Category Archives: Tastes of Home

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!***

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Granola Girl

Editor’s Note: Before I came to Korea, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  In my mind, “kimchi” conjured images of my last pan-asian meal, and DMZ was easily confused with a website that slandered celebrities (TMZ).  Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese were categorized just the same, and I had no idea having a “small face” was an attribute.  When I was left wondering in my safe haven back home, a friend’s blog enabled me to take a quick trip to the far East.  Johanna Wooden, author of Head in the Clouds, has found a way to bridge the gap for the couch voyagers among us. 

Since moving to Korea, her blog has continued to enrich my daily life, whether with the addition of tips for wholesome living or by putting the everyday curiosities into perspective.  Also a culinary whiz, Johanna has been kind enough to share one of her recipes in a guest post.  I hope you enjoy the change of pace she provides in the kitchen!

Jay, Claire, and Johanna “Granola Girl” Wooden

Granola girl.  My new nickname after my Korean friend, Jay, tasted my first homemade batch of granola.  Little did he know how clearly the connotation rang with the description of my rather free-spirited, music-loving, festival-going former self.  Witnessing my amusement at the name, he inquired, “What is a granola exactly?” 

In its definition, Urban Dictionary (the highest authority on slang interpretation) refers to a “granola” using the popular buzz word, hippy.  I didn’t have to explain that one to my friend, as he immediately confirmed his familiarity.  “Oh yeah, I know, a homeless person who plays the guitar in the park and holds out their hands for coins.”  He was pretty close, although you couldn’t necessarily say I was anywhere near living on the streets, I couldn’t play a chord on the guitar and I usually had enough coins in my pocket to get through the rough college life.

Then, there was Woodstock.  I figured this was the most stereotypical “hippy” festival of all time and would make for a great example of where the said type of people gathered.  Quickly, I ran a Google search, and we examined the return.  Rather than gaining the clarity I intended, my friend instead viewed a sea full of naked people listening to speeches about how to beg for money.  In his mind, the gathering was a forum for the dispute of the correct way to hold your hand when accepting coins, followed by workshops about how to make the best granola. I admired his humor and enjoyed the banter, so I continued to enlighten him about the fascinating subculture.

Further explanation of the term, using Urban Dictionary as a resource, concludes that present day hippies, called “granolas,” are people who go hiking, ice climbing, and engage in outdoor activities while wearing labels such as Colombia and munching on granola bars or trail mix.  This kind of person usually eats from the earth and refrains from eating animal products. 

At this point, my friend felt he was closing the gap.  He confirmed his comprehension that such a person steals crops from the neighbors’ gardens to eat when the coin-begging income just isn’t flowing.

When we dove into the fresh granola, my friend Jay was left perplexed.   How could a homeless person eat such a delectable snack?  He was immediately hooked on the nutty, crunchy mixture.  As he chewed, he began to understand why the hippies would take along such a delight for their long days of making melodies of peace at the local park.

The finished product

As a conclusion to the evening, I was left with some hints about what my upcoming birthday present might be.  Clues were cast towards customized pants with special pockets in which I can stash my own supply of granola for easy access.  Jay also alluded that another for safely holding my extra coins would be a necessity.  I wonder how “granola” will translate to the tailor. ..

In the meantime, I will continue to provide this wholesome, healthy snack to my friend and his family until I leave Korea.  It brightens their diet with vitamins and minerals and always leaves me smiling with their praise to the “granola girl.”  I thought it was all behind me, but I guess I will never live down those days of wearing patchwork pants and tie-dye while swaying to the tune of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Here’s how to get crunchy.

Granola Girl’s Special Blend

3/4 cup of plain oats

1/3 cup of sunflower seeds

1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds

1/3 cup of slivered almonds

1/3 cup of crushed walnut pieces

4-5 teaspoons of brown sugar

1/3 cup of honey

2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 teaspoon of vanilla

3 tablespoons of cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick

salt

Optional: Raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit

Directions

1. Combine dry oats and nuts.

2. Spread on a tin foil sheet or baking sheet.

3.Spread the nut mixture in a thin layer, just enough to cover the surface.

Spread evenly

4. In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, honey, oil, vanilla and cinnamon on medium to high heat.

5. Bring down the heat and simmer for 1 minute.

Heat it up

6. Drizzle the hot mixture over the dry nuts and oats.

7. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes, then stir mixture and continue to bake for 10 minutes.

