Entries Tagged as 'South Korea'

Persimmon Pudding

Monday, November 25, 2013

Each Thanksgiving since I’ve been out of the U.S. has been unconventional in some form, but this is the first year we’ve ever eaten around a table on the floor and ended the evening over a shared plate of persimmon pudding with a variety of utensils, due to the fact that I own exactly 4 spoons, 3 forks, and 5 sets of chopsticks. We went a bit off the cusp with the menu: we had stuffing with cranberries and apple juice that was spiced with sage, ginger, and cinnamon. Habiba brought turkey legs that she stripped by the light of her cell phone in the corner of the living room, the only spot in the apartment with enough surface area to do it. Justin brought stir fried vegetables, Mary brought South African sausage, and we ate that with Minnesota wild rice and kohlrabi salad, rosemary roasted potatoes, and brussel sprouts Luke procured from the army base that were sautéed and caramelized with kimchi. When it came time to make the gravy, we all realized we’d never done it before, only watched our mothers/aunts/cousins do it dozens of times between us, but Janessa and I took to the stove once we decided, at the last minute, that we absolutely needed the gravy. Turns out the gravy was the simplest of all the dishes on the table to make, be it that we had really good turkey juice with which to begin. You whisk together the juice (but not the fat) from the cooked bird with a bit of flour and let it bubble in a pan on the stove. You let it thicken, and add more flour and juice until it’s the consistency you want. You season with salt and pepper, and voila–you’ve got Thanksgiving’s most valuable player.

When our wine key snapped in half, the bottom half wedged deep inside the cork one of the last bottles, we all took turns swearing while trying to pull it free, each to no avail, until someone had the brilliant idea to tie the string of a hooded sweatshirt around the end of the corkscrew and the tines of a fork (while Brendon ran out to buy a replacement from 7-11). We cheered when it popped free, then passed it around and took swigs straight from the bottle. You might not call us classy, per say, but you can’t argue with that kind of ingenuity.

A note about the recipe below: I don’t have a 9×13 pan, so I halved the quantities and poured most of batter into a small ceramic casserole and the rest into a muffin tin. The pudding that baked in the casserole was super soft and almost oozy. But the pudding that came out of the muffin tin was a totally different dessert, and had developed a caramelized crust on top that was so, so good. Maybe, probably, it had baked faster. In any case, take this into consideration depending on what kind of texture you’re after, if you decide to embark. Which you should.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Persimmon Pudding
(from my friend Mary Ann, who got it from her niece)

2 cups pureed persimmon pulp (from hachiya persimmons, the oblong shaped variety that must be utterly soft before eating)
2 cups raw sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda *or* baking powder (I used soda)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk sugar and eggs together. Add persimmon pulp and mix well. Stir together flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Blend flour mixture into sugar/egg/persimmon mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour (I unintentionally skipped this step and ended up mixing everything together at once. If it made any kind of unfortunate difference, I couldn’t tell). Add melted butter and vanilla. Pour into a buttered 9×13 pan. Bake at 300 degrees F/150 degrees C for an hour. Test by jiggling the pan–if the center moves, bake another 5-10 minutes. It’s okay if the pudding is not completely set, but it shouldn’t be runny. Serve warm with whipped cream. Or vanilla ice cream. Or, as we did, unadorned and straight off the spoon/fork/chopsticks.

They’ll all come together

Monday, November 11, 2013

Yesterday I woke up earlier than usual to take a morning walk up the mountain closest to my apartment. Correction. Yesterday I woke up earlier than usual to hike the hill at the base of the mountain (quite a workout on its own). There’s a tower at the top with an expansive 360 degree view of Seoul, which is really beautiful at night when the city is lit. Namsan Tower points me home if I’ve lost my bearings, something that still happens after two years, two months, two weeks and six days of living in this living breathing animal of a place, if you’re wondering. The last time I hiked Namsan, the trees were unabashedly green, and the cicadas drowned out any and all competing noise. Yesterday the wind blew through bare branches and scattered a round of bright gold leaves to join the ground already covered in pine needles. The air was brisk enough to burn the back of your throat and sting your nose, and it did. I walked back down the steep hill, past the flagship location of Gentle Lady Cupcake, and straight to one of the two neighborhood cafes open before 9 am. There are days when I don’t want to talk about leaving Seoul, although I know I will, and yesterday was one of them.

