August 3, 2008

kimchee stew for justin


There’s something so endearing about non-Koreans who get Korean food, especially when they love kimchee in all it’s forms. There have been a few people like that in my life, the first was a college roommate Joanna, a straight talking, wise cracking theater geek from Louisville, KY. She’d poke her head into whatever I was cooking or eating and take a huge bite without hesitation, declaring it usually, “Fantastic”. The girl could throw down kimchee and fermented stews like she’d been eating them her whole life rather than for the first time. I’d feel a surge of intense love for her each time she took a bite or slurped down a bowl of something particularly un-western and smelly and fishy, something akin to the religious bonding that happens over breaking bread.

The most recent weigook to move me thus is the husband of a friend whose enjoyment of the spiciest kimchee dishes is so passionate and moving, it prompts me to cook for him just so I can see him eat (or at least in my mind). He’s the kind of rare person who at the mention of say, super spicy kimchee stew or dok-bokki, a kind of deep light goes off in his eyes and he begins to salivate. A kind of greed takes over and it’s all he can do not to trample over his toddler and wife on his way to the kitchen. His wife recounted for me the first time I'd brought soup over, he’d slurped the whole thing down while standing up at the kitchen sink and declined to share even a bite. She said he wouldn’t even give her a taste. This from one a most patient and generous man. Outside of his kimchee jigage of course. So this simple recipe is for him and other weigooks who might feel intimidated by such a foreign dish, it really is one of the easiest recipes to make and anyone can do it:

1. Buy a 1/2 gallon jar or a bag of kimchee
2. Eat as much as you can stand and when it is more ripe than you can bear, throw it it in the fridge and forget about it for at least a week, two or more.
(I like to ripen my kimchee just short of disintegration- not a savory imagery I know but the more ripe your kimchee is, the deeper and better the flavor of your stew)
3. Saute at least 2-3 minced garlic cloves in a bit of sesame oil or whatever oil you have, about 5-8 for a 1/2 gallon jar of kimchee. (Again it’s hard to go wrong with too much garlic. You can add 1/2 or 1 sliced onion if desired.)
4. Add pork rib bits or pork stew meat, about a handful or more if you like meaty stews.
5. Put kimchee in the pot and sautee for a bit.
6. Add water until surface is a good few inches above the ingredients. Bring to a boil then put on simmer for an hour.
7. I like to rest the stew then simmer again for another hour but it isn't necessary.

Optional Additions: cubes of tofu, green onion, sesame seeds.

August 12, 2008

Three questions I can’t wrap my mind around

1. Are Korean ‘eyejobs’ basically a form of internalized racism?

2. When Koreans (esp. family) tell you how fat you’ve gotten, oh every time you see them, – is it just plain rude or some ineffable cultural thing I’m missing?

3. And why is it homemade jajang-myun is never as good as the restaurant?? Do they use MSG? And why, when the restaurants are Korean run for Korean customers, don’t they just serve kimchee since the dak-kwong just doesn’t cut it alone? (Or am I the only one who craves it?)

*Eye jobs = Plastic surgery to create a fold in Asian eyes to look more Western. Very common, like buying new shoes. Nose jobs are almost as popular. For examples, see any Korean television show.

*Koreans will always greet you with a comment on your appearance, whether it’s as common as saying you are “yep-poh” which means pretty/cute/lovely, or if you’ve lost weight or just as easily if you look old or gained weight.

* Ja-jang myun is a beloved Korean dish of fresh cut noodles in black bean sauce. Because the dish was originally Chinese you must go to special Korean run Chinese restaurants to get it, and because the cuisine is supposed to be Chinese, they never serve kimchee but the traditional side dishes of raw onion and dak-kwong, a bright yellow pickled radish.

*Note: I’ve had two friends tell me recently their mothers make restaurant quality jajang-myun, I will amend this post once I’ve tried their recipes.

August 26, 2008

Rapt in Colour


I guess it's appropriate in the last days of summer that it's a time of transition for many of the closest people in my life. I'm feeling melancholy about it all, that plus the unusually gorgeous August in New York and the epic terrible's my eldest seems to be going through equals a long spell of blogger's block. My sister who lived ten minutes away in Park Slope moved to the upper east side yesterday, which in New York geography feels the same as moving from France to Italy... One of my closest mom friends is going back to a day job full-time... and my terrible/beautiful three year old will be at school every day this Fall.

In any case, I had a chance to peek at my sister's new apt before she moved in so we could talk about colour. We're big fans of colour here at Casa G., and paint walls any chance we have though ironically in our current loft space we weren't able to at all. One of my favorite references for colour are pojagi's, the beautiful wrapping cloths Korean women made from scraps. I have a nice collection of vintage hanboks that I use occasionally to make my own pojagi's as well as new hanbok fabric from Korea (for those interested I can direct you to the best stalls at Namdaemun market for traditional fabric and notions!) and I am always always inspired by the book Rapt in Colour.

Some of the things that amaze me about the antique pojagi's is how they are modernist, evoking Mondrian, way before modernism existed. The palette also amazes me because I'd so long associated Korean colours with bright saturated neons or crazy fur blanket colour combo's which most households seemed to throw together easily with the earthy dark woods of traditionally designed furniture, etc. Pre-industrialism, the cultural colour palette seems to me, perfect.

And on that note, color seems to be the perfect way to welcome the fall. It's the flip side to all the changes, the parts I am looking forward to - finding more ways to be in the city that I love and show up at my sister's, the freed time I'll have with my #1 at school, and so forth.

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