8.  Once the top is golden brown, take out and cool for 20 minutes.

9.  Remove from foil and break into chunks. (Some will be loose – this is good:))

10. Add a handful of dried cranberries, raisins or other chopped dried fruit.

11. Sprinkle with salt .

12. Enjoy over yogurt, with milk or as a snack to munch on at work.

Yum

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Get Spiced Or Die Chai-in’

Just the thing to make your worries fade away.

Chaiiii, chaiii, chaiii, chaiii.  The melodic tones snapped me back to Earth.  Lost somewhere between exhaustion and relative lucidity, I immediately assessed my surroundings. First, I noted the location of my backpack.  Next was to assess all points of skin contact.  Realizing before bedtime that I wasn’t alone in my rail car berth, I had tucked myself in to provide a barrier.  No roaches were trotting around on this passenger!  Finding all to my (sub)standards, I let out a sigh.  And then it sounded again passing through the corridor.  Chaiii, chaiii, chaiiiiiiii.

Despite the resentment for such an abrupt awakening, I was tempted.  For a second I reflected on the sweet and spicy nectar, and then reality sunk in.  Chai could wait until I was sure it had come to a rolling boil.  No need to entice parasites mid-way through a journey.  The chai was lukewarm and the bathrooms a little short of sanitary.

Tea time!

Throughout my time in India, I found one constant.  North, South, young, old, rich, poor — chai.

It’s no surprise this delight has caught on in the West.  It takes your basic milk tea and it kicks it up.  It literally adds some spice to your life.  Now I get what Columbus was searching for.  Spices exalt the senses.

A coffee addict at heart, I’ll never cheat, but I do like to mix it up.  With the weather heating up, I was looking for something refreshing to top off my afternoons.  Taking an ode from India, I gathered together my spice stash and made up a batch that’s perfect served over ice.  My version uses soy, and takes into account its already-added sweetness. If you’re particularly fond of porcelain, feel free to sugar it up and rot ’em out.  Next time you hear the cry of chai, you’ll be amply prepared with back-up.

Perfectly spiced harmony

Soy Chai Tea

Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup water

1 black tea bag

1 tsp crushed/coarsely chopped ginger

1 green cardamom pod

2 whole black peppercorns

1 clove

1/2 cup sweet soy milk (I like Vegemil B)

1. Coarsely pound ginger, cardamom, peppercorns and clove together.

2. Bring the water to a simmer in a small pan over high heat.  Add tea bag and spice mixture.  Allow to simmer about 15 seconds, then remove from heat.  Allow all ingredients to steep together for another 5-10 minutes, then strain.

3. Pour strained concentrate over ice.  Mix with soy milk and enjoy.

Open for business

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Frankensoju

Remember a couple of months ago when I stumbled upon the idea for Kahlua soju?  Well, I kind of suprised myself with the success of that one, and I guess I didn’t stand alone. Thanks to this, I was given the opportunity to include a story in this month’s Groove Magazine, a publication geared towards the expat community in Korea. 

Starting with the Kahlua, I looked to friends for inspiration and came up with a slew of five cocktails that  reinvent the spirit.   From the soju strawberry lemonade to the fire-roasted chile mango martini, there’s something for everyone.  For those to whom soju conjures up images of a  karaoke rendition of “Livin’ La Vida Loca” (complete with valiant shimmy), it will wash away your pain.  For those new upon the bandwagon, hop aboard, fasten your seatbelt, and don’t expect to accomplish anything tomorrow.  Bottoms up!

Hop over to Groove to check it out here.

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Bite Me

Speaking with your mouth full is not encouraged.  Just the same for spewing debris from an overflowed mouth. Minding your manners can prove exhausting.  Particularly when everything you’ve come to know goes out the window. 

I was raised in a household where sneaking a rest on an elbow during a meal was comparable to committing arson.  Speaking of arson, the stares I’d receive down my mother’s nose in response were enough to burn a hole in your conscience.  Not normally an advocate of fear-mongering, I suppose in this case it proved effective.     

One inconsistency in my mother’s no-nonsense policy was the regular schedule of visits to a local sandwich joint.  Primanti’s sandwiches put Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the (glutton-based) culinary map, and they’re a primary reason why I’ve purchased a flight home this summer. 

Let’s see what you’re made of.

French fries and coleslaw on a sandwich? Indeed, my friend, you will not be disappointed.  Prove your dedication by adding an egg inside as well. 

