Tag Archives: food

Play with your food!

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A few months ago, I was strolling the aisles of H Mart when I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. No, it wasn’t a glassy-eyed exotic sea creature lying on a bier of shaved ice. Nor was it a mysterious fruit all bumps and frondy appendages.

It was this amazing thing:

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…sitting on a shelf of other amazing little packages just like it. Obviously, I was obliged to buy them all…or at least the ones that had English instructions on the back.

Here’s what came inside:

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Have I mentioned that I’m a sucker for cute, miniature junk? This girl is too…

IMG_4214IMG_4220IMG_4239IMG_4231IMG_4234IMG_4242IMG_4243She had an appreciative customer:

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I just saw one of these sets yesterday in the international section at Harris Teeter in case you’re interested in trying it out and there’s no H Mart near you.

 

 

 

 

Weekend Snapshots 42

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My family and I went to NYC this weekend to see my cousin in one of the final performances of Julia Cho’s Aubergine. It’s a play about the barriers to communication and understanding; it’s about the ways in which we try to commune through food; it’s about how we live and die. Our cousin played the part of Ray, a Korean-American chef who is taking care of his dying father. They have always had a tortured relationship marred by the inability to truly connect with one another. As his father lies comatose, unable to utter more than a groaned word now and then, Ray wrestles with the weight of all that was unexpressed between them during a lifetime. The play was beautiful and moving, funny and desperately sad, and so much of it felt very close to home…

Thursday

There were a lot of loose ends to tie up before heading to Arlington, where we would spend a night at my parents’ house before driving the rest of the way to New York. For one thing, we had to make sure the pets were set with everything they needed while we were gone. I did an inventory of their food supply, then handed my phone to my son and asked him to run down to the basement to take a picture of the new kitty litter we’ve been using so we’d remember which kind to restock. Feeling rather smug about my prudent foresight, I strode over to the pet supply aisle in the grocery store and pulled up the pictures on my phone to discover this:

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The Failure of Communication: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts

Friday

The next day my mom cooked my kids’ favorite lunch: tender, salty mackerel with crispy, crackly skin.

In Aubergine, one of the characters talks about how her father would always eat the head and tail of the fish and give her the middle of the fish. One day she serves him the head and tail of the fish and magnanimously announces that she’s giving him his favorite part.

“Rice pot!” (i.e.: Dummy!) he says with exasperation and explains that he had always eaten the head and tail so that she could have the best part of the fish.

As the audience absorbs this revelation, Ray asks, “What part did your mother eat?”

As so often happens these days, my mother was too exhausted by her culinary labor of love to eat any fish herself.

She wasn’t too tired, however, to take care of some other pressing business. Before we left for New York, she handed me a thick envelope. She had prepared an identical one for all of her children. I opened it to see that it was a map and description of the burial plots she and my dad bought for themselves a few weeks ago. She had also included the contact information for two minister friends who already agreed to perform their funeral services.

“We got a 10% discount for buying early!” my mother chirped brightly as she dropped her latest weapon of mass destruction on our heads. “I thought we should be buried right under some pine trees, but your daddy was worried about the roots spreading. So we picked a nearby spot where we’ll have a good view of them. Remember! Put your dad on the left side, and me on the right. We’ll be able to call to each other in the morning and say, ‘Good morning! Have you eaten breakfast yet?‘”

Oh, dear God! Waterboarding? The rack? These don’t hold a candle to the myriad creative and devastating ways this woman devises to torture me.

img_7041We drove up to NYC where we met up with the rest of our family:

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Admiring photos of the grandkids who couldn’t be there…

Saturday

Breakfast of the Champions.img_7022

My brother took my boys to the Pan-American No-Gi International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship at City College of New York. Got that? Pan-American No-Gi International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship at City College of New York! Now say it quickly ten times!

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Meanwhile, the rest of us wandered around the vicinity of our hotel.

We stopped in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral:

img_1659img_1662Had lunch at Rosie O’Grady’s…

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Then headed over to the theatre to see the play…img_7028img_7037

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That night my four siblings and I spent a few quiet minutes with my parents in their hotel room, just the six of us. We thought we’d just have a casual chit-chat, but then my dad, a man who favors stiff pats over hugs, asked us to all hold hands with each other. He said a prayer for each of one of us and all the spouses and children in our family, asking for blessings for each of us by name.

