Monday, August 8, 2011

Such Sweet Sorrow

I left for Korea two years, one month, and four days ago today.

To say that spending two years with Fulbright Korea was life-changing would be a wild understatement.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was often both of those things at the same time.  I'm immensely proud of the things I accomplished at my school, like coaching 3 teams of students to place in three separate major international science fairs, and of the work and play I did at the orphanage, like raising money for three computers and a library of nearly 100 English language children's picture books.  I'm also proud of the work I did on myself, like becoming a much better teacher, a more self-sufficient adult, and a pretty decent Korean cook.  I'm happy with the relationships I formed and nurtured, the preparation I did for successfully applying to graduate school, and the home away from home I made in my Daejeon apartment (and especially happy with JJ and my decision to use our first paychecks of the year to buy a phenomenally awesome 42" flatscreen).  I'm proud of the contributions I made to the Fulbright program, the Korean language I managed to acquire, the budgeting and resulting nugget of savings I guarded, the Thanksgiving in Korea dinner I organized, the short-lived but much-loved 2 D's and a B band (especially our "No Scrubs" encore at the embassy),

It's time to close down my Korea blog, which recorded, complained about, and celebrated an important, precious, and finite two-year period.  I like writing and blogging, and I hope to keep up with it in the next phase - my move to London for grad school.  Thanks for being with me for these last two beautiful, difficult, complicated, wonderful years.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thanks for the Grapes, Lunch Ladies!

The super-cool lunch ladies at my school loaded me up with two bunches of leftover ginormous concord grapes as I was walking out of the cafeteria today.  Thanks, ladies!  I love Korean grapes!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

No Egg, No Milk, No Mixer? No Problem.

We've got about a week left in this apartment, and I'm trying to use up some of the food we've got in our cupboards and fridge.  Last night I made uber ramen (same as last week's recipe, but I had bok choi rather than napa cabbage on hand, and I added in a glug of Vietnamese fish sauce).  I also have baking things lying around, like flour, sugar,  cocoa, and baking powder, as well as some apples that are past their peak.  But we've already packed up our hand mixer, so I can only make something I can mix with a fork or big wooden spoon.  Plus, the only baking dish I have is the small glass one I bought this year at Home Plus.  I'm not sure of its exact dimensions, but it's a bit smaller than half a sheet of regular A4 paper, I'd guess 8" x 5".

I coudn't find anything online that used only those ingredients I have on hand, didn't require a mixer, and was scaled for a very small baking dish, so I tinkered with a few and gave it a shot.
Sometimes when you mess with or combine good recipes, the chemistry goes wacky and you end up with cake that's flat, dry, or just plain tasteless.
This wasn't one of those times.

It came out awesome.  Moist but light on the outside, with a dense and gooey lava cake center, chocolatey, rich, and delicious. It's the happy, well-adjusted love child of chocolate cake and a brownie.  JJ, who is in no way a hippie and/or vegan, would have had three slices if we'd bothered to slice it rather than just go at it with forks.  Bonus:  thanks to the applesauce, it's low-fat and vegan, for those of you who are into that sort of thing.

Easy No-Mixer Low-Fat Vegan Chocolate Apple Cake
Yields one small cake + 3 cupcakes
  • 2 c. flour 
  • 1-1/3 c sugar (white or light brown)
    • Optional - replace 1/3 cup sugar with honey (I used chestnut honey, which is aggressively honey-y)
  • generous pinch of salt
  • 1 heaping tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup applesauce* (if using store-bought applesauce, add 1tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp nutmeg)
  • 2 tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider, but any white/light is probably OK)
  • 2 tsp vanilla 
  • 1-1/3 cups cold water
  1. Preheat the oven to 175C / 350F.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  3. Make two wells.  Add oil to one and vinegar to the other.  Then pour water over the whole thing, add the applesauce, and mix together with a big wooden spoon or fork.
  4. Bake 40 minutes.  Serve with Chocolate Icing (below) or frosting of choice.
No Mixer (Non-Vegan) Chocolate Icing
  • 3 wedges Laughing Cow cheese (or other low-fat creamy cheese, I guess)
  • splash of milk
  • 50g powdered sugar (1/3 cup?)
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
  1. Nuke the milk and chocolate chips on medium for 30 seconds, stir, and nuke another 30 seconds.  
  2. Stir in Laughing Cow, then add powdered sugar.  Pour over cake.

You can use store-bought applesauce in the recipe above, but homemade applesauce is insanely easy.  
  1. Core and cut up 3 apples (you can peel them if you wish, I didn't), add 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1-2 tbsp brown sugar, and 1/2 cup water.  
  2. Cover and cook for at least 20 minutes, then mash with a fork (or handmixer or immersion blender or whatever you've got).

