Korea’s Meatloaf

Living abroad always gives me a unique opportunity to experience college classes in every day life. Anthropology classes through studying the cultural practices and differences (see: bowing instead of handshakes, 7am wake-up calls to a man walking around with a cart looking for cardboard, silent subways, averted eyes, neat clothing, quiet dinner tables, loud bars) gender studies (see: women’s clothing, smoking amongst genders – men can smoke, women can’t be seen smoking), language classes (see: um… everyday?), and culinary classes (see: working with the ingredients that are in the markets, convenience stores, grocery stores, real culinary classes, and adventures into restaurants with friends who know what’s good).

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my obsessions in Korean cuisine is the red pepper paste. Another, is the marked freshness of the ingredients. Most of the produce you get off the back of a truck that’s just come from the market that’s just that morning gotten most of their stock. And the seafood, well, we’ve all seen that some people (myself included) like to take to the iced-over lakes, fish out small minnow-like fish, dunk them in sauce, and chow down.

If you’re asking yourself “Where is this story going?” then I’d advise you to read the last sentence. We’re going live, again.

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Vegetable Joe, While Are You Looking Sloppy?

No. I am not a vegetarian at present (well, not really).  And no, I am not forgetting that I have a day to talk about with Laurel, filled with food and even more adventure, which will segue really nicely back to my time with my mom and Emily.  And a resounding no, I did not forget about my pictures and stories about Buddha’s birthday and quite possibly the best thing that’s ever happened to me in Seoul.

Simply, I wanted to share with you all one of my favorite meals of the hot and humid summer.

With the arrival of Mom and Emily came happiness, excitement, adventures on the horizon, as well as gifts a plenty. It was like Christmas again, at a completely random time. Dried mangos and pounds of ground coffee from home, and honey (oh the joy of honey from Ithaca, New York!), and nutritional yeast, and whole nutmeg, and TVP and pitas all came spilling out of their bags. For Emily, the mangos and pita breads was the majority of her luggage seeing as she brought one shirt and maybe three pairs of pants. And running clothes. Always running clothes.

I’m sure you understand coffee and mangoes, but TVP? I’ve mentioned TVP before when talking about the Vegan Bolognese Katie and I made a few months back. To explain, first and foremost, TVP is an acronym. Textured Vegetable Protein – basically it looks like khaki colored pellets you might feed a rabbit or a mouse. But it’s human food, too.  It’s an ingredient that I became well acquainted with while hiking in the backcountry of North Carolina, putting it in chilies and stews and anything else that might require ground beef. Seeing as beef doesn’t hold up so well unrefrigerated in the swelteringly humid days of a North Carolina summer, our outfit would choose the safer option, TVP.

What TVP is, is dried vegetable protein made from processing soy flour. In terms of sustainability (see: soy bean monocropping) it might not be the best. But when it comes to the nutritional components, it’s got all the protein of meat, with none of the fat nor the potential to go bad. Really, it’s a great hiking food – and, in my case here in Seoul, a great meat substitute when you just have a hankering for a meat dish but don’t have the desire for meat itself.

Which brings me to a quick musing: do you think it’s strange that vegetarian dishes lack meat, but some are trying to be like meat? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a vegetarian off and on throughout my teenage years and for some time in my twenties and all during that time I’d indulge in that steak that was actually pressed beans or the burger that was lentils and mushrooms, but don’t you think it’s a little peculiar that non-meat eaters want to indulge in dishes that are kind of meat… resembling meat?

Enough toddler-philosophy, let’s get back to the food. While perusing around my Google reader (please check it out, it’s a great way to keep up on things!), I ran upon a photo-recipe of a vegan Sloppy Joe. This was intriguing to say the least simply because a Sloppy Joe stands on the two pillars that are: meat and more meat. Take out the meat, and you’ve got no pillars to keep the dish alive. Really you’d just be eating a bun.

How could I ever make a meat dish without meat? Hm… maybe the answer is right under my nose… What’s that? That’s right folks, you’re so smart. The recipe called for TVP. With the package of TVP in my cupboard, an onion, mushrooms, and broccoli in my refrigerator, and a desire to free-style a barbeque sauce, I set to work. And so should you. Let’s hop to.

Boil some water and pour a 1:1 ratio over the TVP, cover it and let it sit. It’s going to sit for about the amount of time it takes you to do the rest of the preparation.

