With Promise of Curry

Dear appreciated reader,

This past week has been a whirlwind. Finishing my intensive schedule at work, cooking up a storm, preparing for vacation, and packing. Vacation and packing indeed. I am off to Thailand for the next couple of days, so this blog will take a short hiatus (that is why I’ve posted so often this week). Fear not, I will be back in early February to continue the gastronomical tour of Korea and Southeast Asia. And I have to say, the Epicurean exploration took a strange turn a few weeks when I delved into the true meaning of fresh.

For those who can’t wait for their birthday to open their presents, here are a few sneak peaks.

Speaking of birthdays, since I will be away during their birthdays, I want to send out a Happy Birthday to my mom and grandfather!

Curried (Zucchini Salad) Lunch

Waking up at six every morning to: run, drink coffee, catch up on emails, wash the dishes from the night before, shower, and dress for work: is not the most conducive time for cooking a good lunch to take into work. But just before going to bed, against all logic, is.

Last night I felt a surge of energy and a touch of inspiration, walked into my kitchen, and started to cook lunch at 10pm. I had just finished reading the Minimalist’s farewell article on New York Times, and tried to evince a sense of minimalism and genius. I don’t know if I hit the mark, but I did make a quick and tasty treat that fit pleasantly into my Tupperware container.

A Curried Lunch:

One healthy serving of mixed greens

Half-a zucchini cut into quarters

One Handful of bean sprouts, lightly chopped

One (or two) Korean sweet potato

Oil

Diced garlic

Salt

Pepper

Curry Powder

Coriander Powder

Ginger Powder

Cinnamon

Tupperware

 

Bring water to a boil, and place the sweet potatoes in and let boil for about ten to fifteen minutes (depending on size)

While the sweet potato(es) is (are) cooking, place oil into a pan over medium-high heat. Place diced garlic in, and sauté until slightly brown. Add in salt, pepper, and quartered zucchini. Let cook for two minutes, then add in lightly chopped bean sprouts. Add a dash of water, along with Curry, Coriander, Ginger, and Cinnamon in a 3:2:1:1 ratio.

By this time, the sweet potatoes should be finished. Take them out, and place on a chopping block. Peel, and slice into disks about one quarter inch thick. Then into quarters.

Place the zucchini-bean sprout collage into one Tupperware, and let sit over-night.

Place sweet potatoes in a dust-storm of cinnamon, and let sit over night.

Sleep

In the morning, toss all of it together, along with the healthy serving of mixed greens.

Make your co-workers envious.

 

Phantom Ceremonial Rice and Old Ferries

“Do you want to grab some breakfast?” Thing One.

“I think it’s a little late for that –“ Thing Two.

“What time is it?” Thing Three.

“I think its – its like eleven.” Thing Two.

“Okay, how about lunch?” Thing One.

“Do I have to get up now?” “Thing Four.

This is about how Sunday in Andong started off. The night before was filled with late wanderings, midnight naps in singing rooms, and cake in bars. You know, the typical Saturday in Andong, right?

We rolled out of the motel by noon and were determined to be on the same visitor’s list as Queen Elizabeth at the traditional town of Hahoe. Graciously given the UNESCO World Heritage tag, Hahoe is a small functioning town about thirty minutes outside of town by bus – which had a dried fish twined to a pole by the driver’s seat for luck. The town was a labyrinth situated in a valley surrounded by mountains and a twisting river, which gave it that “I’m not in the same century as I was an hour ago” feel. Quiet. Peaceful. Exposed to the elements. Short. All of these qualities emphasized the natural surroundings and the intricacies of the left-right-left turns and hand-made roofs.

Shortly after we made out way down the main road-entrance, the fantastic four turned into a pair of dynamic duos. That is, we split up some how and seeing as the town was filled will people-tall walls, we were divided for about two hours. My partner in crime and I found our way into a run down house that we decided would be a nice fixer-upper, and then past a few trees that needed poles to support their curve-laden branches.

We all came back together near the most dilapidated and unappealing ferry I have seen thus far: a rope that trailed one-fifth of the way into a slush festering river to a raft composed of a couple two-by-fours that somehow was to ford across. To our left, the ferry. To our right, a frozen lake where small children were hauling their bodies onto the ice, sliding, and forgetting about the possibility of thin ice. In front of us, a bus calling our names, destined for Seoul.

But before all of this silliness happened, and before pictures were taken, and hands were stuffed into the depths of coat pockets searching for the last remaining heat, we dined with ancestors.

Like I mentioned before, Andong is known for a few foods. We checked off and savored the fusion flavors of jjimdak and the clean finish of Andong soju, and as we stepped of the fish-bus, we were destined for ceremonial rice.

You know how sometimes translations between languages lose a lot of their cultural and literal meaning? This is a prime example. In English, the dish we lusted for is called “Fake Ceremony Rice,” or as this particular restaurant boasted so proudly “Phantom Ceremonial Rice.” See, this meal was one that used to be used to serve at special ceremonies in reverence for ancestors and sustenance for passers-by. Now, it’s just a specialty to be enjoyed by those with stomachs as big as their eyes.

Despite the linguistial warnings of there being no actual rice, and all ceremony, we ordered four servings. In hind-sight, we should have ordered one. Why?

