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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When Description Prevails or Serving

To make time useful, satisfy a passion, and pay rent, my latest installment in living as a 20something is serving at a fine dining restaurant here in Brooklyn. I feel that, among other things, it is a nice way to complete and round out a 20something’s way of life: college eats, travel abroad, lounging in fields, eating random things that may not have an English translation, and working in the service industry.

Among other things (like teach), I feel that everyone should hold a restaurant job at least once in their life. It’s important to fully understand how much work it takes to keep people happy, full, and tipping well. I’ve worked in restaurants for a bunch of my life, actually. Well, to be clear: I’ve worked in the food world for a while. Busser, Bartender, Server, Caterer, Sous Chef, Manager, I’ve done a bunch of it (not to mention try my hand at a few recipes as well). And now, I’ve jumped back into the job with joy. Mainly because of the restaurant itself.

This place is an upstanding, upscale American cuisine place that does it up right. They take the seasons as cues for changes on the menu and go to the farmers market as much as possible. They listen to the customer to make sure that the food coming out is perfectly to the diner’s liking. They taste wines and keep their staff informed. And what I like most about it: I can talk to people about food for eight hours at a time. Ask me a question about artichokes, beets, duck, haddock, chicken, sweet potatoes, sunchokes, you name it I’ve got you covered.

And what this job really has enabled me to do is expand my verbal and not written capacity to describe food. So, on this day after a day of all ones (11.1.11) and a few days before that other day of all ones (11.11.11) – side note: is anyone weirded out by that or are there email chains going around about luck or non-luck if you don’t forward that onto seven people in the next three minutes? – I’m going to try something different: no pictures. Only words. Tell me if you get it.

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we have a plate full of vegetables and grains prepared five ways. First, we start off with a light salad of baby spinach and arugula, both light yet slightly bitter, topped with a sherry vinaigrette providing sweet notes to balance the subtle bite. This light salad is followed by couscous enlivened with rice wine vinegar, ginger, kosher salt, a touch of brown sugar, and extra virgin olive oil to give a hearty base to the green plate. Next, braised kale served with kosher salt, olive oil, to keep a thin flavor line between the couscous and kale, and braised Macoun apples giving it a deep, rich, dark green flavor brought out by the braise, yet autumnal and classic from the apple. Next, roasted sunchokes with olive oil and rosemary. The roasting brings out both the starch and sweetness from the sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, and coupling that with rosemary provides for the perfect Fall dish. Finally, we have pan-sautéed Brussels sprouts with garlic, salt, a touch of maple syrup, and chopped fennel. This flavorful dish gives a hearty green – akin to a small leafy cabbage – some love with butter and garlic, some childishness with the natural sweetening from maple syrup, and a touch of elegance from the liquorish flavors bursting forth from the fennel taking this vegetable far from what mama used to tell us to eat. Together, we play on the sweet, savory, bitter sensations with a hint of sour nestling in the couscous and vinaigrette.  Please, enjoy.

Til The Cows Come Home

One thing that I missed, but didn’t realize, while I was in Korea was Mexican food. I don’t think I really recognized that there was a severe culinary hole in my life until I had to put a quick salad together for dinner and my only thoughts were: cilantro, corn, tomatoes, beans, onions, cheese, tortillas. At that point, that is when I started to think about tortillas and salsa, I knew that I couldn’t really press on without diving into the culinary tradition that’s come to be all but a staple of American cuisine as a whole (you could argue that point with me, if you’d like. I’m shaky on it for sure).

With my sweet corn that was at the beginning (as we are nearing the end, now) of its season, tomatoes fresh off the vine and cherry tomatoes packed with sweetness, cilantro, basil, Swiss chard ( because it never goes away, folks… never), tofu for protein, and a bed of mixed greens (anything that our CSA share threw at us – arugula, spinach, romaine), I started to prepare. Picking mint from the garden and cilantro up from my co-op, it was going to be light summer fare. Nothing special, but surely Mexican themed.

I would say that the meal was outstanding, but really what took mainstage at the show that was are night was, our visitor strolling down the driveway. A dairy cow from a farm up the way.

See, my family lives outside of town, but by no means the boondocks. Rather, we live about a half-mile off an Upstate New York “main” highway. Our land backs up to a state forest, so we’ve got our privacy, and it seems as though our friend wanted to just check out our digs.

The cow – whose name still is unknown to me – stood at our window, our door, behind the house, and eventually ran into that state forest. An hour late a farmer came to pick it up saying “well, she was sick yesterday. Couldn’t stand. Now she’s running away from me. That’s what medicine will do to ya, huh?”