Next up, get to chopping. I chose onions, mushrooms, and broccoli to accompany my pseudo-meat and barbeque sauce. You could go with peppers, if you’d like. Or green beans, as long and you’re enjoying your meal. But for now, chop them, and leave them prettily on the chopping board.

Now’s time for the good old fashion cooking by the seat of my pants. I know what’s in barbeque sauce, for the most part. Tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, spice, pepper, liquid smoke if you’ve got it, garlic, onion, oil. What did I have? A can of tomatoes, some ketchup, apple-cider vinegar, brown sugar, onions, garlic, pepper, hot sauce, and a whole lot of taste-buds to help me out. My “live-and-taste-later” mentality got me to a semi-sweet, thick, rich, spicy as all get out sauce into which I put (and you should too) my chopped up vegetates. Simmer for about 5 minutes.

Once you’ve done all this, throw in that TVP. Not all of it at first, you do want these to be sloppy and not like a taboleh on bread. You be the judge of the amount.

At this point, I had my fixin’s together, but no bread. So down to the local bakery I went in search of a baguette that cost me less than a buck fifty, sliced it up, put some fresh greens and then the sloppy mess in between the bread sectioned in half, and voila, I had a sandwich that wasn’t a Sloppy Joe, but a delicious nonetheless. Full of tomato flavor with kicks of vinegar, spicy enough to keep the water glass near. Crisp bites of broccoli and onion intermixed with the meaty ones from the TVP. The crusty baguette held up perfectly amongst the juicy sloppiness that is this creation. The garlic shined through beautifully but not overpowering any other component.

I’d say we’ve got ourselves another vegetarian-wanting-to-eat-me-but-without-the-meat-sandwich, folks. Try it out. What have you got to loose?

Quick references: You can find TVP in most grocery stores. I’d actually encourage you to go looking for it, because even if you don’t find TVP, you’ll surely find some new ingredient that I insist that you try. We all know that we drop into routines in the grocery store, going straight for our favorite canned good or organic milk or the sale shelf for produce quickly rotting for the special deal (you know who you are…), but if we break out of that mold a little, maybe we’ll try something delicious and change up our day just a little. And what do you have to thank for that fresh new look on the day? TVP, but of course.

Virginia Is For Lovers; Korea Is For Couples: Night (Part 2)

Following the day of wandering around a river and riding an elevator into the skies of Korea, Laurel and I were tired. Really tired. We sat in the café-gift shop looking at over-priced coffees and gifts that pertained not to the 63 building, but Korea in general, while trying to figure out what our next step was to be.

“We have two options. Go home and rest until dinner. Or, we go to that neighborhood I’ve never been to.”

“I want to rest. But let’s keep going.”

You’d think that this conversation might have taken about twenty seconds, but given our conditions, it took about twelve minutes. “We have two options (pause for a few minutes while gazing out into the yellow dusted skies). Go home and (pause)” You see how this goes. You’ve been there too, I know it.

With motivation surging through our muscles, we made our way to the neighborhood I’ve always heard about – Garosugil – after we were gifted a free Fanta in a convenience store. Thank you, Korea.

Garosugil is not a neighborhood, rather more of a long street, lined with trees and boasting impressive name brands, boutique stores, cafes that happily serve you seven dollar lattes. For more than six blocks you are confronted with beautiful store fronts and cafes overflowing with couples, cameras all over the place, accessory stores spilling onto the sidewalk, some street vendors selling fifty dollar wallets and underground stores that should be my wardrobe. There are plenty of restaurants ranging from Japanese Izakaya to pasta shop to sandwich store to school food. Upper class to provincial fare. More or less, it’s Europe in Seoul.

All along this leafy lined lane walked, sat, giggled, photographed, smiled, embraced, kissed couples. Couples everywhere. Korea really is the land of couples. On the subway you rarely see a person sitting alone and if they are alone, you’re almost always right if you guess that they’re on their way to meet their spouse.  In a café, the loner in the corner is just waiting for their other half. Strolling, perusing, promenading, hand-holding, picture taking, iced-latte-sharing, these are the typical activities of couples in Korea. And in this little slice of Seoul, garosugil, it’s amplified.

Laurel and I, luckily (or not?), fit in. We were wearing something similar (the couple look is also huge here), we had the same hair color, complexion, and I occasionally held her purse as she tried something on (again, men holding the purse is completely…. required)), and we also almost shared a coffee.