 

 

 

That’s why. I would describe the food, but as the photos show, this meal was stimulating both for the eyes and the taste buds. Salted Mackerel good enough to be a meal on its own, mountain vegetable bibimbap, small jeons atop a pedestal accompanied by a quarter egg, kimchis, seaweed, bowls of rice, whole fish sitting supply ready for enjoying, and a meat and noodle dish reminiscent of a less boisterous jjimdak. There was nothing phantom about this meal – it stayed with us for our sight seeing, our trip back to Andong and carried us all the way back on the bus to the pulsing city of Seoul.

 

 

Hide Your Face, It’s Andong.

Winter has never come up in a conversation about “the best seasons to travel in,” but as of late, I have been doing a lot of winter traveling. I guess most people shy away from the idea of walking around a new place, outside, in the bitter cold, hoping that the circulation continues to flow to all extremities. I would normally shy away too, but Korea has so much to explore – both gastronomically and historically – that it’s hard to pass up a weekend without getting out somewhere. That somewhere could be a museum in the hustle and bustle of the city, or a small town in the mountains boasting a delicious culinary feast. Normally, as you’d guess, I opt for the food frenzy.

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Put Color on your Plate

 

Right now, Korea is cold. We all knew that was going to happen soon enough, what with the winter months and all, but this is a kind of cold that pierces through any layers you have, and makes you shake. When I first arrived, I remember having a conversation or two about how the summer months were hot and humid, and the winter months cold and dry. This dry cold isn’t something I’m really used to, though. So much so, that I almost give up layering, and accept that I’m going to be cold when I walk outside. It’s a strange acceptance, but in no way an approval.

I’m not the only one that’s feeling the bitter blanket of winter; most of the conversations I hear around me – in the office, on the street, in the cafes – are all about how “Oh! It’s so cold! Cold cold cold.” Granted I assume that these pleasant strangers are talking about more than the temperature, but I know “cold” in Korean and it comes up quite frequently.

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From Ground to Chopsticks: The Secret Ingredient

Nights like tonight, when – for some untold reason – I am wired into the late hours of the night are what made me an experimental cook. This un-bed-able energy, back in high school, came from being on my feet and serving people delicious Thai food for five or six hours. I guess I would be so hyped up from dealing with people, I wouldn’t be able to just crash, I needed a decompression. A winding down.

I found this relaxation period through one medium, and two outlets. The medium being food. The outlets being baking or Food Network. I never said I was a normal high school student, but this might be a bit extreme. Hopped up on restaurant energy and full of coconut milk from my almost-authentic Thai dinner, I would drive home jamming out to bad pop music, thinking about what baked good I was going to whip up in the hour of adrenaline I had left. Scones. Muffins. Cookies. Cakes. Crème Brule. You know, the usual for a seventeen-year-old high school student.

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Tradition and Empty Mugs: The Nog.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Okay. It’s a week into 2011, and life has slowed back down. Yoga every day this week, plus long runs along a frozen Han River, tall cups of espresso topped with frothed milk, and podcasts have all played strong roles in my sanity recovery.  And now that I’ve finally caught my breath, maybe I can dive back into memories just past. And dive I will.

Correct me if you can, but I think last year was the first year I tried to experiment with dishes on Christmas Eve. Since it’s one of those meals that people remember, I generally go for my sure-fire recipes (see: desserts, veggie side-dishes). But last year I wanted to test both myself, and others, in trying new recipes. I figured, go big or go home. Since I was home, I was left with only one option: go big.

Knowing full and well that my family is well versed in the kitchen when it comes to entertaining, I decided to hop on the sweet trolly; I wanted to play around with sugar.  I cranked out a pear-tart, some cookies (I think half-moon cookies to be exact), maybe a carrot cake (for my one and only Brenda), and what has become a tradition of mine now: Eggnog.

Eggnog is the kind of drink that you love or hate. Some people just can’t get over the thought of combining alcohol and dairy, and others (like my good friend LZ), can’t get enough of it. I mean, come on, there is a whole line of liquors dedicated to creamy alcohol (see: Bailey’s Irish Cream, White Russians, Kahlua).  Either way, even if you’d said straight to my face “I don’t like Eggnog” I’d have made you try it. It was that good.

So this year, I decided to make it a Christmas tradition: Eggnog with the big meal. Not that eggnog that you buy in stores that’s slightly sweet with a plastic-y taste that lingers in the back of your throat and on the roof of your mouth for about three minutes after a small sip making you question if some of the carton has come off in the drink– no no this is homemade, hand-whipped, adult eggnog. Worth every drop.

“Oh but isn’t eggnog really bad for you because it is just raw eggs?”

Yes it is, omniscient inquiring mind who helped me further my story. That’s something I didn’t quite realize before I started to make the nog. I mean, I knew it, but didn’t really know it until I was cracking and separating eggs into two bowls, hand whipping them until they were creamy and soft peaks (yolk and white, respectively). Still then, I thought maybe I would cook that Salmonella away, but nope, this wintery treat is loaded with dangers (Salmonella and Jim Beam).

After a good twenty minutes of hand-whipping what is essentially meraign, and another twenty making whipped cream, I folded all the ingredients in together to make my tradition complete: from Frosty Upstate New York to Frozen Seoul, Korea.

What sat proudly in my glass, along side my Christmas meal, was complex and rich while maintaining the airy-quality of the meraign. It was sweet without overpowering the delicate dairy flavors. The creaminess balanced against the robust Jim Beam – an ideal winter choice, if I must say.  These two halves of the drink were brought together nicely by the cinnamon sprinkled atop our make-shift mugs.  I’d say LZ might have finished the whole batch, if she’d been here.