Routines: Moving, Cooking, Spending

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Routines come and go throughout life. What a bland and boring statement, and one that may not be qualified to start off a post of any nature – even those from years ago when angsty teens used to use livejournal as a publicprivate journal. But, as mundane as those six words may be, they really are (together) the subject line of my past week.

I moved recently. More appropriately, I moved about three months ago, which means I think I am all settled but there are still boxes I haven’t unpacked and surely forgotten about.  And since then, my routine has gone in a complete tailspin, again. Moving to New York inspired me to run everyday again, since Korea lulled me into a strange every-other-day routine. Then moving to a less luxurious part of town stopped me, seeing as it might not be so safe to run around in short shorts and a headband. My third move brought me closer to a park, and that lead me to that running every-other-day, seeing nature and refreshing me. Now, I cannot even come up with a reason not to run seeing as I live half-a-block from Central Park. I even woke up early this morning, coughing, and kicked myself out the door to see the most spectacular park I’ve seen in a while. That short and narcissistic story goes to show that I am affected – strongly no less – by location as to what I may find in my everyday routine.

One could argue that it can’t be said about food as well; you live in an apartment or house and you have a kitchen and you eat. Well, I’ll argue against it. I live in New York and work around food – why would I ever want to cook when I have free “family” meals and there are more restaurants to go to? I have gone through every incantation of eating in New York. Cooking exclusively at home and packing my lunches, eating only at Farmers markets even if that means traveling over bridges to get there, eating out enough to break even every month, falling into that dastardly trap of ordering food online (grubhub, you are a dirty temptress), and then finally finding a middle ground. Why? Oh, only because I live right next to the best grocer in all of the City, and a Farmers Market pops up every weekend. How can I say no to cooking incredible ingredients? Again: Routines come and go throughout life.

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The other night I had a decision to make: would I go and spend thirty on dinner, or take that thirty and hit up Fairway. The latter won out, and now I sit happy on my fifth meal from that purchase. To celebrate my brilliant decision – which I must say was the only decision made when I was growing up; this whole eating out more than once a week was a recent acquisition; I cannot blame parental choices for that – I chose to cook a little summer spread. Starting in this culinary world, I was a vegetarian so every time I cook proteins, I feel like I am doing something special (see: the tilapia I cooked that evening).

To start my summer off, a luxurious caprese salad with farmers market tomatoes sliced thin, slapped basil, a drizzle of truffle oil, and slices of fresh mozzarella – slightly salted.  Fresh, simple, rich, deep, delicious.

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With my cast iron skillets sizzling hot, the main dish started to sautee together. Onions and garlic kicked off the meal with yellow peppers and farmers market zucchini shortly to follow. In the pan right next door, Jersey asparagus and broccoli were blanching in seasoned water. The tilapia was sitting, waiting, on the counter, seasoned with salt and celery flakes. Couscous on the back burner, slowly expanding in it’s hot water bath. As the onions started to caramelize, and the zucchinis browned in that beautiful way they do, a slab of butter was added to the mix to give a little depth of flavor (aka, my heart will always have a touch of southern love in it, always will). With that tender combination tossed into the anticipating couscous, the tilapia took its sizzling spot in the hot cast iron, lightly wading in a combination of olive oil, butter, toasted garlic and translucently sweet onions. Spending only a few minutes on each side, small blackened pieces of the fish flaked off into the sautee sauce, quickly finding their way into the hot couscous salad, connecting a through line from couscous through to the protein. With the al dente asparagus and broccoli in the plate, the couscous as foundation, and the tilapia sitting, flaking apart, on top – the birth of a new cooking routine was born. Routines come and go throughout life.

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Maybe this will hold, maybe this won’t, but I am thoroughly enjoying my little brown stove in my apartment.

Ps. The whole meal paired surprisingly well with a Budweiser. At least this 20something thought so.