Damn. Nothing like a good old-fashioned Pan-American No-Gi tag-team loving beatdown from your parents, the reigning champions of the emotional choke-hold. Clearly, this kind of thing should be banned, as there is no possible maneuver by which to escape.

Sunday

We drove back to C’ville. I decided to give my son some much-needed driving practice, and let him take the wheel for the last fifteen minutes of the drive:

img_7046It went pretty well until he almost drove off the side of the road…

There’s a line in the play I can’t remember exactly, but the gist of it was:

In the midst of life, we are in the midst of death…

I texted this photo of his traumatized little brother to my siblings:

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My sister wrote back, “Oooooh. So that’s what faster than a bat out of hell looks like!”img_7050

Despite the plot twists and turns, we made it back home safe and sound.  img_7051

Meat

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We were in a local kebob restaurant the other day, pondering the wide array of choices.

“Do you guys know what you’d like to have?” I asked my kids.

The boys wanted beef kebobs. My daughter was more uncertain.

“I think I want to try the kibbeh,” she said sheepishly, (there’s no other word for it).

“What’s kibbeh?” I asked.

“Lamb,” she whispered guiltily.

“Oh! It’s OK! Go ahead and try it!”

When I asked her how it was, she replied, “I really feel bad about saying this, but…it’s delicious.”

Sometimes my 16 year old likes to mess with his sensitive little sister.

When she coos over a panda video, for example, he might casually interject: “I wonder what panda tastes like?”

We had a conversation like this just the other day…Almost all of my daughter’s friends are into horses these days. The 16 year old wondered out loud how they’d react if she asked them what they thought horse tasted like. And then he had a sudden thought.

He turned to me and asked, “Wait a minute, have YOU ever tasted horse?!”

“Ummm, yes, actually, I did once.” I was forced to admit, “It was served to me in France a long time ago.”

“How did it taste?”

“I don’t even remember…gamey, I guess?”

“But what does ‘gamey’ taste like? What does that word even mean?” he persisted.

His brother gave him an authoritative answer, “‘Gamey’ means it tastes like bullets.”

Clearly our family has a somewhat tortured attitude toward meat. I’ve been a vegetarian for years, but the rest of my family eats meat. It’s led to some interesting situations…

Last summer I tried to pick up my daughter from Camp Barbara‘s after work one day. As I approached the door to our neighbor’s house, I detected the unmistakable smell of bacon. My daughter saw me coming through the glass of the storm door and her eyes widened in alarm. As I opened the door, she backed away, shook her head vigorously and practically shouted, “NO! You can’t take me home now…I’m about to eat bacon!”

Wild horses couldn’t have dragged that girl out of the house. And she wasn’t the only one. The three other little girls at Camp Barbara also had vegetarian mamas. One of them was Jewish to boot. They were all allowed to eat meat, but they had to get their fix outside of their own homes. Miss Barbara was their dealer.

Not long after, my kids and I were visiting my parents’ house. My mother watched suspiciously as they devoured the bulgogi (Korean beef barbecue) she had made for them. They were eating with a little too much enthusiasm. She swiveled her head until her narrowed eyes locked onto mine.

“You never give them meat, do you?!” she asked, as if she had just discovered that her daughter led a secret double life as a serial killer, “YOU can be a vegetarian if you want, but you better feed your children some meat!”

My mother’s words were ringing in my ear when I picked up some bacon at the grocery store last week. The kids were overjoyed when I told them they could have it this weekend, but then I noticed a cloud pass across their faces.

“Awww, poor Mommy! But what will YOU have for breakfast?”

“Oh, don’t worry about me! I’ll have something else!”

On Saturday I awoke to the aroma of bacon wafting up the stairs and all throughout the house. My 14 year old son poked his head into my room. He had a grin on his face, and said they had a surprise for me.

I came down to this:

Those sweet kids felt so sorry for me that I didn’t get to eat bacon that they made me this instead.

I don’t deserve them, but I’m sure glad they’re mine.

