Entries Tagged as 'Minnesota'

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.

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





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.