Entries from June 18th, 2014

Rhubarb Gochujang Jam

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We’re into the third week now, and things are starting to settle in, as they always do right around week three or four. The initial elation of being back in the States has worn off, and reality has struck that, for real, I live in Minnesota. For the first time in thirteen years, all of my possessions are in the same city. I have a car, and it runs, hollaa! I’m getting used to driving again, above the speed limit (barely), because everyone’s got places to go, and I’m the Road Tortoise with her hands at ten and two. I have one piece of furniture, my grandma’s old piano, that hasn’t been touched in years. My harmonicas, cookbooks, and spices are all within reach. In the odd in-betweenness of my old life and new, these details are keeping me sane.

It is not easy to move abroad, but so far it’s been harder to move back home. The sensation is closest to grief–like losing a cherished thing, except this thing is more than you can hold, and therefore, difficult to let go. In order to walk one way, you must leave something behind, and the more you’ve invested, the harder this is to do. Risky business, this going all in, but so far I can’t tell if there’s any other way. Sometimes I am resentful to be starting over again. It reminds me of being uprooted as a kid. No place like home to dredge up old insecurities, no matter how much you think you’ve grown. But if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making something from nothing, and here there’s already much more than that.

So here we go.

When I made this jam last week, I burned my wrist, melted a plastic container on the stove, covered Mary Ellen’s counters with stick, swore, cleaned up the mess, cooled the jam, and breathed. All in.

Rhubarb Gochujang Jam (makes about 2 1/2 to 3 pints)

6 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups sugar (increase if you like a jam that’s sweeter than tart)
1/2–1 tablespoon gochujang*
1 lemon, washed well

You might be bone-tired of talking about rhubarb by now, but let’s think of how we’re going to feel in a few months’ time. If you’ve got room for one more rhubarb recipe this season, let it be this one. You’ll have it for months, if you do decide to can it. Or, you could skip the canning process and put the jars straight into the fridge (and then, perhaps, halve the recipe). A spoonful would be dynamite over a piece of grilled pork, though it’s also delicious on a piece of plain toast.

*Gochujang is a thick, sweet, and spicy chili paste from Korea, and it’s become an essential condiment in my fridge. Dong Yang and United Noodles both stock it here in town. You could leave it out if you want, but then you’d have to call this Rhubarb Jam, and there are already enough good recipes around for that, don’t you think?

Add chopped rhubarb to a big non-metallic bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze juice over rhubarb, letting the seeds drop in, too (they’ll add pectin, and help your jam set–you can either fish them out or tie them up in cheesecloth). Add  lemon halves to the bowl, too, then sprinkle with sugar and mix well. Set aside for an hour or more (could go as long as overnight–in that case, store in the fridge).

Pour rhubarb, sugar, and lemon into a pot big enough to contain them, and heat to boiling. Then, turn down the heat so that the sauce simmers, and let it do so for 15-20 minutes. Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized jars and cover with hot, sterilized lids. Screw the rings on, but not too tightly. Then process in a tall pot of boiling water (water should cover the jars by an inch or more) for ten minutes. Remove from hot pot with tongs and let sit at room temperature until lids pop inward to seal.

A Spring Salad

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Spring Salad

Yesterday, Niki and I visited the St Paul Farmers’ Market in Lowertown, chosen mainly for its coverage from the rain. Everywhere, it was pink and green–stalks of flushed rhubarb stacked in pyramids, scarlet globe and French breakfast radishes, baskets of sugar snap peas, and spring onions bundled next to bunches of pea shoots, their tendrils finely contained. We met some friends in Uptown later in the day, a part of the city we used to frequent as high schoolers, where my youngest brother now lives in his own apartment, and where, for the first time in history (in Minnesota, that is), the bartender did not ask for our i.ds.

Whenever I return to Minnesota after time away, I am struck by how visible I am, both by stepping into the family domain where regular attention is expected (of which is more refreshing than annoying until it is not anymore new), and by stepping into the street. In a bigger city, you’ve often got to knock into someone for him or her to look up, and in Seoul, even that won’t do it most of the time. Here, people will wave from fifty yards away, say hello and smile first if you catch eyes. More than once I’ve been startled enough to stop and look behind me before returning the greeting, realizing it was actually for me. I grew up here, where the social niceties have not changed since then, but being away longterm for nearly thirteen years is enough to make the once-familiar look and feel foreign. At least for now, until I become that person across the street, waving to passersby, just because. Do you think?

