Category Archives: Hunting for Ingredients

PB & C

All the main food groups

Peanut butter and jelly is one combination that America has stamped its name on.  A sustenant combination of non-perishable spreads, it’s the poor man’s wonder and the picnicker’s joy.  

Quite honestly, I don’t care too much for peanut butter, but when mellowed out with just the right sweetness it certainly strikes my fancy. Jelly works, but chocolate is my preferred match.  Something about the salty peanut butter with sweet chocolate is clearly addictive.  So much so, that without Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, my life is devoid of all purpose.  Motivation dwindles and the threshold of enjoyment is pushed to an unacceptable level.

Since moving to Korea, I have sought to get my PB & C satisfaction wherever I can – stocking up on visits to the army base and relying on imports from my dearest friends.  I can’t deny the fact, however, that it’s still not enough.   

Last spring, we made a somewhat groundbreaking discovery.  It was that if you put granulated sugar into a blender and pulse, you actually end up with a blender full of powdered sugar (a rarity here).  This lent itself wickedly to cream cheese frosting, and now is making a return appearance.

Best. Discovery. Ever.

With this little kitchen trick, it’s 100% possible to make your own version of  peanut butter cups in Korea. And, in under 15 minutes.  Known at home as “buckeyes,” I’m afraid to say it, but they may even be tastier than Reese’s.  Super soft and creamy, you can even freeze a batch to keep around for later.

Note: The recipe calls for the peanut butter mixture to be balled and individually dipped into chocolate for the full effect.  I’m lazy and operate typically in a craving-fueled frenzy, so I just slapped mine in a dish as layers.  Either way suffices. 

The intended end product. Fancy.

JIF Buckeyes  from allrecipes.com

Makes 5 dozen

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups powdered sugar

1 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips / 6 bars Ghana chocolate

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening / butter or margarine

1. Combine peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt in large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on LOW until blended (I mixed with a fork) . Add 2 cups powdered sugar, beating until blended (Wear out your arm muscle with that fork). Beat in additional powdered sugar until mixture, when shaped into a ball, will stay on a toothpick. Shape into 1-inch balls (Or, spread in an even layer in a dish of some sort – I used a large Tupperware). Refrigerate.

 2. Place chocolate chips and shortening in microwave-safe bowl (Break Ghana bars into chunks, place in microwave-safe bowl along with butter or margarine). Microwave on MEDIUM for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat until mixture is smooth. Reheat as needed while coating peanut butter balls.

3. Insert toothpick in peanut butter ball. Dip 3/4 of ball into chocolate, leaving top uncovered to resemble a buckeye. Remove excess. Place on wax paper-lined tray. Remove toothpick. Smooth over holes. Refrigerate until firm.

OR

3. Smear that chocolate goodness all over the layer of peanut butter, refrigerate until firm, then cut into squares. 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

Paratha Pie

The United Nations of Comfort

The United Nations of Comfort

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. These days, it’s all about fusion.  Peking duck tacos and curry vinaigrette.  An affiliate of  reinvention, sometimes it’s all that’s left to forge ahead.    Using new ingredients in unexpected ways not only crosses cultural barriers, but elevates our taste buds as well.

A method used by pros to forge new ground, in an expat’s situation it’s built right in.  Substitution is the name of the game and if you can’t get creative you’re doomed to a life of cereal and steamed rice.

Ample time spent with my new English, Irish, Kiwi and South African comrades made me aware of one area in which the US is lacking.  It’s ability to employ pastry for more than just after-dinner delights.  Sure, we’ve all been to a party with pastry-wrapped brie, but it would probably cause a stir to break through a crust and puncture a mushroom.

Happy to have been introduced to the realm of steak and ale, chicken and mushroom and Shepard’s pies, I embrace them wholeheartedly.  Particularly when it rolls around to the comfort food time of year.