 

 

 

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Fall Is In The Air

Fall brings out some pretty corporeal desires in people. It makes people want to be indoors with large mugs of coffee. Kids want to play in big piles of leaves. Cinnamon is a welcomed scent wafting through any home. Rich dishes full of hearty, earthy flavors start to grace the plates of many. Scarves come out. The bundling in preparation for the winter starts to take shape. Coffee shops are fuller, and parks are empty in the chilly evenings. Pumpkins come out for Halloween, and apples come down from the trees. Hiking is in its peak season, and so is running. Flannel takes a place in the closet. Pajamas are a legitimate style option until noon on the weekends. Fruits find their way into cobblers instead of fresh on breakfast plates. Fall is a wonderfully enriching and restorative time.

People do, though, get a little funny about fall foods. They stop liking local vegetables simply because the vegetables go underground or get thick skinned. That is to say, carrots, beets, turnips, brussels sprouts, onions, rutabaga, squash, and pumpkin take center stage. Cucumbers get turned into pickles, and tomatoes are nothing but sauce. Unless, you out source from a warmer climate. But these days, when we all have such opportunity to eat locally and sustainably, why not?

Also why not take those unfamiliar and sometimes unwelcome vegetables and make them something new. Something you might enjoy. Whoever said that beets could only be pickled? Why not boil beets, cut them up then sauté them with a bit of butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of vinegar? Carrots don’t have to be raw or baked – why not braise them for a semi-soft carrot that’ll be memorable for days to come? Brussels sprouts are not only for cartoon artists to use as a food no kid likes, they are available to be made delicious – try sautéing them with browned butter, caramelized onions, kosher salt, and a pinch of sugar. Toss them with bacon and maple syrup. Add some chorizo for the meat loves. Broil with olive oil to caramelize.

And pumpkin is by no means only destined for pie or your porch, carved. That goes for squash, too. These wonderful gourds are packed solid with depth of flavor and density. They are solid, so they can stand up for almost any cooking technique. I personally love to bake them, to bring out the natural sugars.

This past weekend, I took advantage of the seemingly endless beautiful weather and had a picnic in Prospect Park. Enticed by the opportunity to cook and pack a picnic, and revved up by the seasonal and local produce, I had tons of ideas. What I settled on was, by many people’s standards, unconventional. Roasted pumpkin served with couscous, Macon apples, sautéed fennel, and green onion. I did go a little traditional with crackers, hummus, and grapes, just to not overstate anything, though.

Savory course covered with half of my pumpkin, I took to the sweet side of life with the other half to make a quick bread topped with a sour cream icing. The quick bread was amazingly moist because to utilize the pumpkin, I roasted it, then made a puree with the insides. Almost acting like an applesauce cake, this quick bread was dense, moist, but not heavy. I also cut back on sugar, so the bread itself was semi-sweet, then topped with the icing. Normally I go for a cream cheese frosting, in honor of Brianna, but I wanted a slight twang in this one. Sour cream acted well to counter-balance the over-sweetness of the confectionary sugar.

The results? The pumpkin, couscous, apple, fennel mixture was gone by the next morning. The quick bread didn’t even make it that far, finished off with licking the container.

Appreciation

Emily and I went to one of the best CSA farms I’ve been to (for a couple of reasons, but one is definitely the cherry tomatoes…) and collected my family’s CSA share for that week. We were overwhelmed, overloaded, and overjoyed to have so much produce. Bags and buckets and car trunks full of produce and for good reason: we wanted to cook our families a meal that rivaled professional dinners to show our appreciation for them, and for the summer bounty.

What we had:

Squash, bell peppers, hot peppers, dill, cilantro, beans, sprouts, tomatoes (heritage, vine ripe, cherry), rainbow beets, golden beets, garlic red cabbage, escarole, endive, Swiss chard, arugula, spinach, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, and determination to make this be amazing.

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Tofu Fills the Plate and Steals the Show

Ten days in the States, ten days of travel, ten days of living out of a suitcase, and ten days of anticipation of getting home to my hometown were then complete August 18th (can you tell how far behind I am right now?). No more living out of suitcases, but living out of dressers and falling asleep in comfortable beds and waking up to Earl Grey Tea, milk, and local honey. Cooking at home and daily yoga became realities. Family and friends were not a skype-call away, but rather, a good holler’s distance away.