I think a lot about how to stay warm when it’s cold, and besides hot cocktails, that involves a lot of soup. What I love about soup is that you can whip together a pot of it in a hurry with whatever ingredients you have on hand or need to use up, save for a few key items. And rather than follow a recipe to the T, this is usually what I do. If you have chicken or vegetable stock, onions, and garlic around, you’ve got the base for a meal. From there, anything’s fair game. Take a big pot and throw in your wayward items, the celery leaves at the back of the crisper drawer, the forlorn potatoes, the forgotten onion, the last knob of ginger from the big bunch you didn’t think you’d need but bought anyway. They’ll all come together with soup.

sweet-potato-soup

White Sweet Potato Soup
In a large soup pot, saute 2 cloves of garlic and half an onion in olive oil until the onions are soft and almost translucent. Add grated ginger, as much as you want, and a big handful of chopped celery leaves, then a tablespoon or two of curry paste and mix well. Add peeled, steamed, white sweet potatoes (or goguma, in Korean) and break them up with a wooden spoon in the pan. Pour in enough chicken or vegetable stock to cover, bring to a simmer, and cover with a lid. Let cook for ten minutes. Puree in batches–this soup will have a mouthfeel of pudding if you do. Drizzle with cold yogurt and snipped green onion.

Kinfolk in Korea

Sunday, October 6, 2013

For a long time, I’ve wanted to create a food-centric event in Korea. Last Saturday, inspired by Kinfolk‘s monthly initiative of gathering in small groups around the world, Sonja and I worked with our friends Yaeri, Sooji, Ji Sun and Sewon to host a fermentation workshop at a meditation retreat center Chungju, about two hours south of Seoul. We put our heads together with Mi Soon, Irene, and Bora, the women who run the impressive food program at Ongdalsam. Ongdalsam is a meditation retreat center in the mountains with the perfect backdrop and matching philosophy for what we’d hoped to create.

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Mi Soon Nim walked us around the grounds of Ongdalsam, lifted the lids and pulled the paper shields away from heavy earthenware pots, urging us to dip our fingers into soy sauce that had been fermenting since 2007. She fed us samples of her pickled garlic, plum juice, and gochujang. Mi Soon is nimble and soft-spoken at first, but put her in front of a group and she shines.

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Days before the workshop, Mi Soon and Bora fermented a gigantic batch of soybeans so they were pungent and sticky. Called cheonggukjang, these beans are either loved or hated, and I think it was Mi Soon’s objective to make lovers out of all of us. Which she did. We buried them inside sesame-covered rice balls, mixed them in a salad with 3-year old kimchi, and stuffed them inside soft envelopes of tofu with mild, pickled pepper. Then we sheathed a giant batch of yeolmu with minced ginger, garlic, and red pepper and turned it into kimchi. At the end of the day, we set a long table with tea lights and platters of pickled vegetables, steamed white rice, and the foods we’d just finished making. Before we knew it, it was time to catch the bus back to Seoul.

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Food can’t connect with the same complexity as shared history, tragedy, or triumph, but along with a compulsion for safety and intimacy, the traditions we build, honor, and share through food are the bona-fide common threads between us. There are a dozen ways to share the company of others, though probably none better than the act of breaking bread. And it’s always made better by the combined effort of many.

Sincere thanks to Mr. Godowon and the whole team at Ongdalsam for making the workshop so special.

All photos above are courtesy of Jun Michael Park. Photo below courtesy of Ongdalsam.

Kinfolk Group

 

 

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!

End of the Line: Incheon

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Two weeks ago, my friend Jun and I rode the dark blue metro line from central Seoul all the way to Incheon at the northwest coast of South Korea. Jun is a street photographer, and we met at a workshop that Seoulist hosted earlier this year. I told him about a new project I wanted to start where I’d select one of the city’s seventeen metro lines and travel to the last stop, get off, eat, explore, and take photos. I’ve admired his work since we met, and when he agreed to join, I was thrilled. In fact, it was his idea to visit Incheon.

The third biggest city in South Korea after Seoul and Busan, Incheon is known for its Chinatown, international airport, and port. Jun had visited before, and I hadn’t. He knew exactly where to go for lunch. For the first time, I understood why so many go wild for jajangmyeon, a Korean adaptation of Chinese food with noodles, potatoes, and carrots in a sweet, dark, thick sauce. The sun was merciless, and after an hour of wandering we found a shaded spot to rest and share a big bottle of Tsing Tao. We ambled down sleepy streets lined with used book stores and found a small art gallery on the second floor of a nondescript building. The woman working inside was well-dressed and a little lonely, maybe. She gave us cold barley tea and told us about the visiting artist, whose photographers were all inspired by one of Haruki Murakami’s novels. We found a traditional market with hanbok shops that was deserted but for us, a few other rogue tourists, and the shop workers and owners. Thanks, Jun, for joining, for navigating and for sharing your shots! It was fun.

Photos above, copyright 2013 Jun Michael Park.

Photos below, copyright 2013 Something for Sunday.