I’d been craving a pie recently, and I had some cream of mushroom soup to use up.  I was thinking it’d be just the thing to whip together a filling, but I was faced with one glaring void regarding the crust.  The lack of  an oven.

Realizing I had just the thing, I scurried home and pulled out the parathas from my freezer.  Now, these are a discovery I made about a year ago.  Available from both Emart and Homeplus, they’re a tasty little treat.  With Indian roots, they’re a flat bread intended to serve with curry.  The ones of the Korean variety I’ve noticed have a particularly buttery crispness.  One that would perfectly jive as puff pastry.

I threw together the filling, quickly browned the paratha and we were in business.  The next best thing to a warm bubble bath on a cold autumn eve.  Stay tuned for my alternative for a tub.

Representing India and the United States

Chicken and Mushroom Paratha Pie

Serves 1

1 tbsp oil

1/2 onion, diced

4 button mushrooms, quartered

1 chicken breast, cubed

1/4 can cream of mushroom soup

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp mixed herbs

salt and pepper, to taste

1 frozen parantha

cream cheese, optional

Heat onion in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute until softened and beginning to brown.  Add mushrooms and continue to cook another 3-5 minutes.  Toss in the chicken.  Continue to cook until all bits are cooked through.

Pour in soup, Worcestershire, herbs and stir to mix.  Season to taste. Allow to heat through, about 2-3 minutes.  For a treat, you could also stir in some cream cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and remove from pan.  Set aside.

Heat another dry skillet (or wash and heat the same one) to medium heat.  Place the frozen paratha flat in the pan.  Allow to cook until starting to crisp around the edges and puff slightly, then flip.  Repeat until paratha is browned on both sides.  Remove from heat and cut a circle out of the middle.  Fill the hole with the reserved filling and top off with the crispy circle.

Tagged , , , , ,

Your Guide to Getting Minted

“Always remember to look up and down.”

A friend’s advice after I’d just arrived certainly rang true.  Upon exploration of my new surroundings I found restaurants stacked four tall and neon-illuminated stairwells that led to karaoke heaven.  Born and reared in a nation never short on space, this was a new concept.  Big box super marts housing just over seventeen area codes weren’t all that shock-inducing.  Sprawl was a luxury I’d taken for granted.

Fields juxtapose with the surrounding high-rises

I admired the Korean ability to make efficient use of the space available.  When it came to homegrown produce, nearly everyone had a personal stockade of plants.  Whether the pots lined an apartment overhang or lettuce sprouted just between the highway and the on-ramp, every vacant patch was teeming with life.

Something’s minty…

Along my morning commute, I’ve noticed a bloom of plants that’s intrigued me.  Bearing a striking resemblance to the purchased-then-killed mint plants of failed garden endeavors, I gave it a whiff last spring.  Dismissing the notion, I wrote it off as a bountiful dream.  The other day, for whatever reason, I decided to give it another sniff.  This time I was certain–mint it was! My technical pruning knowledge quickly flew out the window.  I tugged and ripped like a mad-woman, anxious to fill my purse.  Buzzing off the menthol, my mind was on repeat–tabouleh, mojitos, freshhhh freshhhh>REPRISE tabouleh, mojitos, fresh fresh freshhhh…

When I found myself at home with my harvest, I figured it was time to determine a use.  Realizing I was packing heat with a red onion (also a hot commodity), I settled on an old stand-by.  A version of tabouleh, I found this recipe a few years ago in Cooking Light.  Its fresh ingredients and filling protein provide all the summer satisfaction one could dream of.  I had to do without my favorite part, the golden raisins, but it was still delicious. I tried substituting regular, but it just wasn’t the same.  

Moral of the story?  A second opinion is worth a million bites.

Healthy and delicious

Black Lentil and Cous Cous Salad

From Cooking Light, October 2008

1/2 cup dried black lentils (Or any variety, I used green)

5 cups water, divided

3/4 cup uncooked couscous

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered 

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion

1/3 cup finely chopped cucumber 

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind 

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Rinse lentils with cold water; drain. Place lentils and 4 cups water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain.