Along with my overexcitement to get back into my running routine with a bestest of friends of mine, as well as sweat constantly in hot yoga, grab coffee at my favorite coffee shop, drink kombucha non-stop (given I had that spare change lying around), go to farmers markets three days out of the week, pick up CSA shares, see family daily, go to my favorite Mexican place in town… I was stoked to see everyone in one place: a barbeque at my place.

It’s almost a given that – granted the fact that your whole family is in town, your friends are there, produce is flowing like ambrosia in the heavens, you have a grill, and it’s a sunny day – I will have a barbeque in summer. A grill out. A cook out. A  good time outdoors where you cook food on your deck. Whatever you call it, barbeques rank up there with potlucks in my book. And a barbeque potluck? Well folks, that’s just crazy talk cause there’s nothing better.

Strolling into town on a Thursday, my family had set up having a cook out on Saturday. What was perfect about this were: the timing (I had enough time to settle and then go out and pick up groceries for my contribution to the event), and the weather (it was… 80 and sunny?).

On Friday my mom had mentioned that she had most everything covered. The burgers were coming from our meat CSA (award wining, I’ll have you know!), the salad from our produce CSA, Mac & Cheese from a delicious catering company (there were twenty people who responded – the catering was warranted), chicken by my brother (who used a great coffee-accented marinade), and the dessert was from my Grandma (Angel Food Cake worthy of it’s angelic name). That left me with almost nothing.

But fear not, trusty readers. Having just made it back to a place of comfort and almost restart, I had recently (maybe three days prior) decided to act on my feelings toward vegetarianism and was no longer eating meat. I know, I know – me, a food writer, and one who just shoveled Korean Barbeque down about two weeks prior, a vegetarian?! I have my reasons. One really strong one is Jonathan Safran Foer’s Book Eating Animals. I have others, but trust that I am in no way dogmatic about it. In fact, I had a piece of free fried chicken a few days ago.

But with this new bit of information, I took to making my own Veggie Burgers, and grilled peaches for fun. Popping around on the internet through other food blogs (like Smitten Kitchen, 101cookbooks, The Post Punk Kitchen, Joy The Baker, to name a few) and through the pages of my trusty cookbooks, I found one that I was destined to adapt.

101cookbooks’ site has been one of my favorites, so I hopped on there to find a good, whole-food, and simple recipe. What came up? Ultimate Veggie Burger Recipe. Spouts, garbanzo beans, bread crumbs – it was going to happen.

Making them a bit before hand, so that the flavors could meld and marinate, the burgers took a test-run on a skillet inside. But that just wouldn’t do, for a barbeque. It also turned out to be not the place for these little guys. They were destined for the big leagues of a Weber charcoal grill!

Packed, grilled, tended to, and plated, these guys and dolls turned out to be the main event.  “Who wants a tofu burger?”

“Me…” “Me…” “Can I have one too?” “Oh I’d like to try it” “That sounds good” “Maybe just a half” “Are there any more?”

The answer, after about twelve or fifteen burgers, was “no.” Theses burgers went quicker than the CSA meat and chicken and Mac & Cheese.

Maybe it was because they were crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, packed with protein, and flavor. Smoked Paprika danced with the lemon and cilantro. Sprouts gave a crunch against the smooth tofu and hummus-style garbanzo beans. A nice tomato or slice of avocado sat beautifully between patty and bun. Delicious.

Afterwards, the ATV inevitably came out, and my nephew got to enjoy the need for speed, all in the safety of loving arms.

