Korean style Tom Kha

I really didn’t have everything I wanted but…. I had some ingredients for this soup so I went for it. The result was delicious!

1 carrot
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 whole chicken (mine was chopped at the store)
6 cups water
1 Tablespoon grated lemon
half a package of rice noodles

1 can of coconut milk
Sesame leaves (thin sliced)  and lemon to garnish

Start by chopping your vegetables and heating up the soup pan. Put your chicken in first so it has the time to brown and grease up your pan. Then throw in your veg. When the onions are translucent add water and turn to low. Cook until chicken is done (about 40 minutes).

Fish out the chicken to cool and shred. Add the coconut milk, stir in the cream. Then put rice noodles in while shredding the chicken (they take about 13 minutes to cook).

Dish into bowls. Top with chicken, sesame leaves and a squeeze of lemon.

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Friends and surprises

The winter season has been full of new friendships and surprises. Wyll and I went snowboarding with some foreigners and not only did we gain new friendships we also took on bunny sitting. Tomorrow will bring about the end of our bunny having adventure. The bunny has acclimated to a very different life style. He eats raw/ fresh vegetables by the kilo and a few fruits. He has his own room where he generally runs around like a maniac. He now has a name “Rodeo”, when he runs through the apartment he sometimes kicks out his feet like a buckin’ bronco. He will probably have a hard time getting use to small quarters again, especially after having a whole room!

Last night we had a game night, hopefully the first of many. We played Ascension and Apples to Apples. Both games were well fought and closely won. There was also an expressed interest in play testing Wyll’s game. Let me back up a little. The night before Angus, he’s Canadian,  returned from his month long vacation, bearing gifts of maple syrup and deodorant. I am going to try to make maple people- apparently they don’t have them in Canada.We went out for dinner with Angus and James Murray. James is fascinating and awesome! He is a self-published author. He has a novel and collection of poetry. He has done conventions and promoted his book on the east coast. He is working on an epic looking graphic novel. James has qualities that remind me of family members, Delmar specifically. For the game night James gifted us with a copy of his novel and I am loving it!

On another surprising level one of the foreigners is leaving Gochang. She was the first we met. She chased us down at the Moyang festival. She introduced us to many other foreigners. After helping her by taking her HAMSTERS, she surprised me by “loaning” me her juicer. With the understanding that if she comes back I’ll hand it over willingly. Well after all the fun I had today, that might prove to be very difficult!

I was reading online about all the crazy things it can do- whole pomegranates, whole pineapple! So, I went out and bought everything I could find. I forgot a few things like ginger and there wasn’t celery. I made a juice: dino kale, red kale, beet, pineapple, carrot, apple. It was amazing, so I had to try my hand at tomato soup! The soup was crazy! I juiced half a cabbage, a carrot, green onion, garlic, a kilo of tomatoes and half a bell pepper. I sauteed some basil, salt and pepper. I tried the juice before cooking it and it was spicy! Garlic really gave it a kick. So simmered the juice and seasoning together until it looked like soup, 20 minutes or so.  

This could be life changing!

It’s getting warmer :)

While there is occasionally ice on the ground, the oranges have found there way into the supermarket. I feel that this is due to my name being confused with the fruit. Our personal fruit grocer, Park, remembers my name by saying “Lindsy Orengy”. This is often followed by him shoving citrus into our hands and shopping bags. Previously mandarins or tangerines.

On Monday, he gave us big juicy California Oranges. They were lovely. And so tasty. Did I mention cheap? I have been told that oranges are usually around a buck each. Being from California more than 25 cents seems weird, but sweet navels were hard to pass up. The kids at school have been eating tons of candy. Sometimes it really gets on my nerves. On Friday, I bought some for the whole school. It was awesome! Everyone was so excited! Even our director, Grace. (An outsider came in and ate a few of them and she got really upset.) I bought 32 for 20k won. They were a hit. At the end of the night I had six left.

I don’t know why everyone’s reaction was so unexpected. I mean, I love oranges. Doesn’t everyone else? I mean, why would I think differently? I think it was especially nice to share something with my students and staff that they liked and appreciated.

I think Wyll and I have it really good here. I think we eat better than most people. We eat fresh fruit and vegetables everyday. We make meals at home. Making food at home has become really important. Tonight for example, we had curried spicy beans and carrots with fries and garlic fish. Not totally sure what kind of fish, but it was trout-y and good. I like it here. Pantomiming ‘could you please cut this fish in half‘ can be hard and silly looking, but I’m looking forward to Spring and the coming adventures.