2. Bring remaining 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in couscous and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Combine lentils, couscous, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, tomatoes, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl.

Yield: 6 1-cup servings

***For questions about where to find the ingredients in Korea, check out the new Ingredient Guide!***

Tagged , , , , , ,

Clamming in Korea

Seagulls, the crash of waves breaking on the shore, a salty musk in the air–there are plenty of things that characterize living near the sea.  Finding myself living on the East Sea (a.k.a. Sea of Japan depending on whom you ask…) this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of holding a seaside residence.  When the summer heat proves overwhelming, it’s my greatest joy to hop in the saddle and pedal my bike down to the shore. 

On weekends, it’s the tendency of my friends and me to congregate at our favorite stretch of sand. The patch of foreigners gleams from afar, the greased-up skin standing in stark contrast to the fully clothed Koreans.  Usually in tandem with the sunbathing, a barbecue ensues.

Taking a nod from the Koreans, a few friends began to seek the edible bounty waiting out at sea.  Neck and neck with hardcore grannies, they battled it out diving for the fresh clams on the ocean floor.  In the hunt, elbow room is not respected, and it’s the swiftest that reaps the glory.  If you can hack it, you’re rewarded with plenty to share. 

After embarking on one of these expeditions, I wrote about the adventure for Groove magazine.  The article explores clamming along the northeastern shore and also captures my hunt for razor clams down south.  I’ve included a recipe to serve up your fresh catch beachside as well.  Check out the article in Groove Korea’s July issue or online here.

Happy clamming!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Hot on the Trail

The High Park Fire

Fire! Fire on the mountain… Great when backed by the Grateful Dead’s chords, not so great when the truth of the matter. As I’ve said before, I have roots in Colorado.  Colorado’s been quite the hot topic lately, literally and figuratively.  As Smokey Bear warns at the entrance to the state’s  forests, the threat of wildfires is always present.  This season, unfortunately, Colorado’s number came up. 

The authority on the matter

Colorado has been hit particularly hard by wildfires this season.  With a lightening strike on June 9, the region around Fort Collins, Colorado, was set ablaze.  The homes of a multitude of living things, as well as my fondest memories–the Poudre Canyon, Rist Canyon, Lory State Park, Horsetooth Mountain Park–all went up in flames.  Now 100% contained, the High Park Fire has left a trail of devastation.  257 homes, 87,284 acres.   

Near Colorado Springs, the Waldo Canyon Fire was a scene from our wildest nightmares.  Declared the most destructive in the state’s history, the fire raged into suburban subdivisions destroying countless family homes.  Declared a disaster area by President Obama, the situation is bleak. 

While all may be a part of Mother Nature’s cycle, it doesn’t change the fact of the matter.  There are a lot of pieces yet to be picked up across the state I love.  In this tough time for Colorado, do a little rain dance and send cooling thoughts their way. 

Whether we are the ones affected by a burning blaze, or we’re lost on a hunt for frozen scallops, we all need a little help sometimes.  In exchange for your rain dance, I’d like to be of assistance. 

I’ve been working hard on a new component of my website. In the directory of pages, you’ll find the addition of “Ingredients Guide.”  Check here to find a glossary of ingredients as well as a listing of where you might find them in Korea.  There’s also a list of useful in-person and online retailers.  Check it out – Ingredients Guide!

After stocking your pantry, if you’ve got a little change rattling around and you’re thinking of Colorado, consider donating to one of the organizations below.

Trees, Water & People

A Fort Collins-based organization doing exceptional work in the community.  As a former intern, I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of their programs.  In the area affected by the High Park Fire, they will not only re-plant trees, but will reconstruct the devastated ecosystems to create a forest that is healthier and safer than before.

High Park PAC

The remnants of their bedroom

Some friends were personally affected by the fire, and in response, they’ve set up the High Park Relief PAC.  Currently in the process of establishing tax-deductable 501(c)3 status, they’re working to raise funds to directly help members of their community. 