When we’d make our visits to Primanti’s, the biggest challenge was not deciding between pastrami or capicola, as you might assume.  Rather, it was figuring out how best to dislocate your jaw to enjoy the monstrous delight.  Not normally a stiff-upper-lip accredited form of dining, the experience was an exception to the table rules.  Filling your mouth to capacity was encouraged. 

A lot was in the handling.  Once you raised the sandwich for the initial bite, it was time to demonstrate your commitment.  You must not release the hold until down to the very last morsels.  Disregard, and disaster would ensue.  The delicate balance would crumble into an intimidating pile of slop.  It was in your best interest, as dining with forks at Primanti’s is viewed as rather pretentious. 

This regular exercise in grip-centered technique proved useful when I found myself at my first teacher’s dinner in Korea.  A mainstay of employment in this country, the outings are considered just as much an obligation as showing up on time for class.  Explained to me as crucial for developing working relationships, nothing says bonding like acting as crutch to a stumbling deskmate. 

It sent me into a tizzy when slurping was a sign of enjoyment and I was faced with the almighty lettuce wrap.  Seeming impossible to consume in one bite, thankfully, I came with experience.      

Wrapping up morsels of food in crispy lettuce blankets is kind of a staple of the Korean diet.  It eliminates the need for plates, and adds a nice amount of freshness.  Referred to as ssam, there’s often a basket of leaves present on the table. 

Like Primanti’s, the art of ssam congestion is a delicate one.  Nimble fingers are a bonus, and a lot is contingent upon finding the right balance between fill capacity and leaf surface area.  Forget attempting multiple bites, you only end up with mangled gristle looking unsightly on your chin. 

My personal plan of attack is the bag o’ gold method.  I find it works best to gather the loose edges in one cluster around the center of the leaf.  With a wide open mouth, I then shove the whole bit, bag first, into my mouth.  It’s a one-handed technique, and you may want to set aside a good minute for chewing. 

Like Primanti’s, don’t waver once committed to the bite.

With weekend dinners out not proving enough to keep my techniques sharp, I decided to whip up something  at home.  It’s becoming crucial that my jaw is in shape for my visit(s) to Primanti’s this August.  I came up with a variation of curry chicken salad that’s perfect for the picnic-friendly weather.  It’s spiced up with ginger and orange, and perfect to keep in the fridge for an urge to practice on short order.    

The challenger

Curry Chicken Salad Ssam 

Serves 4

4 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (about 4 cups)

2 cups julienned carrots (about 1 large carrot)

2/3 cup sliced green onions

1 small container plain yogurt (3 oz./85 grams)

2 Tbsp mayonnaise

1 Tbsp orange zest

1 Tbsp orange juice

2 tsp finely minced ginger

1 tsp curry powder

Lettuce or cabbage leaves (any variety)

1.  Combine chicken, carrots and green onion in a medium-sized bowl.

2.  In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients until smoothly blended to make the dressing. 

3.  Pour dressing over chicken mixture, and stir until evenly distributed. Serve as wraps in leaves of your choice.

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Teeny Weeny Tahini Bikini

Swimsuit season is upon us.  Pick your poison – what’s the diet of the year?  Is it Atkins?  Oh no, that’s right, that guy died of a heart attack.  Not a good indicator for my bacon and ranch meal plans.

The cabbage soup diet?  It seems I may have struck gold for this one.  Kimchi pots swarm beneath my window sill.  It would take nothing more than a covert night mission, a large pot, water, and I could be simmering away to abundance!  Tempting, yes, but I’ll admit I’m a little scared.  And not of getting caught by my landlord. The combination of cabbage, spice and fermentation sounds dangerous, and I’m nervous about what it might do to my intestinal tract. It can’t be good.

 They say it takes 28 days in sequence for something to actually make a lasting change.   It’s a shame we didn’t face the music 27 days ago. We may have been able to actually reduce the amount of fat on our body.  Since we didn’t, it’s all about pretending and making ourselves feel thinner.

My go-to is the Swimming Departure-Day(S. D-Day) method.  It’s really quite simple.  Just refuse all sustentence on day of set swimming escapade.  Around 2 pm, while lying in the hot sun, you MAY feel a little lightheaded.  No worries!  Dehydration is the perfect scapegoat for your delirium.  We also all know you weren’t actually going to walk around.  Your stomach looks a hundred times flatter kicked back. 