                Friday, July 1, 2011

                How To Make Ramen Into A Tasty and Nutritionally Reasonable Meal

                Korean ramen -- or Korean lamyeon, which is how it gets romanized here, is an interesting phenomenon.  It's not just for impoverished college students (though it is for them, too) - you can get it in restaurants, and I see kids eating it outside of convenience stores after school.  It can cost anywhere from $.50 to $2.00, depending on the brand, serving size, and packaging, but it's tough to go through a whole day here without seeing someone eating ramen.

                Shin lamyeon is far and away the korean ramen of choice.  It's flavor is intriguingly if ambiguously described not as chicken, vegetable, or soy, but "spicy," and the photo on the front shows a bowl brimming with shitakes and vegetables.
                Of course, when you open the package, you'll find a distinct lack of actual vegetables within (though there's a tablespoon or so of the freeze-dried variety).
                Which brings us to lunch today: improved ramen.  Super cheap, and surprisingly yum.  I threw together all the veggies I happened to have on hand (except spinach and bell pepper...that seems more suited to omelette than ramen), and I recommend them because it turned out great -- but if you've got bok choi or zucchini, go to town.

                You will Need:

                • 1 serving Shin Ramyeon (or favorite non-Korean ramen, but I warn you - this stuff is delicious and has 285 calories,  some other brands have more than double)
                • ~1/3 of the included flavor packet
                • 1 1/4 cup water
                • A few glugs of soy sauce
                • 1 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
                • 1/2 tbsp minced (not powdered!) ginger
                • 1/8 cabbage, thinly sliced
                • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
                • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
                • 1 spring onion/leek/scallion, thinly sliced
                • 1 raw egg, or 2oz tofu, or cooked protein of choice
                1.  Add everything but the egg, noodles, and water to a non-stick.  Cook on medium until the cabbage reduces a bit, while you get out your bowl and chopsticks and drinks.
                2. Add the water and the noodles, and stir and cook for another couple of minutes. When the veggies are soft --
                3.  Add your egg or protein, stir until cooked.  Serve.

                Serves 1 hungry young adult.

                Wednesday, June 29, 2011

                Traditional New England 닭도리탕 (Dakdoritang) Recipe

                Last night, I attempted one of my favorite Korean dishes: dakdoritang, a spicy chicken and potato stew.

                It's Korea's incarnation of a pretty classic dish, one that you'd find in England, New England, France, Spain and probably anywhere else with chickens and an abundant supply of root vegetables.  Do you have a chicken?  Do you have potatoes?  Garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and hot pepper?  Then you, too, can make this.

                And yet despite the simplicity of the stew's ingredients, my coteacher Roy was surprised and impressed when I told him I planned to try it -- it's one of those things that Korean moms seem to instinctively know how to do, but there aren't good recipes lying around.  There are few ingredients, but the final product is far more than the sum of its parts.

                Though I tried to keep fairly close to tradition, mine turned a bit different than the classic Korean version.  But to my delight, it came out tasting like a delicious fusion of the American/ English vegetable stews I grew up with and the Korean stews I live with.  The broth was slightly spicy, rich, and butternut-y, the garlic and soy braised the vegetables into sweetness, and the chicken fell off the bone.  It tasted like a Korean mom had tried to make my mom's food, or like Paul & Elizabeth's restaurant had made Korean food.  In other words, it tasted like delicious traditional New England Dakdoritang.

                The authentic version, or at least the ones I've come across in my homestay, school cafeteria, and elsewhere (it's definitely more of a home cooking-thing, I haven't seen it much in restaurants), is spicy, complex, and delicious.  I've never had it exactly the same way twice, since it uses different ingredients according to what you've got on hand, but as long as you've got chicken, potatoes, and that special spicy, rich broth, you've got dakdoritang.

                About a week ago my school lunch (which is usually uninspiring) involved a version of dakdoritang with carrots, onions, and an new twist - pumpkin!  Delicate little slices of pumpkin (or maybe butternut or acorn squash, Koreans just call it all "pumpkin") added just the right balance of sweetness to the spice.  I had to try it.

                I wanted to try to make it before I left Korea, so that if I ran into any trouble I could ask an ajumma at the grocery store for advice.  Since I didn't have school today or yesterday,  I decided it was time for dakdoritang.

                So yesterday I picked up carrots, pumpkin, a chicken, and ssam jjang, which is gochujang (slightly sweet pepper paste) + dwengjang (soybean paste - think light-colored miso, but with a more complex taste and lumpier texture).

                Glory be to the Korean grocery store - 980 won for two giant carrots, 5,100 won for a chicken, 3,200 for a medium-sized squash, and 980 won for a small (170g) container of ssam jang.  Grand total: 10,260won, or $9.60

                To be fair, I already had potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and vinegar.  The only ingredient I don't have on hand nor did I buy was rice wine, since the recipes I've found only call for a couple teaspoons and I'm leaving Korea soon.

                Like a true Korean mom, I didn't measure anything precisely (I didn't have a precisely measured recipe to begin with).  Anything that says "tbsp" is likely a heaping tablespoon.  But if you follow the basic shape of this recipe, you should end up with a rich, hearty stew that tastes both familiar and foreign.