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This picture is from when we were in Seoul! ❤

Seoul part 2

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Maybe we would have gotten there faster with wonkwang power!

So, the second day was spent worrying about the subway. We walked to the hub of Itaewon and looked for Vatos, a hot Mexican restaurant with wild margaritas. Down a skinny road, counting the shops and mini roads to find the right place to make a right turn. Did I say right? I meant left… Luckily the right turn was a quick dead end. We turned around dodging motor cars, mini trucks and motorcycles. Sadly what we found was closed. The door was open but on one was home. We agreed to have hot dogs.

(I think this was the moment when we decided that the trip was a wasted one. I didn’t put in the ARC request for a new ID. And our first day felt like a waste of time and now there were no amazing restaurants open in Seoul. We had started the day by walking a mile or more in the wrong direction. Dinner the night before was a bust- we looked for Greek, we got really excited about Greek- we ended up eating at a chain that served us a mediocre fried shrimp and chicken platter  and FROZEN seared tuna.)

We moped around the back alley looking for something. Really we were heading out to the street to surrender ourselves to Outback Steakhouse- however this was very much like the establishment we ate at the night before. We saw a sandwich board it read “The Alley: Gallery, Restaurant , Cafe”. Okay we glanced at the menu- has to be better than frozen fish.

It was phenomenal!

We had wine (from Chile!), a creative Caesar salad (with black olives and balsamic), incredible lasagna (mucho ricotta cheese!). We had an excellent time. Wyll and I talked about people and home. We laughed at the future and basked in happiness. It was an excellent way to let go and breathe.

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Not the most flattering picture but it was tasty!

After we were fed and properly watered, we headed over to find What the Book?, the only all English bookstore in Korea. We spent a good block of time there and found some really wonderful reads. Yes, we got a Korean language book! And cookbook, along with two history books (France and Language- both anticipated and showing to be good reads) and a Korea Rough Guides. Cashing out we took our books over to Starbucks where I got my first caramel macchiato in what felt like years. I studied up on Korea. I read my new language book and actually perused the cookbook. It had been covered in plastic at the store. I looked at Korean foods I would want to eat! Oh man, Grace was in trouble. I was going to be speaking her language and eaten her food in no time! I think I deserve another caramel macchiato, thank you very much!

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Wyll after a long day at the Suncity Hostel

That idea (another coffee) was quickly voted down… We headed back to the hotel to drop off the heavy stuff and out to Dongdaemun, a shopping mega district. What were we thinking? It was fine. We took the subway like pros and didn’t get lost. Of course, we were very careful and used our smartphone app. Our first challenge was finding our way out of the subway. My biggest fear was that we would end up in the homeless section of the sewer system. While I don’t know if these are real, I have seen them on many shows from Law and Order to Bones. I pretty sure even Batman has sewer people. I think it was to our disadvantage that we were shopping at night. I might not have been scared with the sun on the surface.

During the trip I never successfully shopped underground.  Someday, soon I’m thinking, I will. We got very turned around and walked the place several times. We found an information booth with English speakers. While probably not uncommon it was a very friendly and welcome sight. We got directions to an ATM from our branch and were told that a jimjilbang (sauna and hot tub) was in the third level of the basement of the same building. Leaving the booth we crossed the street in the wrong direction and had to immediately turn around.

Let it be known that separately, Wyll and I are great with directions.

While the ATM charged us a 1,000 won fee, the building had a jimjilbang in the basement and Wyll was delighted. He gave me a large sum of money and told me to spend it. I left him with my coat, gloves and other bulky belongings. Two floors of women’s clothing, one floor of handbags and headbands, one floor for men. I took the elevator to the top (where the movie theater is) and noticed that many of the floors were closed or under repair. Awkwardly for me, the women’s sections were like Forever 21. Yes, it is a store that I hold near and dear but sadly it is for teenagers. Korean teenagers are typically much smaller than their ten years older American counterparts. Korean fashion is something that I love, so I had no problem with looking at everything many times. Pearls and rhinestones cover sweaters, dress collars, handbags. Clothes are fuzzy, silky, gaudy.  Leggings are currently the only kind of pants! Giant sweaters are worn as dresses. Korean fashion is is also covered to the neck and long sleeves while skirts barely cover your butt.  I was tempted to buy a free size (one size fits all) dress but the last one didn’t fit so I stood my ground.