Grab ‘em Quick Tofu Burgers (adapted from 101cookbooks)

2 ½ cups canned garbanzos – drain them well
2 large eggs — optional (There is a very strong possibility of making this completely vegan by not doing the eggs — the tofu works just as well. I’m pretty sure I did the vegan way, but an egg or two could do some good)

½ – ¾ package of Tofu (I used firm, but any will do, from what I could tell)

Pinch of coarse salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons Smoked Paprika
1 onion, chopped – I used red onion
Grated lemon zest (or any citrus, really, will do)
1 cup sprouts (I used red raddish and fenugreek)
1-1 ¼ cup toasted (whole-grain) bread crumbs – take a loaf of old break, break it up, and toast at 350 for about 15-25 minutes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Combine first 8 ingredients in a food processor, starting with the garbanzos and eggs, adding each one at a time. Move to a big bowl, and add the sprouts. Then bread crumbs, and finally the oil. If you need more oil, that’s okay. Add it.

Let this sit for about 20-30 minutes to let the bread crumbs absorb some of the moisture so that these bad boys hold up on the grill.

Continue from here as if it were meat: pack them into patties, and grill on each side. The cooking time was super unclear for me because the charcoal started dying as soon as I put the first burger on the grill. But, I would say 7-10 minutes on each time. These burgers wont dry out (really) so don’t worry about that. Grill them until you can say that the inside is no longer doughy.

Serve it up with tomato, lettuce, avocado, pickled onions, whatever pleases your taste buds. Enjoy.

Bumping Around

Before we set off on our adventure today, spanning from the early morning  New York City streets to the calm lapping of lake waves against a North Carolinian dock soundtracked by a mandolin in the background, I have to say that one of the most amazing meals I have ever had, was had in SoHo at a family friend’s place: The Dutch,  an American Restaurant, Bar and Oyster Room inspired by local cafés, country inns, corner taverns, neighborhood bistros, seaside shacks, roadside joints, old school dining halls and the same mix of cultural influences that make New York City great. It’s a new place getting rave reviews that can’t seem to serve enough people in a night and for good reason. Delicate, savory, boisterous foods that pack a punch and leave you with taste buds that will always and forever want more. Joined by five others, the table saw little oyster sandwiches, fried green tomatoes with ruby red shrimp, cornbread to kill for, a take on okonomiyaki with tender asparagus, grilled quail with delicate but powerful summer salsa and poblano, scallops over seasonally good sweet corn and chipotle, pot pies, a special with scrumptious oysters, six appetizer cocktails, about every dessert in the world (peach pie, key lime pie with ice cream, chocolate cake, a selection of heart-stoppingly good fresh made ice creams) and two bottles of wine (one white, one rose). It was a two and a half hour experience that, like I said before, left me thinking it was a beautiful symphony of art, rather than simply “substance.”

 

 

 

 

Trucking our full and happy butts up and out of the restaurant, we ventured into The Brooklyn Brew Pub to enjoy a Sixpoint Sweet Action and discuss future plans and my flight that following day.

New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina on a small plane, bumping gently and enjoyably the whole way – I was about to be carless, homeless, and friend-full for the next ten days.

What brought me down to the Piedmont was a gathering of college friends that I hadn’t seen in about a year at maybe the perfect location: a lake house equipped with a great kitchen, porch, dock, and water Carolina waters. We danced and chatted and caught each other up rocking in chairs back and forth. During the day, we ran and drank coffee and water-skied and prepared delicious midday meals. Massages for everyone and really, just a house full of warmth and support. I couldn’t have come into a more comfy-cozy return.

Once day, Galen, LZ and I turned down the early morning water skiing offer for a grocery store run instead. We planned on picking up the rest of the ingredients for lunch and dinner for the next two nights. The only problem was that none of us had specific meals in mind and all of us are indecisive.

Strolling aimlessly in the Piggly Wiggly for a few, we decided on burritos for dinner, and hummus-based sandwiches for lunch.  The burritos were something I became really excited about: I hadn’t had any Mexican food in Seoul (save the free chips and salsa I pounded one night), and I was craving that spicy sting and hearty bean flavor. Bumping around the store, we found the tomatoes, onions, peppers, cheese, black beans, red beans, rice, lettuce, limes, chives, and mint we were looking for. We also snagged a few peaches for the salsa and a few sweet potatoes to roast and throw in too. If we were doing burritos, we were doing real hearty, I-don’t-think-I-can-move-now burritos. And a side of watermelon. I mean it’s summer, after all.