Colorado Professional Firefighters Foundation

Tagged , , , ,

Beard Free Sounds Alright to Me

Before Korea, I lived in Colorado.  Ground zero for the hairy and unwashed.  Let’s be clear, I am neither discriminating against those who tend to small mammals under their arms, nor ruling out that I may have given up on shampoo for a short while myself.  Just telling it like it is.

Conducting field research. That’s a lot of hair.

When my grandmother came to town for my brother’s graduation, she was a little confused by the presence of turbans.  Turbans, yes Grandma, let’s just go along with that.  The explanation of dreadlocks may take a while.  You totally wouldn’t appreciate the cool factor that explodes when they’re done up in a lofty nest.  Not to mention the bonus points if the head wrap happens to be red, yellow and green (black accents and african motifs also acceptable).

Example A: Head wrap may not fall in the designated category, but the radiant luster earns plenty of party time credit.

Beards were par for the course and everyone who was anyone rocked one.  To be honest, I can’t disagree with the trend.  I envy beards during brisk rides up the ski lift. They are the face warmer to trump all others.  They’re a perfect tool to ensure you’re able to savor the last bite of every meal.  And also…beards are totally dead sexy!  They work like gravitational force with the ladies.  Well, some ladies.  You know who you are.

Notice how subject A is insuppressibly drawn to the beard. Subject B notes this quality, and wants a beard for himself.

While we know the consensus in Colorado, I’m not so sure of the beard verdict when it comes to clams.  A bit foreign to me, I’m not even entirely sure what a clam beard looks like.  I picture it as a scraggly little tuft, similar to the growth on an unsightly mole.  Either way, I don’t think it’s favored for consumption.  Since I am obviously in no position to identify a clam beard, let alone remove one, I was stoked on a find at NongHyup the other day.  In the cooler section, they had a shelf full of fresh, cleaned clams, seemingly ready to go. I’d been wanting to recreate a clam sauce recipe my friend’s mom let me in on, and it seemed the time had arrived.

Score

I established a healthy 1:1 clam to clove ratio for the garlic, and the rest was smooth sailing.  The best part is that this was on the table in about 15 minutes.  This is key for finding the time to pursue bearded bliss, be it disposing of sharp edges or trailing your local Mufasa.

Dig in

Clam Sauce

Serves 2-3

5-6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup olive oil (extra virgin if available, extra generic if living in Korea)

1/4 pound shucked, cleaned, debearded clams, lightly chopped and juices reserved

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

pinch of salt

fresh ground pepper

1/2 pound spaghetti/linguine, cooked

Heat oil in a shallow skillet over medium head.  When oil is hot, toss in the garlic.  Cook, gently stirring, for about 3-5 minutes or until garlic just begins to turn lightly golden.  Be careful not to burn the garlic as it will turn the dish bitter.  Just when garlic is starting to brown, turn off the heat.  Toss in clams, reserved juice, and parsley.  Stir to lightly cook the clams.  Season with salt and pepper.  To serve, spoon over hot pasta.

I’d like to give a special shout-out to my man Don Wooden, new recruit to the Bearded Gentleman’s Club (BGC).  He went for the gold with this one!

I tip my hat, good sir.

Tagged , , ,

Life Savers For An Awkward Commute

Sometimes, my teaching arrangement stresses me out.  I teach at four schools.  But this isn’t the issue.  The issue is the distance that lies between point A (my house) and point B (the school of the day).  More importantly, it’s the conversion of that distance, congruent with the rate of travel, into sequential minutes.  Creeping, crawling, somewhat non-progressing minutes.

All of my schools are found in the country.  Each one farther than the last.  Due to my circumstance, I am often granted rides with any number of teachers, nurses, chefs, and what-have-yous going to and from.  While thoughtful, indeed, sometimes this presents an obstacle.