Alright, alright. I’m not entirely serious.  I may have embraced this method at one point, I may still draw upon it on occasion, but I’ve come of age.  After trials and tribulations, I’ve come full circle back to seventh grade health class.  The only thing effective for healthy weight loss is the combination of a balanced diet and regular exercise.  Spontaneous fat-burning ab-belt, why couldn’t you have worked!?

[May cause static cling]

Begruddgingly facing the facts, I embrace “everything in moderation.”  I consider dieting a balancing act.  I load up as much as possible on a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.  I’m not one to turn down chocolate cake, however, and this is where the balancing comes in.  If I happen to (on occasion) consume, say, three or more (ten) cookie packages intended for individual consumption, I make up for it the next day.  I’m extra strict with the calories, or I ratchet up my work out.  It’s just not practical to deprive yourself of chocolate.  BBC, you’re SO in my corner.  Check it out: Chocolate ‘may help keep people slim’

With summer impending, I figure it’s about time to get on that wagon.  Day 1 of 28, here goes nothing.  I had some chick peas from a recent trip to Suwon, and it seemed a good time for some crisp veggies and hummus (hello, protein!).  This recipe comes to me from my father, by way of The Mediterranean Cookbook by Betty Wason.  It starts with tahini, which you then combine with chickpeas to make hummus. Your biggest challenge is going to be figuring out how best to mash your chick peas.  I’ll go ahead and give you my blessing.  Use a fork, eat an extra cookie, and we’ll call it even as “cardio.”

Tahini Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

1 cup sesame oil (I substituted soybean oil)

6 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1-3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1/2 cup parsley, coarsely chopped

“The easiest way to make the sauce is with a blender.  Place the oil in the blender first; add, with blender in motion, water and lemon juice alternatively until the mixture is the consistency of thick cream.  Crush the garlic separately in a mortar or bowl and work in the salt.  Add the garlic-salt  mixture to the Tahini.  Do not overbeat.”

Or, chuck everything in the blender and give it a whirl.  That’s what I did.   Emulsion, schemulsion.

Appears smooth and creamy to me!

Hummus

Makes about 2 cups

Guilt-free

100 grams dried chick peas OR 1 large can chick peas

1/2 cup Tahini Sauce

lemon juice

salt, to taste

Since dried chick peas seem to be the most readily available to those of us in the land of kimchi, I’ll start there.  Place the chick peas in a medium-sized bowl and cover with plenty of water.  Allow to soak at room temperature overnight.  

They plump while you sleep

After soaking, transfer chick peas to a saucepan.  Cover with water and simmer, partially covered, over medium heat about 25-30 minutes, or until chick peas easily smash between the fingers. Drain and cool.

If using canned, ensure the chick peas are drained.  Now, choose method of mashing.  I happened to be equipped with a potato masher which worked just fine.  Otherwise, use food mill, blender (make sure Tahini is poured in to provide some lubrication), or a fork.  Mix Tahini Sauce with mashed chick peas, and add lemon and salt to taste.

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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.

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Cirque du Jerk

Sit back and marvel at the extravaganza. 

With summer nipping at our heels this weekend, out came the bbq’s and we bellied up to the beach.  It was a friend’s birthday, and everyone plus their nephew-once-removed came out to celebrate.  Knowing in advance the potential of the gathering to end up in a chaotic frenzy,  I did some damage control and brought along an arsenal of meat. 

I found myself a shrink-wrapped chicken that undoubtedly was the recipient of one butcher’s wrath and fury.  This baby was hacked up with no rhyme or reason.  Legs looked like wings, and breasts were indistinguishable from thighs.   The opportunity for partial bone excavation (or throat-lodged loss of breath) was also very real. Regardless, it was all there, and the lack of giblets meant I was a happy camper in the end.  You can hack all you want as long as I don’t have to venture into the deep for a slimy surprise.  The intimate quest makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. 

Moved by the sunshine, and the accompanying vibes of Mr. Marley, I was feeling some jerk chicken.  I had a spice rub in my cupboard, but that just seemed too easy.  Kicking it up a notch, I sought out this recipe for a blended marinade via Nigella Lawson.  With a little Koreanization, we were in business.

Not the same for the grill component.  At face value, we seemed well off.  A trio had been arranged on the beach, alongside ample coals.  First thing first, I staked a claim, and loaded the grill up with charcoal.  Incentive for taking initiative: control of the almighty torch.  Complete with trigger, this thing made you want to incinerate.  Next best only to a class full of bowing students. P-O-W-E-R. 