There was also a fantastic gate. Dongdaemun means East Gate, it is very lovely and after several tries we got a photo in the dark that wasn’t to blurry.

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Kabocha Squash Soup

If I learned anything last year (2011) it was making soup. While I was working at Bloomfield Farms, I had mountains of produce to play around with. I ventured into all sorts of veggie dishes from stir frying to soups. One of my favorites is a squash soup that uses lime and cashews. You can find the recipe here. When I saw the squash at the market (and with the help of the recent snow) I thought SOUP!

It might have been easy to create the same soup again, however I like a challenge so I set off to create lunch in under an hour with only the thing we already had in the house.

Total ingredients include:

3 baby Kabocha Squash- cut in half, with the insides scooped out

2 yellow onions – one quartered, one chopped small

1 apple- chopped small, with peel, without seeds and core

handful of peeled garlic cloves

salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, Bragg’s liquid aminos

Plenty of Water

First boil water with squash, quartered onion and salt. I was hoping to use boiling water for broth but I ended up throwing out the remaining onions and water. Once squash is soft and cooked put in bowl of cold water to help separate from peel. Put yummy goodness in bowl and set aside.

Do a quick rinse of your pot and fill 1/3 with water, in the vicinity of two quarts. As you bring to a boil add  chopped onion, apple, garlic, a dash of cinnamon, a dash of cayenne, and a squirt of Bragg’s probably 3 Tablespoons or less. Cover. Let it boil and cook all the veggies. When soft add squash and smash everything together. Enjoy hot!

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Making Kimchi

How can I describe the emotions surrounding  making kimchi?

When I was trying to convince Wyll that Korea was the place to be we watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation. Bourdain gets a whorl wind tour of the country. At one point he meets up with some older women who are making Kimchi. They do NOT let him touch it. He waits, watches sadly and tells viewers what is happening. Watching the show I thought how sad for him. Kimchi is a process unlike most other fermenting cabbage dishes, hello fish! It could easily be the mascot of Korea. As it is a source of pride and eaten with EVERY meal, I can understand why they wouldn’t want to eat his poorly seasoned cabbage everyday for months. Then again I wished that I would have the opportunity to watch artisans make kimchi.

I knew before we came that November was kimchi month, prime cabbage harvesting time. At Y-mart down the street, the cabbages are displayed on pallets. Walking to work, truck beds piled high with cabbage drive past us. I have also noticed the arrival of very cute plastic food grade tubs with snap on lids and handles. Grace claims few cooking skills. I talked with her about kimchi season. She said her aunts do that sort of thing, when she was vacationing in Korea they sent her some. I knew that Sam and Mr. No (our off-site directors) were involved with farms. They had both brought us huge persimmons. One day I sneak attacked them. I stopped at work to drop off some things for later. They were there cleaning- how embarrassing! I think we were all surprised. I mean what was I doing there!?! Trying to smooth over the situation Mr. No and I were talking about farming and he invited us out to make Kimchi! I was like jumping off the walls. V is for VICTORY!

I was ecstatic. Rather impatiently, I waited. Toward the end of November I was beginning to feel like maybe it wasn’t going to happen. One day Grace would look up from her desk and say ‘No-can-dos-ville babydoll’. Then at least I would know. On Monday (Dec.3) Grace hung up her phone and said ‘it’s getting so cold- I hope we don’t have to make Kimchi’. I thought Oh, no here it comes. It was like she knew it was coming. Mr. No set the date for Friday. We would have to go in the morning and it would be outside. The way Grace talked about it we would be watching. Then we would eat and go to work. I was a little disappointed, but at least I would be outside at a farm surrounded by happy people making a ton of kimchi.

Wyll and I got ready according to Graces description. If we weren’t going to be getting dirty then we should dress nice. Dress to impress. Wyll (the smart one) wore jeans and a button up. I wore several layers, slacks, two new sweaters and went with my heeled boots. We headed put into the mini blizzard that put other areas on snow alert. Grace met us at the call taxi luckily moments before the driver had taken us to the bus terminal. (Being two of the 14 foreigners we are easily recognized- many times Grace has called ahead so the locals know what we are about.) The taxi driver didn’t want to take us all the way to the house. You can’t blame him really. The roads had snow and horrifying ditches on either side.

When we arrived we were taken past two dwindling pallets of salted and cleaned cabbages into the house and given gloves.