But no! Instead, we went for the food. It had been more than a couple hours since our snack in the sky and I had read about School Food, a restaurant where they specialize in nothing but school-like food. I’ll throw some out there to see if you recognize them from your cafeteria menu reading days:

Ddeokboki, Ramyeon, Sundae, Mali, Twiigim, Naenmyeon, Lakboki

No? Doesn’t ring any bells of mystery meat and tater tots? Yeah, me either, but this stuff is delicious.

With Laurel’s love of noodles, it was easy to pick out our dinner – a mixture of spicy sweet hot sauce drowning out compact chewy rice cakes and ramen noodles, and cold buckwheat noodles spiced with a red paste all with some cucumbers, cabbage, shaved-ice-water, and scissors to cut the noodles into bite-sized pieces.

Sitting at a table for two amongst endless couples, going through three cups of water each, wiping our brows, we coupled the whole meal up and shared everything. With our bellies full, and our night coupled with delicious food, we set off to meet up with my next visitor – a college friend named Andrew. The next day proved to be as adventurous as this day and night were.

Let’s Just Go Bowling: Day (Part 1)

This was the attitude I much appreciated during Laurel’s stay here in Seoul. Having spent the last eight months in France, and destined to meet up with her mom in Seoul for a small but worldly rendezvous, all she wanted to do was wander around hoping to fall into a nice boutique to buy a dress (which she wore for the next couple of days straight) or find a good coffee shop or indulge me in my obsession with stationary. Equipped with only four days in Seoul before she was on an itinerary with her mom, we wandered, following our desires and not a plan.

In those four days I saw most of Seoul all over again with a few new sights including the 63 building (the tallest building in Seoul? Korea? It was tall), Garusil-gil (couple’s street filled with coffee shops and expensive boutiques and all lined with trees), had an amazing burger on a whim, and scarfed down a witch’s cauldron’s worth of noodles at a restaurant in the middle of Hongdae (the artsy area of Seoul).

Because these four days were packed with wanderings, I’ve decided (tea to my right, Ra Ra Riot “Keep it Quiet” playing, windows open) to break it up into a three part series. Part 1: Let’s just go bowling: Day 1.

And the wandering begins, backdropped by a sea of Hangeul. Laurel may or may not have still been asleep here, seeing as jet-lag really got the best of her. A true trooper, though — despite the heavy eye lids, she still came out to palaces, and artsy areas with me.

“Hwe-dab-bap” and the witch’s brew. That first one is a delicious combination of flavors and textures. Soft rice comforting the fresh and bright raw salmon and roe with as many crisp and enlivening shaved vegetables on the side. Pour a little deep gochujan on it, and you’ve got yourself a party. The witch’s brew was a massive bowl of udon noodles with a side of miso soup that is not at all correctly portrayed in this picture. We, a-hem, nearly finished all of it. Mid day. Now what.

The first: Something that scared Laurel nearly back down the stairs of the subway. Every changing season in Seoul, the city puts on a “High Seoul Festival” on the Han River. Most of the time there are some outlandish performers. This day, men dressed in pink with some insane stilts for appendages. The second: Korea’s pride and joy and the golden home of the tallest gallery in the world. Behold, the building that looks tall only because nothing is tall around it. The 63 building.

The day was ripe with Yellow Dust, or smog, or fog, or overcast, or something so that seeing across the Han wasn’t the easiest of things. But what was easy was to see how Korea has been developing in strange ways some times. Like these futuristic-neo-post-apocolyptic buildings just west of the 63 building. How is this more attractive than small traditional houses?

Also. Thrill deck? It turned out to be a series of strange mirrors turned in all sorts of directions to make it look like you were suspended in air. It was interesting, for sure, but Thrill Deck? We could have come up with a better name, right?

We ended the day section of our adventures with ddeok, or rice cake. These little treats are chewy, supple, coated with green tea powder, black sesame powder, sesame seeds, or red bean powder and always filled with red bean paste. They are, undoubtedly something I will severely miss.

But thanks to both of our “let’s keep wandering” mentalities, the day was far from over.

“Congratulations” cried Nootch

What a weekend. It was beautiful, warm, uplifting but all too quick.  Sunshine, shorts, sunglasses, water bottles, shoes without socks, street-corner sitting with a tall glass of iced coffee, books, journals, new music, open windows, brunch outside, new restaurants, coffee shop hopping, window shopping, strolls through parks, runs on the river, making the most out of every day and well into the night. This is the start, dear readers, the sneak peak, of summer in Seoul. And I’m ecstatic for it to fully awaken.