Soon enough, the coals were glowing and it was time to get down and dirty.  On further assessment, the absence of a standard-sized grill rack was brought to our attention.  In its place were two small paddle-esque grates. Finding my first opportunity to amaze and astound, I carefully balanced the grates together.  The whole affair was contingent on a slight overlap in the center.  That, and the careful arrangement of  points of pressure (aka carnage o’ chicken).  I could say this worked like a charm, but that wouldn’t have been a circus.  I promised a spectacle.  

No big deal.

Uneven heat from the coals meant frequent chicken flipping was necessary.  This allowed me to debut my ability to calculate the ever-changing points of balance.  With each flip, the grates dipped and the bystanders gasped and squealed. It was a rollercoaster of emotion as we escaped chicken fiasco time and time again. 

For one onlooker, the thrill proved all too much.  She summoned her resourcefulness, and emerged from the woods with a perfectly sized stick.  Without so much as an utterance (imperative for the climactic build-up), she nestled the branch across the grill and under the grates for support.  Genius!  She was showered with praise. 

At this point, it seemed the show was over.  We would proceed as normal, flip to our heart’s content,  and consume the reward subsequently.  And then it happened. 

 

Watch your eyebrows!

 

Caught up in a flurry of social exchange, no one really saw it coming.  All of a sudden, a geyser of fire shot up to the sky!  There was a crack, and the stick was all but a distant memory. Here, the show became interactive.  A front-row admirer’s cat-like reflexes are to thank for saving our supper from the inferno of doom.  Crisis averted, audience AMAZED.

When the excitement died down, it was time to eat.  The chicken was delicious and enjoyed.  There were requests for an encore, but it may have been a limited run.

Jerk Chicken

Adapted from Homestyle Jerk Chicken by Nigella Lawson

Serves 3-4

1 whole chicken, hacked to bits

1  teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon dried thyme (or I used mixed herbs)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used paprika)

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (stand-in for ground ginger and nutmeg)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 1″ piece ginger root, peeled and cut into chunks

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Juice from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used teriyaki sauce)

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 fresh small(spicy!) chile, whole

1 small onion, peeled and quartered

Combine all ingredients in a blender, puree until smooth.  Pour over chicken in a ziplock bag and allow to marinate.  Grill and enjoy (BYOGG: Bring Your Own Grill Grate).

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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.  

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The Daily Rind

This evening, I had an upswell of shame.  I couldn’t help myself.  I really like chicken and I can do wonders in one pot.  I can’t lie to you, and who am I kidding.  I know I said I’d steer away from this trend, but I can’t handle the guilt.  I’m going to embrace it.  Consider it branding.

According to my highly credible market research (The Next Food Network Star), a cook needs to have a point of view.  Gimmicks can’t hurt either. Rachel’s got her garbage bowl, and I’ve got my aluminum wok.  Are you sick of the photos yet?  Food styling is next on the agenda.

Exactly a week before payday, I find myself upping the ante.  The challenge comes from working with only what’s already stocked.  Couple this with a narrow margin to supplement.  I’ve been sitting on a can of cannellini beans, so I figured it’s now or never.  Coincidentally, I also had a leftover rind from my last wedge of parmesan.  Hours I thought I’d lost forever to Everyday Italian seem to be making a comeback.  If it weren’t for Giada, I’d never know that salty roundness the rind adds to a nice broth. It may be shaping up springtime, but we’re putting the soup on.  I’m hoping to pull some reverse psychology on mama nature and heats things up.

Good news for 'Leave No Trace' - a use for every bit

Chicken Cannellini Bean Soup

Serves 3-4

4 cups water

3 chicken bouillon cubes

1 Tbsp mixed herbs

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 chicken breast, sliced lengthwise in half

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 stalk celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes

parmesan rind (optional)

salt, to taste

1. Put water, bouillon, spices and chicken in medium saucepan (oh!  It’s not one pot! …busted!) over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  When the mixture is boiling, turn off the heat and cover. Allow to sit about 5-10 minutes and breast pieces should be cooked through. Remove chicken, shred and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in an expensive dutch oven (or a flimsy Asian wok).  Saute onion and celery until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Next, add the garlic.  Saute another minute or so until softened, but do not allow the garlic to burn.  Add cannellini beans, tomatoes, reserved poaching liquid and rind.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes.  Return chicken to pan and simmer for another couple of minutes, then serve.  Add salt to taste if needed.

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