Entries from September 23rd, 2013

Landlords

Monday, September 23, 2013

When we looked at this apartment, the 7 thousandth one of the day, it was the spiral staircase that both drew me in and put me off. The stairs led up to the front door on the fourth floor of the empty space. Mimsie chased the realtor to the top while I hung back at the bottom, wishing for a cigarette, and waited for her to return with glum news. My fear of heights is adult-onset, and peculiar too, since it began many years after I fell down a set of escalators (or bounced down, then walked away without a scratch. Kids.). I still love rollercoasters, but climbing ladders makes my hands sweat.

Instead Mimsie came down with a gleam in her eye. You’ve gotta see this, she told me. I said that if I had to climb up and down that effing thing everyday, I was going to go prematurely gray. No problem, our realtor smiled. There was an alternate entrance, a second set of stairs between the third and fourth floor kitchens. Sure, we’d have to walk through our landlords’ apartment to get to those stairs, and sure, Halmoni sleeps on the living room floor under a mat every night, so we’d have to tiptoe around her if we came home late after a few cocktails. But compared to the dismal shoeboxes we’d seen earlier, this was a minor detail. The deal was sealed. It took some practice, but the spiral staircase is like any other staircase now. It’s my favorite part of the apartment.

Raspberry Macro

(That’s not the staircase, that’s a raspberry! One day this macro lens mount won’t be scary, either.)

Halmoni is Korean for grandmother. We call her husband Mr. Lee. I don’t know when they moved to the neighborhood, but it must have been a long time ago. It is clear that Halmoni is her home’s caretaker and mayor of the surrounding blocks. Every night, she and the other old ladies gather and gossip under the street lamps or off in the shadows, crouched low. Her voice and laughter rise above the rest, up from the street where she and her friends sit and through my bedroom window. Several months ago, a couple living across the street got into a pretty big fight. It’s not characteristic to meddle in others’ affairs here, but it was Halmoni who finally called the police.

She was at the kitchen sink when I left for Malaysia on a wet morning back in July. Like with every heavy load I bring into the house, she tried to take my backpack, even though on her tiptoes she barely clears my boobs. We walked downstairs together, and she waved me off in the rain. I waved back with a lump in my throat, then turned away quickly and hailed a cab.

We trade the smells of our kitchens when we cook. If the bakery at the corner gifts her with a bundle of day-old bread, she spreads it across her kitchen table and calls up for us to come lighten her load. When I made kimchi this summer, I took some down for her to taste. I knew she’d tell me the truth. She plucked a piece of cabbage barehanded from the bowl, popped it in her mouth, and declared it delicious.

Raspberry Coconut Muffins (makes 6)
I made this recipe for Niki’s birthday this year, and I don’t think she’ll mind if I share it with you. Niki’s been a beloved friend since middle school, and she feels like a sister, too. Since I lived under her roof a few years ago, I suppose she’s also been a landlord. She recreated these muffins in her Minneapolis kitchen, and that made the distance feel smaller. Though the season’s passed for raspberries in most parts of the world, you could use frozen thawed raspberries just as easily.

1 cup fresh or frozen, thawed raspberries
1 cup all purpose flour
6 tablespoons raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons coconut milk
3 tablespoons coconut oil

Streusel topping:
1/3 cup raw sugar
3-4 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons coconut oil
unsweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees Celcius). Lightly grease sheets of parchment paper or liners with coconut oil. Gently mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the egg separately, then add to a bowl with yogurt, coconut milk, and coconut oil. Add wet ingredients to the dry and gently mix. Spoon mix halfway into each muffin cup, then press in a few raspberries. Fill each cup, then add more raspberries. Make the streusel by mixing all the ingredients together. Top the muffins with the streusel and pop into the oven to bake for 20-30 minutes until the tops are the color of caramel and a toothpick comes out clean.

End of the Line : Amsa

Friday, September 20, 2013

My new friend Dominic and I took the train to the end of the pink line a few Sundays back. We didn’t have much of a plan, but we did have a couple of empty hours and two cameras. We meandered around by some mud huts at the city’s famous prehistoric settlement site, reached boredom in less than an hour, and hopped back on the train two stops to catch the sunset over the Han. While I can’t give many (or any) recommendations for the area around Amsa station, I would urge you to walk the bridge from the nearby Gwangnaru stop, pick up a few beers on the other side and perch at the edge of the river amongst the fishermen, the teenaged lovebirds and the visor-clad ladies, the ones who rule the city.

End of the Line Amsa Dragonfly 1

End of the Line Amsa Cave 2

The sky was especially saturated that day, from a cotton-spattered Chevy blue at midday to an ombre of butterscotch, and later a giant canvas of cotton candy, lavender and pink and completely out of reach.