We ate this salad for dinner last night before seeing Chef, the movie. (Watching movies! Something else I didn’t realize I missed. Obviously possible in Seoul, but for some reason, was just not a part of the regular. A small discovery, but still good). I’m a big believer that salads, especially green salads, are better written as guidelines than precise recipes, since the fun lies in selecting what you’ve got on hand, what’s in season, and what you like. Swap out any spring vegetables for those that are available where you are, and vary the quantities of each to suit you.

A Spring Salad

Pea shoots (one big bunch, washed, dried, and cut to manageable pieces)
Asparagus (blanched and chopped)
Sugar snap peas (trimmed and chopped)
Radishes (sliced thinly)
Spring onion (green parts chopped)
Basil leaves (torn in pieces)
Feta (or another salty cheese that crumbles, like ricotta salata)

Combine all ingredients but the feta and gently toss with any dressing you like. Add feta to the top of each salad.

Easy dressing:
White wine vinegar
Dijon mustard
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Measure a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to oil. Whisk oil with a dash of dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle in oil, and whisk again to emulsify.

from Seoul to Minneapolis

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hello from Minnesota! Or, more specifically, hello from Mary Ellen’s olive-carpeted guest bedroom, and from where I sit, the queen-sized bed with pastel floral linens with a matching window valance! Outside the grass is impressively green, the yards well-manicured and wet from a morning shower. Migrating from the concrete jungle of Seoul to Midwest first-ring Suburbia is more than a little dramatic, but since everything’s very foggy right now, I won’t try to elaborate on the contrasts just yet. Only that here, it’s so. very. quiet.

Last year around this time, I left Minnesota with an intention. Who believed it when I said I’d be back in a year? Maybe not even me, but I said it anyway, for a few reasons. Family was one. Mine is big, and they’re mostly all in this state. Though I’ve spent much of my life running away from Minnesota, there was this undeniable force that always pulled me back. Turning 30 was a landmark, too. I guess my priorities shifted some, and the professional ambition of my twenties started waning, fading to a deeper yearning to get back home, to focus some of that will on relationships with the people I missed, and who missed me. They’ve always understood, and this has been a great lesson.

My dad picked me up from the airport yesterday, and I was lying on a bench at the pickup curb, surrounded by three bags and a box when he did. When he creeped up to the curb, we both peered at each other through his tinted windshield before the moment of recognition. It was 6:30 a.m., and the air smelled fantastically pure. For years, it’s been a tradition for us to go straight from the airport to the 5-8 club on Cedar for Juicy Lucys, but it wasn’t open so early yesterday, so we went to the only other place that was: Perkins. We ordered eggs, biscuits and gravy, and hash browns, and we switched plates halfway through.

Before leaving Korea, I said many goodbyes, and hooooo man, I wondered if I’d make it to the end of the week. Friends took me in, fed me and poured me refills over and over during those last few days. They filled the gaps that arose from too much to do in too little time. They sent me away with notes and gifts, including a cooler packed with kimchi and other homemade essentials, which made it through the three flights and 10,041 miles (give or take) from Seoul to Minneapolis. Last night, my brother John and my sister-in-law’s son Dennis helped transport a spare mini fridge from my dad’s attic back to Mary Ellen’s so that the kimchi could ripen in peace, and separately, as it likes to do, without offending the rest of the food or whoever opens the fridge door. When it was time for dinner, I took out a quarter of the cabbage and sliced it, as red kimchi juice dripped over the sides of the board, its sweet bouquet rising above every other scent in the room. I dug out three sets of takeout chopsticks that were buried in the utensil drawer and fed everyone around the table, like Koreans do for the people they want to eat well. Everyone tried a bite. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud.

There’s a hello on every other side of a goodbye, isn’t there? We spend our lives saying both, maybe more than any other words.

Have a lovely week. xo.