“What!?! Oh yes!”

Mr. No explained that we can’t have lunch and a bucket of Kimchi for nothing. This is a community event. This is the third and easiest day. If we are only here for a short time other people will get upset.

Oh man, AND we get to take some home! Too bad we were wearing such silly outfits. We walk into the green house where everyone is set up working in groups of three. I can tell that the expectations are low, we were given a much smaller bowl and pile of cabbage. However, this was a good move on their part. Mr. No’s brother comes over to give us a visual how to. I sit on my legs. Grace laughs and says I’ll be sitting for a loooong time. So I play around with some other way to sit. Mr. No’s brother brings me a Styrofoam cushion to sit on. This proves to be very difficult with the height of my shoes.

So I’m rubbing the red paste into my cabbage leaves. Each leaf is done individually and you have to make sure to get all the creases and folded parts even the very bottom. Mr. No’s mom comes by and tells us to make sure to get the diakon and onion in there. She tells us to taste it. The salt flavor will mellow and the pepper flavor will be the same. Then she sneaks some large chunks of diakon into our bucket. Wyll didn’t notice. 😛

Wyll and I are unsure how to taste the paste. (Well remember the lady hand feeding us at the farmers market, it seems that Koreans are unafraid of germs). I grabbed a diakon piece and chowed down. This is the fresh version of Kimchi. The cabbage is crunchy and you can taste the complex flavors in the red paste. There is no shellfish in it at this point. It was so freaking good. Grace is chowing away and really slathering the paste onto the cabbage leaves. Mr. No’s mom comes back and says we shouldn’t put on so much- why do one cabbage when you can do two?

Wyll and I fill up our bucket like pros. Grace’s bucket is full. They set them aside and bring over new ones. We passed the test so we get to make kimchi for other people! Let’s finish the radio flyer of cabbage!

When we first walked into the house we briefly met Mr. No’s sister. She is the family cook, head chief, also a professor. As we begin to assemble kimchi for relatives who could not make it, this stemmed pork is placed in front of us. Mr. No’s mom say wait I’ll get you kimchi. The smaller fresh leaves are put next to the pork. She then rolls the pork in the leaf and hand feeds Wyll. He tries to bite it in half. No she sternly tells him in Korean that he has to eat the whole thing. In one bite. Grace laughs as she translates then Mr. No’s mom feeds her too. She was a little surprised. So, I’m ready, but my mouth is small. I have to look at the ceiling to keep all the food in my mouth. Wyll tells Grace about how I look like a chipmunk when I eat. We laugh and eat the best food in the world. Mr. No is very excited to give us the best makgeolli he could find. He tells us a story abut how he had to try every kind at the supermarket. I think he had a lot of fun doing that. Then Sam came by and gave me soda! Thank you, SAM! Makgeolli is a Korean unfiltered wine. It was good with the food, but on it’s own it reminds me of banana peels (this is between you and me).

Before our dish was finished we were brought out more food. Grace and I gorged. It was the first time I had a home cooked Korean meal. Grace kept talking about how expensive it would be in a restaurant. I just kept thinking so freaking good, I may have danced a little in my squatting position. When we finished our extra cabbages (these were packaged with a plain leaf on top so they would know it was made by beginners), we headed inside for a little clean up. I think all three of us had red paste on our pants and arms. We cleaned up in the bathroom. Grace told us about the importance of finding a good man in Korea. Mostly it surrounds his mother.

Does he participate in kimchi making?

Will I have to make kimchi?

These answers are like a double edge sword. You want a man who will make kimchi instead of watching soccer. (GOAL!) You want a mother-in-law who will work with you, not steam roll you.

Mr. No comes in. I point at some crazy looking pickled ginseng…? Wyll and Mr. No think I am pointing at a picture of Mr. No’s son. The wall behind the TV is covered in family photographs. There are several recent ones a few older ones, there is one of Mr. No in his 20’s during his time in the Korean Military. Every man has a mandatory 2 years in the Army. They do not look forward to it. There are two large family portraits the women are all wearing hanboks (the traditional Korean outfits). As Mr. No heads back outside his sister sets up a table and lays out more food for us, fish soup and ten different side dishes. Everything tasted so wonderful.She is an amazing chef. I raved so hard we were invited back for lunar new year!!!!!!!  There was an acorn tofu jello thing, dried menos, cold sesame spinach, pepper soy sprouts, raw oysters, rice and of course kimchi. I can’t remember everything….