 

Jook & Jeju Island

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This is what we’ve been eating almost every day for breakfast (and sometimes lunch and dinner too!) since Thanksgiving.

I tried jook aka congee aka rice porridge for the first time sixteen years ago in a hotel in Jeju Island. I had never tasted it as a child. My mother never cooked it, because my father wouldn’t touch the stuff. He’s probably the unfussiest eater I know, but jook reminds him too much of the thin gruel he had to eat as a malnourished child growing up in war-ravaged Korea.

As for me, the taste of jook was a revelation – a mellow, homey, cozy dish that tastes like a warm hug from someone you love. I have dreamt about it all these many years. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally try to make it, because it’s dead simple, really. It’s the perfect winter comfort food. It would make a great baby food, because it’s so easily digested. In fact, it’s sometimes fed to convalescents, because it’s so mild. Finally, it’s an easy way to use up the remains of a Thanksgiving turkey or a rotisserie chicken, bones and all. Have I convinced you? I’ll share the recipe with you at the end of this post, but first – Jeju Island.

I lived in Korea from the age of 8 months to about 3 years. About 16 years ago, my parents took me back to Korea for the first time since we moved back to the U.S.  We visited Jeju Island, a tropical island off the southern coast of Korea with dramatic lava formations, gardenia bushes taller than humans, and citrus and palm trees. It’s the traditional honeymoon destination for Koreans and a favorite vacation spot. Dutch sailors are known to have shipwrecked on the island in the 17th century. This perhaps explains why there is a distinctive, more Caucasian look to people from Jeju Island. My mother’s family has roots here. Her maternal grandfather owned a factory there that capitalized on its natural resources; it produced buttons made out of shells and canned sea food for export to China.

We traveled all over the island in a rickety old tour bus hung with ratty floral curtains of indeterminate vintage. Our tour guide told us that Jeju Island is famous for three abundances – wind, rocks, and women.

At a Stone Sculpture Garden, we saw plenty of rocks:

and creative depictions of the culture of the Jeju of old…

The Dol Harubang is the symbol of Jeju Island. They were carved out of the plentiful black volcanic rock and strategically placed around the island to scare off demons or invaders.

With their suggestive shape, they are also considered a symbol of fertility. Rub the nose for a boy, or an ear for a girl.

During the Joseon Dynasty, Jeju was used as a penal colony for political exiles and as a place for horse-breeding. One of the stops on our tour took us to a horse ranch. While all the other chump tourists donned doofy looking hats and red vests to ride, I settled myself on a comfy bench next to my mother, and prepared to watch.

My mother nudged me and said, “I think you should ride.” (N.B. – She did not suggest that we should ride).

“Hunh?! Really?” I asked, “Why?!”

“When else will you have a chance to ride a horse?”

I’ve never been a horse person. In fact, horses scare me. I had had opportunities to ride before, but had always declined them. My mother’s suggestion that I ride, delivered so earnestly and with a slight undercurrent of urgency, was so surprising to me that I, as if under a spell, got up off the bench and suited up. No matter that I was wearing a long sundress and had never been on a horse in my life, my mother’s wish was my command.

The horses lined up for what I thought would be an easy amble around the track.

Suddenly, a scrawny man in a wife beater rode up on a moped, and started blowing a whistle. The horses took off running:

I clung to the horse’s back as we whipped around the track. I miraculously managed to stay on my horse, but the next day I felt like I had been hurled down ten flights of stairs and had then been trampled by an angry mob all wearing soccer cleats.

“Moooom! I’m like a sack of broken bones. I can barely walk!”

My mother complacently listened to me complain about the pain for days.

The most illuminating discovery for me was that Jeju Island is known for its strongly matriarchal social structure, which is unusual for Korea. The women of Jeju Island are famous for their strength, indomitable spirit, and iron wills. Another revelation which explained so much!

Our tour guide explained to us how this social structure came to be. Men who fell out of favor with the king were banished to this tropical island paradise. And then – oh, the cruelty! – they were forbidden to work. Instead, they were forced to sit back and watch their spouses work. The women became “pearl divers” or haenyeo. These women were mythologized as mermaids:

…but in fact, diving is a hard and dangerous job. You can still see haenyeo bobbing around in the ocean these days, but the profession is dying out with the last of the elderly women who practice it. For centuries, the women have dived underwater for minutes at a time with no breathing apparatus.