Quickly, before I get caught up in adventures, I played with a loved ingredient this weekend for breakfast: nutritional yeast. How? But in my breakfast of course.

Simple scrambled eggs made with broccoli, cherry tomatoes and topped with nutritional yeast — fondly known as ‘nootch’. (It’s a vegan product, yellow in tint, filled with B vitamins and tasting of Parmesan cheese. It’s also freaking delicious and amazing to play around with. Especially in vegan mac’ and cheese). Try it out — it’s hard not to like.

Tomorrow, after I can fully digest my weekend (since some of it may still be squirming around in my stomach…), I’ll fill you in on adventures and experiments. Until then, please check out Mumford & Sons if you haven’t already. They’re on repeat.

Ps. Today, like I did a year ago, my dear friends (and what seem like family) in Davidson College are graduating today. Congratulations, simply. 

Please Sign the Guest Book. There’s Complimentary Cake.

Yes, I had a great and wonderful and absolutely amazing time with my mom and Emily.  Then, one day after their departure, another friend from home, who has been passing the last year in France, came to visit the illustrious city of Seoul. During her stay, yet another friend – this time from College – came from Beijing to visit. So for the past 22 days, my apartment usually fully of smells and dirty dishes and new experiments sitting on plates waiting to be photographed was, instead, full of people.

I’ve learned a few things from this month of playing the host.

One, it really is true about what they say, or what I’ve heard: You start to appreciate your city when you show it around. As I showed Mom, Emily, Laurel, and Drew around the palaces, temples, markets, restaurants, and late night venues, I started to realize, yet again, how amazing this city is. Ever feel like you’re stuck in your own town? Try showing someone around it – you’ll get strangely proud of the place.

Two, cooking at home connects me to my food, and makes me enjoy it that much more. In my hosting-days, I only cooked two nights – all of those other nights were spent running around the city trying to find the best restaurant to show off one kind of cuisine or another. Barbeque, bibimbap, kimchi jjigae, vegan, burgers, buffet, street food – I’ve had it all in the past month. Now, it’s back to the kitchen.

Three, the air mattress I borrowed was actually… a pool float. How did I exactly determine this? See the following:

This is not a life saving device. Always provide the supervision necessary for the continued safety of your child. Never allow diving into this product… There are risks using this product as a water craft.

For that, I apologize to all of my visitors. Similarly, you now have a great story to tell: “When I was in Seoul, the only thing I could find to sleep on was a floaty…”

Four, I have plenty to catch up on with this blog. The last thing I cooked, to usher in a good visit for my mom and Emily was a green tea cake.

I have to admit that this cake actually wasn’t for them. Rather, it was for one of my coworkers that wrote on a little sticky note “Green Tea Cake for Anne… Soon.” Many of my coworkers found out that I have a knack for baking, and appreciate any and every time I wander into the office with a full plate of cookies, breads, or cakes. On the day of my first visitor’s arrival, I was a flutter with excitement and unusable energy. I wanted to go for three runs and do yoga for four hours, but I had to keep myself calm so that I could meet them with all the energy in the world. So, productivity be dammed, I baked.

Green Tea cake is actually very easy, considering you have the special ingredient: Macha. Macha is green tea powder (Garu-Nokcha in Korean), that they say Monks use to concentrate during long meditation session. Or I just made that up, it’s hard to say with blogs, eh?

This cake was also the first time I used yogurt in a cake. It turned out to be ingenious given that the extra moisture in the cake was due to the yogurt.

All in all, after the green monster of a batter, and the anxious minutes in the oven, out cake beautifully toasted green cakes that were both spongey and fluffy. Sweet but mellowed out by the strong green tea flavor. Dessert like, but also a nice accompaniment to morning coffee.

Although my mom and Emily were appreciative of the baked goods upon their arrival, it was my coworker, Anne, who got the biggest kick out of the green tea cake. Placing a full cupcake on her desk, she squealed with excitement and told me that she had to save it so that her husband could try it too.

The next day, before her compulsory anyeonghasaeyo, she told me “My husband thought it was the best he’d ever had.”

That’s a compliment, if I’ve ever had one.

In the next week, expect more stories from hosting, some from work and even more from explorations as of late.

Also, if you’re a Simon and Garfunkel fan, check out this mix tape. It’s on repeat right now as I whip through batters and stir-frys and roasted vegetables.