What is Christmas without the full spectrum of complex chaos and simplistic order? Every Christmas I can remember is rose-tinted with memories of all gathered around a fire, opening presents, and sipping eggnog slowly, interspersing some coffee here and there. But let’s get real, we all know that in order to get to that couch, under that blanket, content as can be, there was a lot of preparation. See: stove flames nipping and four pots bellies, as the stove intermittently roars awake to keep the turkey, stuffing, and gravy-to-be cooking. See: my whole family running around trying to keep shoes out of the way as we set the table, open the wine, and wrap the gifts. See: serving everyone at the brunch table and making sure everyone has enough coffee, eggnog, wine, beer, water, milk, juice, the list continues.
But that’s exactly what this holiday is about, and despite my being fourteen hours a head of my family, Christmas was still a balance of rushing and relaxing. Struggling and burning my lip on one too many dishes tasted, and sitting on a warmed floor in Seoul, sharing a meal with good friends. It was Christmas.
Family has asked before about the nature of Christmas here in Seoul. I think a quick sentence can summarize it: Christmas is a holiday much like Valentine’s Day. To explain: it is a couple – not family – holiday that ensures many cakes gifted, a lot of city promenades to view the decorations of the city and no time off. Yes, just like my days in the Thai restaurant, I worked on Christmas Eve.
But that didn’t put a stop to the feast I was planning. Any opportunity I had to think about what I would pair together – see root vegetables, comfort food, Christmas treats – I would take advantage of it. In class, on sticky notes, during preparation time, in my journal before work, there are too many notes for this dinner. I was just trying to make it special in any and every way possible.
So as nine thirty rolled around, I had already clocked out and was on the first elevator down to the ground floor. I ran home, and threw on my pajamas (to get into the spirit, of course) and turned on the stove. Pulling every ingredient I had in my refrigerator out, I had amassed an enviable collection of produce. Greens, baby bok choi, 김닙, sweet potato, pumpkin, mushroom, red cabbage, kale, onion, zucchini, and carrots. Those ingredients combined with a little Korean flavor (gochujan), and a little southern comfort (Annie’s Mac & Cheese so graciously gifted to me by a fellow Seoulite-expat, James), Christmas Eve Dinner was going to be right.
With the flames (just two…) roaring, people buzzing into my apartment, my knife flying through ingredients, and friends asking if they could help, I felt like I was home again.
After a short 45 minutes of cooking, our late night Christmas Eve Dinner began. Sauteed Spicy Greens with red pepper threads, onions and hints of sesame leaf, Pan-seared carrots, garlic and red cabbage, Roasted Winter Vegetable medley (pumpkin, sweet potato, onions), Gourmet Mac & Cheese (sesame leaf, zucchini), and a late-in-the-game mushroom and onion dish to round out the Earthly Flavors. And for drink? An Argentine Malbec or, if you are feeling the holiday spirit, homemade Eggnog.
Here’s to snow covered Seoul, and the Christmas Morning Brunch.
For Recipes, wait just a little longer. This meal isn’t over.