With bowl of Mexican-inspired salad in my hand and a cow outside, it seemed as though my love of Mexican had been reborn.

When Days Disappear

I wish I had not 24, 25 or 26 hours to a day, but a nice round number of 30. I also wish I had another arm to help me carry things, and a never ending supply of kombucha. But these are things we have to live with, deal with, and really just enjoy. And really, as you start to think about it, maybe it is better that days fly by during summer days and autumnal nights. Because, as to really lay the adages on heavy, time only really flies when you’re… you can finish the rest. In fact, there’ s this really cool idea (I heard on radiolab, which is one of the best radio shows on the air right now) that time is different for everyone based. That’s why some people age quicker — they are simply living life at a different time. Hm, philosophical and metaphysical and all that jazz.

Now for the sustenance to keep you rolling through those days that just seem to end but end too quickly. Those days where you don’t sit down, but you don’t want to. Those days that you have one of those stupid smiles on your face non stop and without your knowing.

See, we all know that to keep up with these amazing days, you do need something nutritious, but heaven forbid you spend more than thirty minutes on it. I mean, come on — that’s why 30-minute meals on the Food Network blew up. But here’s the thing, one way to keep it super quick, is to keep it vegetarian. Hold up, what? No meat?! That ain’t American I don’t want it.

Cool down, patriotic patrick — I got your tofu right here, as well as your seasons veggies hanging out in the back of the fridge.

Make It Quick, Make It Delicious, Make it Disappear

Olive Oil, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Onions, Red Cabbage, Corn, Broccoli, Swiss Chard. Put all those in, in that order, and sautee for about 10 minutes. 

Cut up some cherry tomatoes, get some feta out, and cut some tofu khan (soy-sauce marinated tofu).

Throw the tofu in (protein!), cook for 2 minutes. Top with the tomatoes and feta.

There you go: you’ve got a hearty sauteed salad with some oomff (see: hearty greens and cabbage), the juicy crunch of the cherry tomatoes, the smooth texture of the feta and finally, the protein.

Keep truckin’, dear readers. Let those days disappear with a smile on your face.

The Southern Way

After a run, some boating on the lake soaking up those Vitamin D’s, and a ton of hugs, Laura and I hopped in her mama’s brand new car and headed south from North Carolina destined for my southern home: Savannah.

This place is nonstop wonderful – history, culture, hot days, stormy nights, wonderful foods, crisp and refreshing drinks, and on top of all that: my southern family. A lot of times, people will try to compare Savannah and Charleston and – being a self-proclaimed connoisseur of both places – I have to say that you can’t compare them. Charleston is bright and touristy and full of great foods, but a different kind of Southern. Savannah is rich and deep and entrenched in Southern-ness.

Either way, my time down there was spent running along bluffs and through old plantations and relaxing on the deck of a boat on the inter-coastal waterway. Laura – or LZ to me and about all of her friends – always tries and succeeds in showing me the best of times. We’ve hopped around the restaurant scene (I’d recommend simply catching a crab yourself, making delicious butter sauce and enjoying it on LZ’s grandma’s porch, if I were you…), popped in and out of a bunch of bars in the area (Hangfire is a sure-bet to see a bunch of SCAD students and an overwhelming sense of hipsterdom. Also, their “scorpion tea” is outstanding), hung out on the beaches of Tybee Island, eaten some necessary snacks at Leopold’s ice cream (get the rose, if they have it), gotten our fair share of coffees and lattes and other goodies at some of the best cafes I’ve been to (see: The Sentient Bean), and generally toured around the area in style blasting music out of open windows to streets, and beaches.

This time, though, we explored a new part of town – the Starland District. It’s been a work in process, trying to make this an “artsy” side of town. Right now, it’s a few galleries and boutique-y food spots scattered throughout a residential/industrial area (note, I wouldn’t say an abandoned suitcase next to a Popeye’s is all that “artsy” rather a little sketchy…).

LZ knew exactly where to go: Starland Cafe and Back in the Day Bakery. These spots were so good, that everyone should know about them and go immediately. Back in the Day Bakery was a cute place pumping out some incredible breads and other sweet delicacies. My favorites? The Banana Pudding. The Original Cupcake. The Chocolate Chip cookies. I didn’t try all of the things they had, but they had a deep and rich selection, that should be eaten directly after a lunch at Starland Cafe.

Situated in an old urban home with seating on the porch and front lawn, the cafe serves up wonderful paninis, soups, and some hefty and complex salads – mostly sourced locally and seasonally. It was exactly what we were craving, having been in countries where salads really aren’t prepared with the same gusto as America.

