The beauty of Thanksgiving is that it is always “how Thanksgiving should be.” Calm, big, delicious dinners? Cooking frenzies that somehow all work out just right? About five pounds of excess turkey? Loosened belts? A bottle of wine per person? Family Drama? Family bonding? The drunken uncle off in the corner yelling at the football game? The younger kids running away from the cleanup? Yup that all sounds about right.
Here in Korea, 14 of us decided to get together and feast properly on Saturday. We didn’t have Thursday off (obviously), so we pushed it back, giving us a little more time to plan out our potlucking technique. Some brought drinks, some brought extra food, and some went to gate 17 of the US Army base here in Seoul and picked up the main meal.
I have had this box of Saffron sitting on my spice shelf (see: window sill) since I arrived in Seoul. Every day when I cook up a sauté or soup or even make myself some tea in the morning, the saffron sits there, staring back, beckoning to be used. “I’m really delicious. Pick me! Throw me in some rice and call it divine! Come on!” Not a chance.
Really, I’ve been scared to use it for a few reasons. One being: I’ve never cooked with it before. The reason I even have this small box of aromatic herbs is not because I went to the store in search of it, rather a good friend (and maybe the one I can credit my culinary obsession to) brought me back a box of it from Greece. I was also hesitant because saffron, like truffles, is high up on the culinary hierarchy of complicated, involved, delicate, and divine flavors. So pairing the inexperience with the anxiety and the bravado of “Organic Greek Saffron” all together I was left paralyzed.
This is the fourth Thanksgiving week I’ve spent away from home. Once in Scotland. Once in North Carolina. Once in Italy. And now, once in Korea. Every time, though, I’ve managed to be a part of a binge-worthy meal. In Scotland, we spent all day cooking in a small University kitchen, and for good worth. The turkey and endless sides were enjoyed for hours on end in the soggy air. The Southern Feast was everything you think it would be: a decorated dining room table filled with home-cooked sides and a twelve-pound turkey for six and couches close by. Italy was a meal started after classes, at 4, and not eaten until midnight, but enough wine to keep us content until the fennel, potatoes, and turkey came out of the oven.
And now Korea. Now I know Thanksgiving isn’t for a few days, but since I’m so far removed from Western foods, I need a week to prepare. I need each and every day to figure out what I’ll be cooking. This process is a lot more complicated than you might think. I want to cook: green beans! Yes! That’ll be easy! But then finding green beans is almost impossible. I think: mashed potatoes! Easy! Yes, but finding reasonably priced butter is almost out of the question. And rolls? Well, those I can find, but the flour over here is just a little off, that those dinner rolls just won’t be the same as grandma’s.
My family jokes around with me that I’ve been a forty-year-old man since the age of 16 because I would walk around the house, on a Friday night, in slippers, talking about what to bake and what book to read. No joke. Now that I’m a 20-something living in a foreign country, I think I’m starting pull a Benjamin Button in their eyes, and get slightly younger. Sure I still walk around my apartment in slippers, but it’s cold and I’m trying to not turn on the heat. That’s 20-something-like, right? Being cheap with utilities?
What exactly is a 20-something supposed to do on an everyday basis, though? Are we all supposed to drink coffee and be creative and have no commitments and run around in old cars across the country sleeping wherever we fall asleep and try to learn new languages and read lots of books and make life-changing decisions and create the next artistic masterpiece and stay healthy and go out at night and drink and dance and laugh? Yes. At least, that’s what I take this time to be as: a time to do. I hate to jump in the cliché taxi to corny-ville with the Nike family, but “just do it.”
Sure some days can become grind-like (see: cleaning, running, errands, working… blah blah blah), but it’s that 20-something energy and curiosity and insatiable appetite for adventure that gets me out of my slippers into the subway on my way to a new part of Seoul.
When I reach for the kimchi or to gochujan (a spicy red paste) most Koreans will ask “Oh, you like spicy food?” I seem to be an anomaly – a Westerner that likes spicy food. There are two parts of that question that get me though: a) do westerners really not like spicy food? And b) is kimchi actually “spicy?”
I woke up this morning to a crisp sunrise over a cloudless sky thinking only one thing: I want to bake today. No, it’s not the sanest, or most normal thought to have at 7am, but most thoughts that go cruising through our brains when we get out of that hazy-dream-like state aren’t quite “normal.” This particular thought didn’t dissolve throughout my morning routine though. Running over the Han River, I was only thinking about what I could bake. Maybe banana bread. Step Step Step maybe cookies again Stretch Pause Stretch maybe a fritta Step Step Step maybe scones.
Whenever someone visits me, I always get a sudden rush of “Oh crap I have to show you around my area like a certified tour guide,” meaning I end up going to my favorite places, eating at my favorite restaurants, and drinking my favorite coffee. Through this process of showing someone else my home, I end up appreciating it a lot more myself.