner with my brothers, have breakfast with my dad, go through old photos with my aunt, and have pizza and paint a room with my cousins. I can’t believe how grown-up and gorgeous the teenagers in my family have become. The young ones who weren’t talking when I left are more articulate than most adults. Vacationing back home is a refresher crash course in How To Be Around Family. It’s good, even when it’s fucking hard.

I have a car here, and after a week of commuting by bus and foot, I broke down and pulled it out of storage. A nanosecond later, I got a ticket for expired tabs, for which I stewed and cursed time, the car, and every other nonsensical source. When I went straight home and poached some pears, all was instantly well again. I’m not here consistently, so while I am, I try not to waste time, but sometimes I need space to recover. When I do, I hide out and read. Or drive alone with no radio. Or mix a simple drink with whatever we’ve got. At the end of Easter dinner last weekend, I made us a nightcap that we drank from coupes. It was pale pink and feminine and I was surprised when everyone wanted one. My brothers, built like football players, finished theirs first.

Grapefruit Daiquiri (makes 1)

2 ounces good white rum

1 ounce fresh red grapefruit juice

squeeze from half a lemon

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Pour over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake. Strain into coupe glasses.