When we’d drained and deposited our beer cans, we packed up and walked back to the train to meet our friend Melda for Tex-Mex (which, to find in Seoul, felt like a small miracle). Cars sliced through the belly of the bridge while spiders held stake at the edges, working feverishly under a moon that wasn’t quite full. Spiders know so many things we don’t, don’t you think? We would have counted hundreds of them, if we had counted.

Seoul Sunset Han River 4 Seoul Sunset Han River 2 Seoul Sunset Han River 3 Seoul Sunset Han River 1

Thank you, Dominic, for sharing the day and these beautiful shots from it.

Beachside Ssam

Sunday, September 8, 2013

This weekend marked the first and last beach trip of the summer, or mine, rather. We walked out barefoot and gingerly on the mud flats of Jebu-do when the tide was at its lowest. We sunk past our ankles, the mud gurgled, we screamed. When the tide rolled back up the beach, we swam until sunset. Then we grilled dinner on the patio and wrapped it in lettuce with ssamjang and garlic. We chased tequila with bites of kimchi. When we were lightly stewed, we followed the boardwalk and bought tickets for the beachside carnival’s two most riveting rides, the Spinster and the Viking (only one of those names is made up). On our way back to the pension, we bought fireworks and sparklers and lit them on the beach.

This morning we woke up and cooked ramyeon outside in a pot over a portable burner, then walked to the main road and waited for an hour for a bus that never came. A group of teenagers with nothing better to do on a Sunday at seven a.m. tore up the road straight for us, swerving out of the way in the knick of time. They circled around and did it again, the punks. A sweet ajumma tended to her garden across the road, unaffected. Still without a bus, we caught rides from a pair of nice drivers and made it off the island before the tide would come up and close the main road for hours.

Jebu-do

Beachside Ssam

1) Slice garlic and add to a foil dish with a glug of sesame oil. 2) Wash a heap of lettuce and perilla leaves, shake dry. 3) Heat a charcoal grill, then place pieces of sirloin (or other cuts of beef for grilling) on a big square grill rack above the flames. 4) Using tongs to hold the meat with one hand, cut each big piece into bite-sized pieces using a scissors with your other hand. Wear fire-proof gloves for maximum protection. 5) Grill cherry tomatoes, sliced rounds of eggplant, mushrooms and sliced pineapple. Grill pieces of cabbage kimchi. Grill anything conceivable to grill. 6) When ready, assemble the ssam. Take a piece of lettuce and a perilla leaf, and stack them. Add a piece of meat or two, some garlic, and a piece of eggplant or mushroom. Slather in ssamjang, which is to the Korean barbecue as ketchup is to the American. 7) Wrap tightly like a package and shove the whole thing in your mouth (feed your friend or lover the same way – it’s the ultimate sign of affection). Repeat steps 6 & 7.

September 4

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I don’t like to play favorites, but September has a way. September is that friend with undefinable grace who can lift your foulest mood just by entering the same room. Wins me over every time.

Seasons are beautiful for their dependability, aren’t they? The subtleties between each full-fledged summer and autumn are too good. A morning breeze that doesn’t feel like tepid breath or smell like sewage, for example. I kid. I love summer, and lately, I’m clutching to the days as they slip by instead of running ahead, wanting for cooler weather, weekends, or holidays because soon, I will leave again. Korea is home now, as much as New York was home, and Florida. Home is Minnesota.

I’m reading a book about writing, and one theme the author keeps returning to is now. Too often we are bogged down with thoughts of what has already happened and what could happen. Seldom do we recognize that we have everything we need to start from now. I don’t think the author meant to suggest that it is only writers who are blocked by this.

In the midst of gripping to what I can’t keep but in memory, I try to make time here once a week, and it’s become one of the rituals I enjoy most. If you’re reading this, you’re a part of it. Thank you for that. Here’s what I’ve got today.

Mul Naengmyeon

Naengmyeon. A bowl of these frigid, spicy buckwheat noodles is a bitch slap to all sorts of heat-induced apathy. Sultry days may be retired for the year, but I plan to eat naengmyeon three times more before the end of the month.

An idle online dating account. I swore I’d sooner tattoo my natal cleft than succumb to the world of Internet courtship. Then the humidity struck in June and fooled me into thinking organic connections are a thing of the past, the sneaky bastard. I knew better, and it feels good to remember my instinct aligned with what I hope for, what I want, even if I didn’t listen at first.

A mug of lukewarm water that I will continue to refill either until this post is finished or all the filtered water in the house is gone.

Grapes that taste like the grape juice of the nineties! You know what I mean!

Grapes

This song. And this one.

And after last weekend, new friendships and stronger friendships with people I might never have met elsewhere.

(Photo on the easel above by Sewon. Photo below by Sooji).

Have a good 3 (or 4) of September (or whatever date is your today).

p.s. HBA!