In my culture, silence is awkward.  Depending, of course, upon how well you’ve come to know someone.  From a young age, I was schooled in the delicate art of yawn-inducing small talk. Example A:

“How was your day?”

“Fine, thanks. And yours?”

“Mine was good.  Just went to school.  A normal Monday, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“I hate Mondays.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you have to work today?”

“Yeah.”

“When did you have to go to work?”

“Around 9.”

“Was it busy?”

“Kind of.  Not too bad.”

“That’s good.  Where’s your office?”

“Downtown.”

“Near the post office?”

At about this point I’ll need reminding.  Am I trying hard to form a friendship, or am I freelancing for the CIA? Do I really care about any of these answers?  Absolutely not.  It’s just one of those things, engrained in us as polite.  We try our damndest to avoid the dreaded, dreaded lull.

To live in Korea (or abroad for that matter) is to develop a tolerance for the awkward.  Sure, it might make our skin crawl, but we have no choice.  Take it as fuel for a language course, but inevitably, language is acquired only after paying our dues in substantial awkward hours.

Interactions enter the second stage when we frantically inquire about the weather in May and whether or not our counterpart cares for licorice.  These questions surface in a panic,  in fear we’ve been discovered.  They know that we know that this is awkward.  At this point, it’s best to just pipe down.  Twenty questions only hits the matter home.

Do we just call it a draw?  Put our best tidbits back  in our pocket and embrace the quiet? Distractions come in handy here. Smartphone, you’re the best investment I’ve ever made.  Breathe deeply, relax, and you can always become enthralled in the bug that just hit the windshield.

If you make it this far, I commend you.  Everything is going to be alright.  The interaction will end, you may even exchange a sentence before it does!  A for effort, you just had to show you tried.  Your initial thoughtful exchange should have done the trick.

I’m going to do a little legwork for those of you not yet into stage three. For your next inevitable silence,  here are a few fun facts to break the ice.

“Last night, I made sugar like snow in my blender!”

Put your skis back in storage.  “Snow” is simply a comparison.  “Powdered” is a little advanced to ensure comprehension.  But, regardless, it’s true.  I. kid. you. not.  If you throw granulated sugar in your blender, within seconds you can have powdered at your disposal!  I didn’t believe it myself.  And then it worked. Amaze and astound!

“In Korea, I make Mexican food! Yes, yes!  I use yogurt!”

Seeing as sour cream is readily unavailable, plain yogurt makes a great substitute.  Works great in just about any application.

“In the USA – tomato juice – not sweet!  Here I make! Tomato paste and water,  together!  Delicious!”

Helpful when you need to explain the unsightly cringe post-swig of the sweet juice you’ve just been offered.   Also helpful when stricken with the urge for day drinking.  This is all you need to know to achieve Bloody Mary bliss while living in Korea.  Just mix one part paste with four parts water.

“You know Kahlua?  I make Kahlua soju!!” 

Tread carefully with this one.  It could unintentionally lead to your arch nemesis: a string of awkward soju dates.  Check it out here.  If you’re looking for an extra allotment of quiet minutes, contingent on your demonstrated effort, present companion with their very own take-home bottle.

And there you have it.  I wish you luck, friend.  If all else fails, you could always just develop a case of narcolepsy.  One especially triggered by long rides in the car.  

Tagged , , , ,

The Green Bean Chronicles

Phases. They come and go.  The “Save the Shrews” phase.  The Jazzercise phase.  And then there was the phase when wearing parachutes on our legs really seemed like a good idea.  Whatever it is, we all go through them.

Check out those jazz hands!

When reflecting on myself, I’ve had quite a number. There was a phase when all I really wanted when I got home from school was bacon.  And chocolate milk.  Obviously this was before Weight Watchers graced us with their presence and cholesterol content was really of  no matter.  

As far as appearance, I totally rocked out with L.A. Lights.  Yes, I owned a scrunchie (or two) and I also went through one summer when I only wore white t-shirts. Let’s count our lucky stars I never encountered a sprinkler with a mind of its own in that stage. By far the most prominent phase as far as wardrobe is concerned, however, is what my family likes to dub the “green bean” stage.