 

 

Chopping away at the chives and onions, we put some music on, danced around the kitchen happily, and found hot sauce in the cabinet. When the rest came in from the day on the water, we were ready to sit down, and feast with ten good friends, and great relaxing stories.

The burritos themselves turned out great – deep flavors stemming from the sweet potatoes and beans, met with vibrant sweet touches from the peach salsa, combining with the crispy crunch of the green peppers, onions, and lettuce, all topped off with your choice of smooth cheese and potent spice. Couple this with a nice beer, gin and tonic, or margarita and you are in the market for a wonderfully content-laden evening to watch sunsets fall over lapping lakes. I highly recommend it.

A Relaxed Balance


Amongst any hectic time schedule, there always needs to be time for a little relaxing. Some find that relaxation time in large chunks, called vacation. Some find it every day, like my family sitting on the porch with a couple of refreshing adult beverages discussing the day and getting ready, mentally, for a dinner of epic local proportions (see: CSA fresh meats, greens, roots, etc.). These days, I find it either in my long runs along the flooded Han river, or sitting down to a nice big, cold bowl, cup, or measuring cup of potbingsu.

Consider this: about a month ago, I continued my playing host to multiple friends and family members coming through Seoul to see me, their own family, and onto different places. My friend, Julia, had an extended layover between LA and Beijing in Seoul. I’d say she was both in the position prime to run and explore and see, and try to find that balance with relaxation. (See: vacation).

We wandered around my favorite neighborhood and played tourist and made efforts to see all of the most important places, but when it came down to it, the most important thing was not the place, but the people who surrounded her. So, accompanied by another mutual friend and Seoulite, we took to cafes to beat the summer’s heat. It was hot, not too humid, and the perfect time to find our way to relax in the middle of the day. Iced coffees: those were no-brainers. But food? Not hot soup or heavy rice or even quick street food (not because that doesn’t appeal to me, but because we had already had all of those by this point in time), why not ice cream? Not special enough. Why not potbingsu?

Yup, did it again, introduced one more new food to the increasing glossary of Korean cuisine. Potbingsu is made up of things you, dear readership, should know by this point. Ready? Ice. Yup. Fruit and Nuts. Okay. Sweetened Milk. Still there. Ricecake. Getting a little colder. Ice Cream. But I thought you said Ice Cream was too simple! Red Beans.

Remember from last summer where I had no money and yet I just had to have a red bean paste donut? I still do. Well take that ingredient and don’t pound it to a past, rather just let it be.

Doesn’t sound like the most appealing thing all deconstructed, but together, it’s divine. The cold shaved ice silts as a mountain of neutral, refreshing foundation. Fruit is then scattered around the outskirts of the peak, accompanied by chewy-semi-sweet-rice-cake. Can’t wrap your mind around what a rice cake is? Think about a piece of Wonder bread. Now think about smooshing it into a little ball. See how small it gets? Now do that to a spoonful of rice pudding. Voila, a thought experiment in making rice-cake.

Smothering the fresh fruit and Wonder-bread-smooshed-rice-pudding are the syrupy red beans. And what sits at the top of the whole hoopla? Ice cream of your choosing. Some go vanilla. I go Vanilla with green tea powder.

With three spoons attacking the snowy peak and fruity debris, the bingsu was done in no time, which left us plenty of time to sip iced coffees, catch up, and… relax. 

Tally Ho Busan!

There are a few places that I’ve been told that I have to see when I’m in Korea. The coast, the mountains, the small villages have been mentioned but they’re on the more vague side of “where should I go this weekend?” It’s a little hard to become super excited about “we’re going to the mountains!” “Where?” “Just, the Mountains!”