LZ had been here a few times, so she guided me through the gourmet menu, directing me to the salad equipped with figs, grapes, artichokes, goat cheese, summer salsa, buttermilk dressing, and my god some delicious flavors. LZ got one with some guacamole and corn chips, and devoured it, but of course.

The café was homey and comfortable, with seating in what used to be the living room, dining room, and the kitchen was under the stairs. The food really did hit that lunch time spot: sandwiches soups and salads and good prices and with locally wonderful flavors.

Within a day or so, my whirlwind continued and I was on a plane again, destined for Yankee-land: New York City and Ithaca, yet again.

Happy Birthday. Happy 4th.

Fair warning: this post is going to be rambling and sporadic and jittered just like the fingers that type it. At present, I have about one month left in Korea. What does that mean? High speed, caffeine, little sleep, vitamin water (I have a strange addiction to it, for some reason these days), always saying yes to meal invitations, absent mindedness on over drive, and sweat. Lots of sweat. Not because I’m running from place to place but July brings the hottest and most humid of times to Korea, which is just unfortunate for my worn-out wardrobe and dwindling laundry detergent.

Like I said, rambling.

But in more uplifting and less pungent news, my last month here in Korea is jam packed, starting today with the dearest of friends coming to visit me from Paris via home. She is non-stop excited which makes me even more energetic and happy to show her around the city that I’ve claimed maybe one to many (or one to little, few, less?) times. She is as in love with food as I, but with a slight challenge – she’s a vegetarian. So it will be a hurdle to introduce her to the kimchi that I devour every day since it is made with shrimp paste to aid in fermentation. But it will be a synch to show her the bibimbap I’ve grown to love for an easy lunch. It will also be a joy to take her to the vegan buffet after a long hike up a mountain, and to show her around museums, temples, palaces, markets, street art, cafes, aquariums, and simply put: a whole different world.

From there we take slight nap then my southern soul sister comes to visit fresh out of rural China. She has been a brave ol’ chap for the past year living in a place where showers are heated by the sun, pig fat is a main course, and if your not too careful – you’ll forget that the “black tofu” is actually coagulated blood. She’s had an amazing time, and she’s ready to come to Seoul, from what I know. And like Brianna, Laura is overjoyed by the opportunity of seeing what Korea really is like. She tells me on a regular skype basis that her middle school girls are all obsessed with Korea. It makes sense to a large degree seeing as Korea is a major influence in Asian (and now European too) media and entertainment. Did you hear that Rain (비) was named the most influential person in Time magazine? Yeah, he’s Korean. That’s right, I somehow claim pride in that, now.

Once the visits stop, the vacation starts – I have a five-day vacation at the end of the month, which brings me up to my very last week of Korea-town. Gift shopping, packing, exploring for the last time, and non-stop relaxing. Ah – the time flies no matter what.

Coming at you once again from another angle: I have now, officially been writing this blog for more than a year. (What? When did that happen?!) And I thank each and every one of the people taking time to sit down and read my prose. I couldn’t be more flattered.

If you take a quick look, my first post was on July 1st and almost a year to the date ago today, I was writing about July 4th, just like I am today. The only difference? I was sitting in my home back in the woods of Upstate New York, and now I sit in a modern Korean coffee shop, sipping on an Americano, trying to finish my thoughts before a lunch date with a good friend. O! How the times move, change, evolve, develop! 

Last 4th I spent with good friends and family, cooking burgers and banana pudding from scratch. This July 4th my group of friends and I harnessed the power of potluck yet again, came together, talked about which house we’d be in while attending Hogwarts (a tie between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw), drank chai tea and thought about things we missed. Open spaces, driving on open roads, eve’s dropping, talking with your neighbor, real Italian food, porches, bonfires, cookouts, lake houses all came to mind.

But what we found comfort in, amongst our nostalgia, was the company, the fact that we were sitting on an apartment floor, talking about the past and future, enjoying the present, and the food that filled the table. Broccoli pasta salad, Soba noodle salad, hummus, cucumbers, carrots, cheese and apples, crackers, corn bread, mashed potatoes, roasted spicy potatoes, blueberry-strawberry muffins, short cake, and cucumber-corn-zucchini-tomato salad all covered the available surface space on the table built for three. We noshed and chatted and ate some more until we were overly full and felt truly American. The next day, we’d meet again to shoot fireworks into the Han river that runs through the middle of Seoul (just as the Thames through London, and the Seine through Paris), and sing happy birthday to America one to many times. Also, the song that goes “You’re a grand ol’ flag, You’re a high flyin’ flag…

To the potluck, I brought along the shortcake, cucumber salad, and roasted spicy potatoes. I also made two apricot crisps, but they never made it to the potluck… I wonder why! Maybe because it was sweet, tart, chalked full of cloves, cardamom, and tasted so good after my morning run…

One more thing, since I’ve given myself the right to ramble: Read Eating Animals by J. Safran Foer. It’s amazing, inspiring, and jam-packed with good, philosophical information about America’s meat industry. If you don’t want to know, read Dance Dance Dance by H. Murakami – outstanding.