In the heyday of Gap Kids, that chain manufactured one wicked sweat suit.  A nice heavy weight, cozy to the touch, they just couldn’t be beat.  Far too young to be affected by the stigma of donning a sweat suit in the middle of the day, I was taking full advantage.

At the time, the majority of my class was wearing suits of a more windproof  nature (warm-up suits, if you will). On the playground, I watched as they got picked off one by one for going the wrong way up the slide or playing too rough on the monkey bars.  Warm-up suits seemed only to be produced in a variety of intensely neon patterns, and this quality gave them quite the inability to go unnoticed. I was forging my own path, and chose to keep a low profile in earth tones.

Additionally, I had developed an intense fear of the color red.  Still coming into my own with the pale skin/fire-haired combo, all I knew was that red, and anything sitting close on the color wheel, just didn’t work.  Playing it safe, I nestled my wardrobe safely into the confines of red’s complement.  Green was the color of choice, and I lived dangerously through variations like sea-foam and teal.  I kept it comfortable for the year. I wore sweats exclusively, and in only the finest emerald tones.

Note the camouflage effect

All of this brings me to my latest creation.  Around Thanksgiving, I was set loose on a quest for green beans. It was difficult, but I managed to come up with four of the most ancient looking cans from only the most obscure location. Three were consumed in the feast, and one I stashed safely in my cupboard. Finding myself inside on a rainy evening, not wanting to make a trip to the store, I decided the time had come. I was ready to make use of the treasure.  After assessing the stocks, I also took notice of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom. An idea occurred to me.

The essentials

By this time, you’ve probably noticed that, when left to my own devices, I frequently cook with chicken, and I usually prefer one pot.  We’ll attribute this last tendency to a deep-seeded hatred for dish washing, sowed carefully over the last 20 years.  I promise next time to mix it up.  In the meantime, a recipe was stewing, and I went for it.  Now, I know some of you may turn up your nose.  For a variety of reasons.  Most prominent being the likeness of my creation to a bowl of slop.  Well, I happen to like slop, and what oh-so-tasty slop it is!!

Slop-o-licious!

I’m going to take a moment to also recognize my inability to do this up properly.  I’ll reiterate…it was RAINING, and I didn’t have cheddar cheese  in the house, nor anything useful for breading and frying onions.  This all could lead to a greater gain (quite literally AND figuratively!) and I was working with what I had.  The suggestions are included with the recipe.

Here’s the deal.  If you came of age anywhere in the vicinity of the U.S. of A., or happen to have ever visited an American holiday gathering, you’ve probably come into contact with green bean casserole.  An old stand-by, you either love it or you hate it.  After living in close vicinity to a friend who joined Costco solely for the purchasing power of flats of Campbell’s soup and jumbo-sized tins of french fried onions, I developed a yearning for it.  The recipe that follows turns the casserole into somewhat of a sorry excuse for a balanced meal.  It met my criteria!

Chicken Green Bean Casserole

Serves 4

2 Tbsp oil

2 chicken breasts, diced

4 Tbsp flour

1/2 tsp paprika

salt and pepper, to taste

———————-

1 onion, diced

6 button mushrooms, sliced

2 cans green beans

1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup

4 Tbsp worcestershire sauce (Ottogi pulls through with this one)

8 shakes Tabasco

cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

fried onions, to garnish (optional)

1. Season chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Dredge in a dish or put flour in a paper bag to toss with chicken until lightly coated.

2.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken to pan and cook just until browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.

3.  Add onions to hot skillet and saute about 4 minutes until starting to brown.  Add mushrooms, and saute another 2 minutes.  When mushrooms are softened, add green beans and mix just to heat.