                Traditional New England 닭도리탕 (Dakdoritang)
                Serves 6, or 2 hungry young adults, with leftovers for both for lunch

                Cast (in order of appearance):
                Playing Sauce:
                • 3 tbsp minced garlic
                • 1 tbsp ginger
                • 1/4 cup soy sauce 
                • 4 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
                • 2 tbsp ssam jjang (maybe you could get away with 1 tbsp miso?)
                • 1 tbsp gochujaru, cayenne, or other hot pepper
                • 2 tbsp honey
                • 2 tbsp rice wine (or 1 tbsp vinegar, I had apple cider vinegar)
                Starring as a Chicken:
                • A smallish chicken
                The Ensemble: 
                • 3-4 c. of some combination of (chopped into roughly 1-2" chunks):  Potatoes, Sweet potatoes, Onions, Carrots
                • 1-2 c. + butternut or acorn squash, or pumpkin
                • Optional: 1/4 of a cabbage, sliced or shredded,  a few green onions or leeks


                1. Curtain opens on garlic,  ginger,  soy sauce, gochujang,  ssam jjanghot pepper, honey, rice wine or vinegar, and a cup of water in a big pot, being stirred together on medium heat.
                2. Cleaned, whole Chicken and heroic butcher's knife battle.  Knife wins.  Less tasty parts of the chicken (bones, back, whatever)  are submerged into the pot to simmer with the  soy sauce mixture.  Breasts, wings, drumsticks, etc, are set aside.
                3. Ennobled by chicken victory, Knife defeats all the root veggies and squash, and adds them to the pot.  The pot is brought to a boil, then reduced to medium heat, covered, and cooked for about 10 minutes.
                4. Uncover, add the chicken pieces, and simmer.
                (20-30 minutes, stirring when you feel like it.).

                5.  Cabbage and green onions open Act II, and simmer for at least 5 minutes, but up to 20 (divas!), while you set the table, get out drinks, check your email, or whatever.  When it's thick and stew-y, it's ready for the finale!

                Serve with makkolli and rice, and follow with slightly too much apple-lemon upside-down sponge cake.  Or at least, that's what we did!

                This is delicious.  I'm so full of stew and cake that I can barely move, but I'm looking forward to the encore tomorrow.
                I will totally make this in England.  The only ingredients I expect might be tough to track down is ssam jang and gochujang, but I planned to bring those over anyway.  It'd be super-fast if I prep the veggies beforehand --  you could even make the sauce mixture sans water, store it together with the chopped root veggies in the fridge, and throw that all in the pot 30 minutes before dinner.

                My family in the USA is vegetarian, so I'd also like to see if it'd be possible to make a similar dish without the chicken, maybe using vegetable stock for the base and adding garbanzos and/or pureed white beans to simmer with the broth.
                I rarely say this about CSHS's cafeteria food, but lunch was tasty.  It makes me think about how much I'm going to miss cheap, nutritious, good Korean food in London.

                Soba noodle soup, kimchi, pickled radish, omrice (thin egg omelette + fried rice & veggies in sauce).

                Whether London's curry houses can begin to compete is yet to be seen...

                Tuesday, June 21, 2011

                Oh Alright, Go Ahead.

                So I'd prepped the second half of my Romeo & Juliet lesson, which involves video from Shakespeare in Love and the 1968 and 1996 versions of Romeo and Juliet - except then 20 minutes before class when I double-checked my flash drive, it freaked out and declared that not only was nothing on it, but also it was full.  So I tried to borrow Roy's flash drive, but my computer helpfully gave me an error message in Korean.

                Fine, conspiratory universe  - you win!  Finals are next week, so I did what I could and then gave them 40 minutes out of the hour to study.

                Which works out fine for me, because I studied, too - I read some more of an article about Shakespeare in Korea. So far I've found 3 articles that are pretty directly about Shakespeare in Korea, and then another 3 on related subjects, like ESL Shakespeare or Shakespeare in Asia.  Hopefully I'll get my act together to write a short article that connects all of those things, and includes some of my own lesson plans for teaching Shakespeare in Korea and a review of the modernized, Korean-language production of Hamlet I saw in Seoul.

                Also, apparently the nutritionist (aka head lunch lady) at my school is super bummed because first grade students said in a survey that they don't like the food here.  Bummer for her, great for me -- today's lunch was delish: a twist on 닭도리탕 ("dakdoritang," spicy Korean chicken stew) that involved lots of pumpkin, really good fresh kimchi, stir-fried eggplant with sesame seeds, odeng soup (think gefilte fish's umami-er asian cousin), and-- of course-- rice.  I really should try to make 닭도리탕 before I leave Korea, so I can figure out what ingredients I can ship to London.  This recipe looks pretty legit -- I think I'll give it a shot next week!