For today, we draw to a close. Happy birthday, 20something meals. Happy birthday America – I’ll see you soon enough. I welcome future collaborations with an amazing friend and outstanding blogger!  And I welcome Brianna to Korea! Let the exploration begin!

Roasted Spicy Potatoes

5-8 Potatoes (I used something similar to New Potatoes, but any will work)

Salt

Pepper

Cumin

Cayenne

Garlic

Oil

Chop the potatoes into “steak fries,” and drizzle oil over top (I used olive). Coat thoroughly with the salt, pepper, cumin, and cayenne (to taste, folks). Smash some garlic, and throw it (and the potatoes) onto a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees and bake for about 10 minutes on each side. Longer, if you like them crispier. Serve with something to drink, but of course.

Italian Muses: Fresca Cuscini Di Felicità

People and cultures have been sharing culinary ideas for centuries. If you or your community discovered the best way to eat a tomato, why would you keep that from neighbors? This concept of gastronomical sharing can take place on the small scale like a community sponsored cook book (see: The Junior League’s series of Southern Cookbooks) or on a large scale such as what happened to Italian food.

I say Italian food is a large scale “sharing” with some hesitation, because at this point in time, our globalized world has not so much as borrowed Italian techniques, ingredients, and culture, rather we’ve assimilated it to our own cultures. We’ve taken what once was “traditional” and, despite what many claim as “authentic,” made it a fusion between our own home cuisine and Italian. That’s why when you go to Italy, the food tastes different, and generally much better.

This isn’t unique to just Italian, but rather the major international cuisines. These are the cuisines that “made it big” and became gastronomical icons. Italian. French. Chinese. Thai. Mexican. These are the cuisines that have slipped their way into others like invasive species, but are welcomed guests.

Despite my rants or thoughts on Italian and the culinary giant that it is, I love Italian food. I spent a good six months in Florence (and consequently around Tuscany) eating my way through tradition. It was the fresh ingredients, and the light spicing. The ample portions, and relaxed food culture. It was every stereotype, and none of the drawbacks. Italian food has locked itself up in my heart, and will not escape.

So as I continue my quest to diversify my eateries and eatings here in Korea, my obvious choice was Italian. The only problem, though, is that Korea’s done the same adopting and adapting of Italian food as most of the world has. Here, it’s date food that’s way overpriced and never quite right.

With Italian Muses singing sweet nothings into my mind’s ear, I happily went to my market and consequently my kitchen toting flour, eggs, salt, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, green peppers, garlic (lots of garlic), and mixed greens.

This little adventure made strange connections in my memory, because I had flashbacks all throughout remembering the small market near Santa Croce where I’d walk every other day to pick up the freshest zucchini, apples and a bottle of wine. In Korea, it’s almost the same: I walk to my little market to grab veggies, another to grab my fruits, and one more to grab wine.

But in Italy I was lucky enough to have fresh pasta being made all around me. Here, I have to fend for myself. And fend I do. Here’s one for the globalization record books: Italian with Korean ingredients.

Homemade dough (egg well and all) served as my ravioli pillow all stuffed with diced, garliced, salted, peppered, and sautéed zucchini and eggplant. These little pillows of joy were topped with homemade cherry tomato sauce boasting a strong garlic and jalapeño flavor and a pinch of brown sugar for color deepening and heightened flavor.  This delectable main was accompanied by the greenest of salads: baby greens with green peppers drizzled with oil and pinched with salt.

Simple. Quick. Fresh. Italian by any other name.

 

Pasta Dough

1 ¼ cup flour

1 egg

Drizzles of Olive Oil

Warm Water (just to moisten the dough, if necessary)

Salt to taste

 

Dump all the flour onto a clean countertop, and make a “well” for your egg. Scramble the egg in the middle of your well and proceed to fold in the flour, thoroughly mixing all of the ingredients together (your hands will get dirty). After you’ve mixed all of these together, knead for a few minutes, and let sit for the amount of time it takes you to chop up your filling, sautee it, and bring water to a boil. Roll out with a rolling pin, pasta maker, or a floured water bottle to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut into wide strips that will become your ravioli. I bet you can do this in less than 45 minutes. Ready? Set. Go.