We probably ate some of their catch at one of the restaurants we went to:

Waitresses kept bringing plate after plate until the long low table we were seated at was covered with seafood. Some of the seafood arrived at the table ablaze; many of the dishes were so fresh, that the creatures were still wriggling. As uncultured as it may seem, I couldn’t eat a thing and had to avert my gaze for the entire meal.

Luckily for me, I was filling up every morning with jook, a daily staple of the breakfast buffet at the Hyatt Regency:

Jook

Ingredients:

1 cup rice

6 cups water or broth

1 turkey or chicken carcass, bones and any leftover meat

Sesame oil

Soy sauce

Roasted, salted seaweed

Scallions sliced thin

Bring to a boil the rice, water/broth, and the turkey or chicken carcass. Lower heat and simmer for about an hour. Remove as many bones as possible. (I can never manage to get them all out, but the kids have become adept at discreetly fishing them out while eating). Put in a dash of sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce. Sprinkle a little seaweed and scallions on top. That’s my bare bones version, but the possibilities are endless. The hotel restaurant had lots of other things you could sprinkle on top such as shredded marinated beef and abalone.

 

Birthday

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For my birthday this year I got a new old house, a miserable cold from my daughter, and an extra year of life! My iPhone wished me a happy birthday and informed me that I just turned the age I thought and said I was all last year. Hooray for declining faculties working in your favor for a change!

I dragged myself home from work today and wasn’t sure I was feeling up to going out, but I’m glad we did! We went to Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria for dinner, where the only sure way to get a seat is to show up at 5 pm. We may have disgraced ourselves just a tiny little bit by inhaling shocking quantities of the thin crust wood-fired pizzas…

We had to try the desserts too, of course:

We ended the evening back at home where I got to take some birthday pics with these kids, the very best, most priceless gifts I ever got:

 

Birthday Cakes in Shangri-La

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My kids are always happy to make the two and a half hour drive to Arlington, where my parents and sister live. If a month goes by without a visit, they start complaining, “We haven’t been to Arlington in ages! We really need to go for a visit soon.”

For them, going to Arlington is a little bit like getting sprung from hard labor straight into Shangri-La. Upon their arrival their Auntie plies them with their favorite Hershey’s Cookies’n’Creme candy bars. Occasionally, their mean mother manages to steal them away before they’re gobbled up at one sitting so that she can parsimoniously dole them out square by square over a week or so. They bask like cats luxuriating in a patch of sunlight in the glow of lavish praise for doing nothing more than existing on this planet. Freed from all responsibilities and chores, they laze all day long in my parents’ basement with absolute impunity, binge-watching the TV that their parents so cruelly deprived them of when they got rid of TV in their own home. Periodically, they emerge from the basement to feast, not on Hot Pockets, cheese quesadillas, or frozen Trader Joe entrees, but on food grown in the backyard and magically transformed into delicious, memorable meals three times a day. Once in a while, my sister likes to blow their minds with fabulous desserts that are the stuff of their wildest dreams. This time around, she whipped up these two decadent, no-bake birthday cakes she found on Pinterest…

The first birthday cake was for the kids:

1. Coat a tray with a layer of hot fudge sauce.

2. Add a layer of ice cream sandwiches.

3. Add a layer of whipped cream.

4. Sprinkle crushed candy bar over this layer. Cookies’n’Creme, naturally.

5. Add another layer of ice cream bars and whipped cream.

6. Crushed Heath Bar next.

7. Add one last layer of ice cream bars and cover everything with whipped cream.

8. Decorate side with crushed cookie. This was actually the hardest part. My sister and I were literally throwing cookie crumbs at the cake. We made a huge mess, which my mother silently, stoically swept up as we continued the final touches…

9. Mini M&Ms on top!

My dad’s diabetic, so he got his very own cake.

1. Cut up a roundish watermelon.

2. Remove all of the rind and shape the watermelon into a round cake.

3. Frost with sugar free whipped cream and decorate with fresh berries.

4. Voilà!