More specifically, Busan and Jeju have been repeated time and time again. “You have to see Busan, it’s awesome.” “If you don’t go to Jeju when you’re here, then you missed out on Korea completely.” Now, those statements are a little strong. I think I’ve seen my fair share of Korea, and Seoul has provided me with a lot of fodder to really get a good grasp on Korean Culture. Either way, I will be visiting both of these places – Busan two weekends ago, and Jeju about a month from now.

Busan was one of those towns that I heard a lot about, both in terms of “you must go” and also “it really isn’t worth it.” It seemed strange to have a place so entrenched in dualities – but it turns out the whole experience played well to that major and minor chord. Set at the Southeastern tip of the peninsula, Busan is an international port city built in between the rifts and valleys of pointed mountains and the sea that comes to meet those majestic hills. It’s a beach town and town of commerce. It’s vacation and business. It’s Korea meets China meets Japan meets Russia. This place is teaming with both restaurants and fast food and food stalls and convenience stores and grocery stores. It’s international, but not 2011 international in a lot of ways.  As you can tell, Busan is most certainly worth seeing.

Friday night, after a long day of work, I decided to tag along with two friends hopping on a midnight bus to Busan from Seoul. It was a comfortable ride until the end, where – at 4am – the bus driver yelled at all of us to get off the bus. No gentle rising, but a stern yelling. Busan, ruined – we thought.

After finding some coffee we hopped in a taxi heading to a Buddhist temple in the mountains on the outskirts of town to watch the sunrise. We may have gotten there a little late for sunrise, but it was just in time for a tranquil day awakening.

Walking all over the temple with soft feet, quiet urges from one to another to just come see this or watch out for that monk, we found ourselves trekking up the rest of the mountain upon which this temple was placed. Taking a little under two hours, conversations that meandered from topic to topic, thoughts about coffee and breakfast, and small breaks for nature’s admiration we found the peak and a group of already tipsy Koreans. The views, as you can see, were surreal, tranquil, and filled with a beauty that I’ve missed living in a major city.

 

The rest of the day was dedicated to exploring the beaches, the markets for which Busan is so famous, piers, boardwalks, and relaxing. For all that we cared, we wanted to relax. There is always, when traveling, a duality established: do you see everything that there is to see, or do you enjoy every moment, even if that means just sitting on a beach with some good Korean corn snacks, good conversation and the occasional nap?

Another group of friends showed up around noon to encourage us weary travelers of only four hours of sleep to find food, drink, and conversation. As the day wore on, we grew tired, but more than anything: hungry. Our group of seven broke into two: one to find dinner at a Mexican place overlooking the ocean, and one to find fresh eel in a food tent down the way right outside of the fish market.

Which do you think I went to? But of course.

The Eel and clams that we ordered were amazingly fresh (but cooked!), grilled to perfection, and went ever so well with the spicy red chili paste and kimchi they set at our table. They, being so nice, knew that us foreigners probably had never had such fresh seafood, so they brought out a free dish of clams covered with cheese. I think sometimes, if Koreans aren’t sure if foreigners will like their food, they just cover it in cheese. I wasn’t complaining in the least… and neither were my dinner mates. Sitting under an orange tent, indulging on fresh sea food probably caught that day, laughing loudly, and being a part of the tent-dinner culture kept us enraptured for hours on end – we ended up spending the better part of two hours feasting with our eyes, ears, and satisfying our stomachs.

The next day, we rose early in search of another temple – this one slated as “the best in all of Korea” since it wasn’t set in the typical mountain setting, rather on craggy cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was beautiful, and crowded like no other temple has been crowded thus far. Tiny Buddha statues sat all around the temple as the ocean waves soundtracked our whole time there. It was touristy and tranquil. Yet another duality. Tally Ho Busan!

The rest of my time, I have to say with a little pride and shame, was spent on the beach just… sitting. Sure I made my way on a few runs from beach, but for the most part, it was my weekend away from the hustle and bustle and stress and noise of Seoul. Ah, to just sit. Again I say, Tally Ho Busan!