4. Pour all remaining ingredients into the pan and stir to mix evenly.  Heat for 2-3 minutes over medium, then lower heat and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for another 3-5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

5. (Optional) Top each serving with shredded cheddar and garnish with fried onions.

Tagged , , , ,

(Cue creeper) “Are you Russian..?”

The first step to healing is admitting you have a problem.  I think we might have a situation. 

Somewhere between the attempts of Marlboro to capitalize on the inner cowboy of teenage boys and Abercrombie’s convincing “If you buy our clothes, you WILL end up with a sexy hunk” campaigns, I fell for Starbucks.  They’re pretty much equivalent to Big Brother in their grasp of our society, and their [corporate] sins rival those of Charlie Sheen. I don’t even recognize myself anymore! What am I doing amongst their converts? 

We’re in trouble.

Everyone has their vices, right?  It could be SO much worse.  I could be ducking into the clothing racks of Neiman Marcus  to dodge the debt collectors.  I could be living in an apartment filled with cats! Or even worse, filled with a lot of nothing in particular! I could be a hoarder. No no, I’ve chosen my poison.  I prefer a nice deep roast finished with a bit of soy milk. Starbucks’ just happens to be fresher (on this side of the world).  And bolder. Crap.

Regardless, the guilty culprit in all this, and thus the one who shall endure the fury, is our friend caffeine.  The track of life just doesn’t play the same without a mild case of the shakes and a cupful at hand. I find myself today between a rock and a hard place.  And so it is. 

I’m not quite sure at what point the addiction began.  Maybe it was when I first acknowledged the cool factor of  “Don’t talk to me until after I’ve had my coffee (sneer).” How very emo.  Perhaps it was in attempts to get the attention of that dark-haired guy from Philosophy? (Aside: HE most certainly wouldn’t have chosen Starbucks! What is WRONG with me!!??)  How have I ended up here!?  

In all honesty, I think most likely my 6am job in the river rafting industry is to blame.  I mean, really I was just being safety cautious.  Nobody’s aware enough to heed all stop signs and mind the yellow line at that hour unless caffeine snaps them into action.  And the drive to work was AT LEAST 10 minutes.   It’s not my fault.

While I’m coming to terms with my existing situation, let’s shift the blame a little and start pointing the finger.  Shall we start with sexual predators?  Or maybe you’d rather look first to alcoholics? Let’s start with alcohol and save the best for last!

As I’ve mentioned before, this country has quite the drinking habit.  There’s nothing  like watching your superiors belt out their rendition of “Material Girl” then hang their heads in a drunken stupor.  As a friend warned me before embarking on this journey, if you choose to drink with them, be prepared.  And after you do, be ready to acknowledge the badge of honor you’ve earned in everyone’s hearts when you stumble into the office the next morning. 

Bottles of the spirit of choice, soju, are available on every corner for about $1.  With a flavor profile similar to jet fuel, it’s a steal of a good deal.  At this point, you may be beginning to understand  why I’ve pretty much sworn off the stuff.  Seeing as I’ve just signed another year of my life away, however, I’m feeling like I need to give it another chance. 

With coffee and addiction drifting through my head, an idea occured to me. A genius idea. I have an old roommate whose mother once sent her a batch of homemade Kahlua.  At the time, my roommates and I were battling the post-college blues, and this bottle was something of a savior.  It added little drops of happiness to our Sunday cups of coffee  and was even better in White Russians.  Who knew you could make Kahlua on your own? Reflecting fondly, I thought of it. Kahlua SOJU. 

Here’s what I came up with.  This recipe is incredibly easy, most ingredients are either on hand or may be grabbed from the corner shop, and it WILL change your life.  Nothing like pooling your resources and making lemonade out of lemons. Don’t be shy, you’re welcome to kiss my feet.

Pantry staples

Kahlua Soju

 3 Cups Freshly Brewed [Starbucks] Coffee

3 Cups Light Brown Sugar

3 Cups Soju (About 1.5 small green bottles.  If you’re feeling frisky, go ahead, pour in that extra  half-bottle!)

3 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract or 3/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Powder (I had extract at my disposal, but you can find the powder at pretty much any Korean grocery store)

Brew coffee, then pour into a pan on the stove top.  Add sugar and heat over low-medium heat just until dissolved.  Allow to cool, then stir in soju and vanilla.  Enjoy. 

Next, I was faced with the task of determining just how best to enjoy my creation.  I could drink it straight (I did.).  But that’s kind of boring.  I could put it in my coffee. That just sets me up for a double dose of dependency, so let’s evade that one.  At this point, my mind drifted to Russians.

As with any country (except for perhaps Thailand, which harbors HOARDS), you can find a few bad eggs here. That’s right, it’s time to discuss sexual predators!  Usually they’re found, or rather they find you, at only the most inopportune times.  Thanks to a weekly boat from Vladivostok and a shaky economy, Korea has been graced with the presence of a few economic migrants who don’t have English as a native tongue.  These migrants count on their curves for job security and apparently are in high demand.  It takes only a few days before any light-haired girl receives her first proposition from aforementioned predators.  And what a cautious, delicate proposition it is. “Are you Russian..?” Yes, and I’ve been waiting all day to go home with you.  Bug off.

Either way, I decided I was onto something with the Russian thing.  I stirred  in some milk and enjoyed.  It was dangerously delicious.  It needed a name.  As obvious as it might be, what with WHITE Russians and BLACK Russians, I decided to side-step the racial slur.  It took a minute, and then I had it.  The Russian Hunter.

They “creep” up on you.

 

Tagged , , , , ,

A Side Trip to Suwon

With snow mounded in the streets, I’ve been summoning my inner Betty Crocker for ways to make the  evenings a little more toasty in my abode.  An earlier mission for cooked pumpkin (sans my good friend Libby) left me with some extra and, as a by-product, I came up with this tasty stew recipe. 

If you’ve been paying attention, by now you’ve heeded my suggestions and Ma and Pa have put the inaugural care package in the mail. If you missed the memo, or, for those of you who are a little hesitant about indenturing your contact list, here’s an alternative.  You can find most of the rare ingredients called for in a sketchy back alley just across from Suwon Station.  No, I’m not saying 3 hairs from a Thai ladyboy’s back are the secret garnish.  I was referring to the lentils and spice.

After winding through the maze of market streets, if you persevere like Sir Edmund Hillary, on the second floor of a dimly lit building you’ll find the Swoyambhu Restaurant. Run by a transplanted Nepalese family and serving Indian and Nepalese favorites, this place really delivers.  As if the luscious butter chicken and delicate samosas weren’t enough of a draw, next to the counter you’ll find a stash of ingredients that will have you feeling light-headed.  Curry and lentils are plentiful, and they even have dried chickpeas to boot. The packages are large enough to curb at least a couple months of cravings, and once you taste this recipe you’ll be glad you decided to ration.   

Curried Chicken and Pumpkin Lentil Stew

Serves: 3-4

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

1/2 Onion, diced

2 Chicken Breasts, cooked and shredded

1 Cup Lentils of any variety (I used green), rinsed

1/2 Can Diced Tomatoes

1 Tbsp. Curry Powder

1/2 tsp Paprika

1/4 tsp Ground Coriander

1/4 tsp Tumeric

2 Chicken Bouillon Cubes

3-4 Cups Hot Water

1 Small Pumpkin, cooked (I sliced the pumkin in half, scooped out the seeds, then cooked in the microwave until soft about 6-8 minutes.  Once cooked, I scooped out the cooked flesh and roughly chopped it.)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and sautee until translucent.  Next, add the chicken, lentils, tomatoes, and spices.  Cook just enough for flavors to meld together and to heat through. Dissolve the chicken bouillon in hot water and add to pot.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer for about 15 minutes or until lentils are fully cooked.  Stir in the pumpkin to finish and season to taste.

Tagged , , , , ,